Oleksandr Usyk: Who is the grinning Ukrainian set to face Anthony Joshua?

Oleksandr Usyk juggles in the ring
Oleksandr Usyk was undisputed champion at cruiserweight
Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Date: Saturday, 25 September
Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; live text coverage on the BBC Sport website & app

Oleksandr Usyk first laid eyes on Anthony Joshua 10 years ago. It was 2011 and Usyk was in the crowd to watch Joshua compete at the World Championships in Azerbaijan.

Joshua was 21 and shocked everyone by reaching the final, where he was beaten by Mahammadrasul Majidov.

Usyk says he knew then Joshua would be an Olympic champion and the pair have been on a collision course ever since.

They both turned pro in 2013 and both became unified champions of their respective divisions. Usyk was unmatched at cruiserweight, becoming undisputed champion in 2018 thanks to a punch-perfect display against Murat Gassiev.

The Ukrainian claimed his first world title in just 10 fights, and five bouts later was the undisputed king of the division.

His technical ability and ring craft was finely honed during an illustrious amateur career. Having started boxing aged 15, Usyk would have 350 bouts as an amateur and taste defeat just 15 times. The 34-year-old is vastly more experienced than Joshua, who had just 43 fights as an amateur.

Usyk’s move to heavyweight has excited fight fans. He follows in the footsteps of the likes of David Haye and Evander Holyfield, two cruiserweight champions who were able to bridge the gap to heavyweight and become champions.

Eddie Hearn moved quickly to sign Usyk after his dazzling displays at cruiserweight. The Matchroom boss always planned to match Usyk with Joshua, although perhaps not so early in his heavyweight career.

‘He’s good if you let him be good’

Two fights in the heavier class have told us very little about Usyk as a heavyweight. He stopped Chazz Witherspoon in seven rounds on his heavyweight debut and then went 12 rounds with Derek Chisora, beating the Briton by unanimous decision.

Since then Usyk has piled on the pounds and is expected to be heavier than the 15st 7lbs he weighed in at for the Chisora fight.

“He’s good if you let him be good. You have to hit him – do not fight his fight,” Chisora said of Usyk, speaking on the 5 Live Boxing podcast.

“He’s there to be hit. He steps in, hits you, steps in and out. You can read it a little bit. When he hits you need to hit him as well – don’t wait to counterpunch him. Hit him at the same time he hits you.”

Chisora is convinced Joshua will “get to” Usyk. His plan was to “rush” Usyk and refuse to be turned by the southpaw. Joshua has fought just one southpaw, Charles Martin, in his pro career.

Usyk is not exactly renowned for his punching power and is expected to try to outbox Joshua. He has 13 knockouts in his 18 pro fights, but Chisora warned Joshua the smaller man can hit hard.

“Round seven he hit me so good. It was the last second of the round and my legs were gone,” he said.

“You have to give credit. He turned me on the blindside. You’re turned by a southpaw and you’re turning into a shot. He did it perfectly.”

‘He’s a likeable guy’

Meeting Usyk you can be struck by how relaxed he is. He is just over 6ft and grins so often his gap tooth is almost as famous as he is. At the workouts he juggled in the ring. Speaking to media on Wednesday he wore one yellow sock, one pink with aliens on them.

Chisora says Usyk is a “likeable guy”. No-one has a bad word to say about him, even if it is hard to get a straight answer out of the Ukrainian sometimes.

When asked what he has changed in his camp in preparation for Joshua, for example, Usyk said he “went to space nine times”.

He says he is not concerned by the prospect of 60,000 fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium because he has been to football matches at large venues before.

“I’m really relaxed. I feel the same with every single bout. I don’t have to worry about anything,” he said.

Usyk’s manager Egis Klimas told 5 Live his fighter has always been the same man.

He said: “He never changes. When he comes to the locker room then he’s different, on the night of the fight. Then he is in his head.

“Even I ask everybody to leave him alone. There’s no-one from outside in the locker room. That’s when he starts to change into the fighter. Before he comes to the locker room, he’s the same, all the time.”

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