Anthony Joshua aiming to ace the test Mike Tyson failed and Lennox Lewis passed in rematch with Oleksandr Usyk

Anthony Joshua aiming to ace the test Mike Tyson failed and Lennox Lewis passed in rematch with Oleksandr Usyk

By Damian Mannion

Anthony Joshua is aiming to pass heavyweight boxing’s ultimate physical and psychological test in Saudi Arabia: beating a man who soundly defeated him in an immediate rematch.

It’s a gut check that the likes of Lennox Lewis and Muhammad Ali passed, while world champions such as Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston and Deontay Wilder failed. Of course AJ is in the former camp himself – having avenged his shock KO defeat to Andy Ruiz six months after he suffered his first pro loss in 2019.

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Joshua has been in this situation before, having beaten Ruiz in his rematch

Now he has to do it again to reclaim the titles he lost to Usyk in 2021

Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Now he has to do it again to reclaim the titles he lost to Usyk in 2021

Unfortunately, there’s a super-sized asterisk next to that, as Ruiz trained in the kitchen for the rematch and was so woefully out of shape that Joshua cruised to victory over 12 one-sided rounds. From the evidence of Oleksandr Usyk training, any weight that the Ukrainian southpaw has put on will be hefty muscle rather than heavy cake.

This time AJ must turn the result around himself without his opponent self-destructing. In fact, the Brit must resist falling apart himself as it is a tremendous test of a fighter’s confidence, nerve and inner steel to step into the ring – without a warm-up – and face an opponent who knows he can defeat you. Because he literally just did it.

For all the explosive thrills of Tyson’s early career, one of the marks against him is that he never avenged any of his defeats. The one time he had the opportunity, he appeared unable to cope with the prospect of another hard tussle against Evander Holyfield and decided to pick a fight with his ear instead.

Tyson biting a chunk out of ‘The Real Deal’s ear seven months after Holyfield – like Usyk, a former undisputed cruiserweight king – had bullied him to defeat was interpreted by many people as ‘Iron Mike’ looking for a way out. Tyson was actually landing punches in that infamous third round, but he had realised that any victory would be a gruelling effort against the Bible-bashing (and head-butting) Evander, so Tyson lost the plot.

As Tyson later admitted, his hunger to box had all but evaporated by that point. So Joshua will have to show not only the psychological strength to believe he can upset the oddsmakers and beat Usyk – but also that his desire for victory now, at age 32 and financially set for life, is as strong as when he was on he was on his KO-laden rise in the mid-2000s.

Tyson could never rediscover his burning desire to win, admitting that by 1997: “My heart wasn’t in boxing but I needed the money.” However one of his late-career conquerors, Lewis, is the best modern heavyweight example Joshua can look towards.

Holyfield floored Tyson and stopped him in their first fight

AFP – Getty

Holyfield floored Tyson and stopped him in their first fight

Tyson lost to Evander Holyfield but then lost again in their glamorous heavyweight rematch in 1997

AFP – Getty

Tyson lost to Evander Holyfield but then lost again in their glamorous heavyweight rematch in 1997


Lewis avenged both of his career defeats and one came when he’d just turned 36, after he’d been knocked out by huge underdog Hasim Rahman in South Africa in 2001. Lewis did not change his trainer as Joshua has done – that already happened back in 1994 when he hired Emanuel Steward after his loss to Oliver McCall – but he did have to battle against the trauma of going face-to-face with a man who had humiliatingly stripped him of his world heavyweight titles just months earlier.

Going into Rahman-Lewis 2 in Las Vegas, there was a feeling that ‘The Rock’ had got into Lewis’s head during an ugly build-up to the bout. But Steward knew better.

Counterproductive as it may seem, Steward actually sat down and watched the first fight – which finished with Rahman stopping Lewis with a bludgeoning right hand – with his heavyweight the day before the contest. The idea was to remind Lewis of all the things Rahman did wrong before the KO finish.

“After watching it he turned to me and said: ‘Emanuel, this man does not have the class. This is going to be an easy fight for me. I’m going to have some fun out there,’” Steward later recalled.

Lewis retired having avenged both of his career defeats and is heavyweight boxing’s last undisputed champion

Getty Images – Getty

Lewis retired having avenged both of his career defeats and is heavyweight boxing’s last undisputed champion

“Then he went off and played a game of ping-pong, and I knew then that everything would be all right.”

It certainly was all right, as Lewis boxed beautifully behind his jab in the rematch, then landed the best one-two of his career: a left hook which wasn’t thrown with much power, it was merely meant to distract Rahman from the wrecking-ball right which crashed into his chin. The knockout was so conclusive it did away with the need for a trilogy bout and Lewis walked straight into a lucrative fight with Tyson instead.

In Joshua’s dream world, he probably wins just as conclusively against Usyk then goes straight into his own megafight with Tyson (of the Fury variety). However, to do so he’ll have to show some of the qualities Lewis displayed that night: unshakeable self-belief, an ability to adapt his gameplan and to prove that Usyk – a friendly foe but one almost impossible to read outside the ropes – is not living rent-free inside his head.

While Lewis had to prove that he could overcome a man who he knew could knock him out, Joshua has a different task: to defeat a man who’s proved he can outbox him. Like Lewis, AJ has a confident, articulate, aggression-preaching American trainer in his corner. But while Lewis took a few years to fully adjust to Steward’s approach, Joshua has to hope his link-up with Robert Garcia has an instant impact.

Joshua will need to show the willpower of previous heavyweight champions in his rematch in Jeddah

Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Joshua will need to show the willpower of previous heavyweight champions in his rematch in Jeddah

However, Joshua has at least shown against Ruiz – albeit the XL version – that he can come in with a completely different gameplan and quickly implement it. Vital for any boxer looking to overturn a result in an immediate rematch.

The challenge here is that while Ruiz required a backfoot approach and a volley of powerful one-twos, Usyk will not be so easily outboxed. Instead, Joshua might have to look to be more offensive, impose his size and power, and make it more like one of Lennox’s pre-Rahman ping-pong games – the two exchanging blows – rather than a chess match. That’s without even getting into the fact that there’s no guarantee that a boxer with Usyk’s in-ring IQ will even approach the second fight in the same way he did the first.

Nonetheless, Joshua will have to show he has the willpower and belief of Lewis (against Rahman), of Ali (against Ken Norton and Leon Spinks), of Holyfield (in his second fight with Riddick Bowe) and turn the tables on a man who has recently beaten him.

It is not impossible, as those fighters have shown. But the lessons of Mike Tyson (against Holyfield), of Liston (against Cassius Clay/Ali), of Wilder (against Fury) are that, more often than not, the victor doubles down and wins again the second time around.

That is the history AJ is up against. If he can banish the memories of Usyk UD12 at the London Stadium last year, he becomes a three-time world champion like Lewis – and puts down a claim of true greatness. Lose and he falls down into the realm of mere mortals who eventually ran into a fighter they simply could not defeat.

Usyk vs Joshua 2 on talkSPORT

TALKSPORT Usyk AJ | Anthony Joshua aiming to ace the test Mike Tyson failed and Lennox Lewis passed in rematch with Oleksandr Usyk | The Paradise News

Source: Talksport.

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