Usyk fighting for Ukraine, Joshua for the future in the rematch

Dressed in traditional Cossack clothing, Oleksandr Usyk followed his clash with Anthony Joshua by performing a Ukrainian resistance song on stage.

Clapping his hands rhythmically, Usyk – with a horseshoe mustache and those steely eyes of his – broke into “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna,” an 1875 song inspired by Ukraine’s 18th-century struggle for independence and now singing in defiance in the middle of the war Russia

Joshua didn’t stick around, walking off the stage as Usyk’s team joined in the chant.

If it wasn’t already clear, Usyk is fighting for a lot more than his world heavyweight belts in his rematch with Joshua in Saudi Arabia.

Just six months ago, Usyk was patrolling the streets of Kiev with an automatic rifle as part of his capital’s Territorial Defense Force, praying he wouldn’t need to pull the trigger.


On Saturday, he will be in Jeddah, serving his country in a very different way: trying to retain the WBA, IBF and WBO titles he claimed from Joshua in London last September.

“At one point,” Usyk said in preparation for the rematch, “I went to the hospital where the soldiers were injured and were being rehabilitated, and they asked me to go to fight (Joshua), to fight for the country.

“They said if you go there, you will help our country even more instead of fighting inside Ukraine.”

How about motivation?

Usyk left Ukraine in March for a training camp in Poland and more recently in Dubai. He had to spend a lot of time away from his family – he has a wife, Yekaterina, and three children – and that was not easy.


But he is determined to bring some joy to his country, where the fight will be broadcast free of charge in a decision by organizers prompted by Usyk’s original push to buy the TV rights to the bout.

“I’m very pleased with it,” he said. “We all worked hard on it.”

Joshua, who is looking to become a three-time heavyweight champion, is in the rare position of being an underdog after being dominated in the first fight, losing by unanimous decision.

After a moving clinic and quick jabs from Usyk, Joshua ended the fight down on the ropes and with his right eye closed. He had not been able to take advantage of his greater reach and his supposed extra power, and he fought a southpaw.

Joshua, 32, should be better prepared this time around as he has hired a new trainer in the highly regarded Robert Garcia, a former IBF super featherweight champion who boasts Jose Ramirez, Jesse Rodriguez and Mikey Garcia: his brother minor and a weight champion of the world — in his stable.


Joshua will have a different game plan, he certainly won’t try to submit Usyk like he did last time, but does he have the talent to beat a man who has moved up from cruiserweight and still looks at home? Usyk also seems to have stepped up since the first fight.

“I feel like one of my main strengths is that I’m a quick learner, I’m a sponge,” Joshua said on Wednesday in the final showdown. “But ultimately, apart from everything you learn, it’s a fight. That’s what it is. Whoever throws the most punches and lands the most punches wins.”

This will be Joshua’s second fight in Saudi Arabia and he arrived in the kingdom a month ago, looking to regain the belt as he did in 2019 when he beat Andy Ruiz Jr. in a rematch in Riyadh.

After that win, he told reporters that coming to fight in Saudi Arabia “made me more aware of the problems” in the country. The topic of the conversation was “sportswashing”: the use of sports to polish the kingdom’s image and minimize concerns about its human rights.


Still, Joshua is back there, for a fight the Saudis paid $80 million to stage. He called Saudi Arabia his “second home” and insisted that his presence is not helping to clean up the kingdom. When asked again about the sports wash, he said, “I don’t know what that is.”

“The world is in a bad place, I can’t point to just one place,” he said. “If you want to point at Saudi Arabia, let’s point at everyone. We all have to do better and that’s where my heart is. The whole world has to do better if it wants to change.

“I feel like I bring light. Boxing is such a dark industry. There’s so much negativity, spilling each other and egos. I don’t like that, I just try to bring light to people.”

It looks like a decisive fight, both for Joshua’s career and Usyk’s life. Heavyweight title matches often come with potential plans for future fights and opponents, but both Joshua and Usyk live very much in the present.


“I am in contact with high-ranking military officers and visited hospitals with wounded soldiers. In every conversation, he heard words of blessing and support to take revenge,” Usyk’s promoter, Alexander Krassyuk, said about his fighter.

“People wanted him to fight. People still want him to win. People want the Ukrainian flag to be raised, people want the Ukrainian anthem to be heard across the planet. Not many men in the world can deliver this to millions of people “.


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Usyk fighting for Ukraine, Joshua for the future in the rematch

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