Alan Hubbard

The oldest adage in boxing is that a good little 'un will always beat a good little ‘un, and by and large, so to speak, history has proved this is to be true. Especially when boxers, particularly in the heavier division, move up to challenge for titles at a higher weight.

So the odds are stacked in favour of Anthony Joshua when he defends his triple world heavyweight title belts against unbeaten fellow Olympic gold medallist Oleksandr Usyk this Saturday (September 25) night.

A sell-out crowd of 60,000 at Tottenham Hotspur's spanking new stadium will witness that rarity of two Olympic champions meeting as professionals for a World Championship.

Even more unusual is the fact that both won their titles at the same Games, London 2012, when Joshua claimed the super heavyweight gold medal and Usyk the heavyweight crown.

There is no such distinction in the pro game where you are either a heavyweight or less, which is why the lighter Ukrainian has been campaigning with great success at cruiserweight (200lb) where he has been is an exemplary champion, one with nimble footwork and blistering hand speed.

Usyk may be outweighed but I doubt he will be outclassed.

He is probably the most cerebral boxer in the business today, thinking his way intelligently through the rounds, always poised to land a potent finishing punch. Much in the manner of his celebrated fellow countrymen, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, the ex-heavyweight champions who now jointly promote him.

No wonder the 31-year-old Londoner has got himself in tremendous shape, looking sleek and slimmed down for what could be the most perilous task of his fight career since he picked himself off the floor to defeat Wladimir.

To say there is a lot riding on this is an understatement: £200 million ($275 million/€232 million) at least which is the reputed sum to be split between Britons Tyson Fury and Joshua should their Super Showdown ever happen.

Anthony Joshua is set to face fellow London 2012 gold medallist Oleksandr Usyk as he bids to retain his world heavyweight titles ©Getty Images
Anthony Joshua is set to face fellow London 2012 gold medallist Oleksandr Usyk as he bids to retain his world heavyweight titles ©Getty Images

By a perverse coincidence two weeks after Saturday’s potential epic WBC champion Fury engages in his contractually obliged third fight with American Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas, another potential boxing banana skin.

Both fights were agreed only after talks before Fury-Joshua broke down, the main reason being that a judge in America ruled that Wilder had the right to the third meeting with Fury, despite the Fury camp arguing that the rematch clause had expired because of the COVID pandemic.

Fury’s UK promoter Frank Warren believes a unifying contest could take place early next year. However all concerned know there is an elephant in the ring.

Should Usyk somehow upsets Joshua’s lucratively laden applecart, and Fury loses his title back to Wilder, what a double whammy that would be!

"That’s going to be the issue," says Warren.

"Winning their fights. Hopefully nothing will go wrong but these are big boys, anything can happen."

Warren says that there could still be one major obstacle if and when the parties meet again to resume discussions. Television rights.

For Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn has moved his Matchroom boxers from Sky to the American streaming service DAZN - with Joshua not part of that deal for the moment. Which is why Saturday’s contest is on Sky Box Office. But it is the last one under that arrangement.

To be honest I’ve always felt Joshua to be slightly overrated and it is not easy to forget his slipshod performance when he lost the titles initially to tubby Andy Ruiz Jnr in New York before regaining them during the return in Saudi Arabia. 

Yes, he hits hard and boxes beautifully at times but there are flaws and the concern is that slick Usyk may have the nous to exploit them despite being physically disadvantaged and two years older.

At least history is in Joshua’s corner for many great fighters have attempted to ignore the scales in heavyweight title fights., Few have succeeded once being the former Olympic middleweight champion Michael Spinks who controversially defeated an ageing Larry Holmes.

Actually the last time Olympic super heavyweight champions fought each other for the world heavyweight title was back in 1973 when George Foreman, gold medallist in Mexico City 1968 brutally and repeatedly upended his 1964 Tokyo predecessor Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica.

Oleksandr Usyk is considered the slight underdog when he faces fellow London 2012 gold medallist Anthony Joshua on the professional stage this weekend ©Getty Images
Oleksandr Usyk is considered the slight underdog when he faces fellow London 2012 gold medallist Anthony Joshua on the professional stage this weekend ©Getty Images

Both Foreman and Frazier also fought Muhammad Ali for the championship but we tend to forget that Ali, then the teenage Cassius Clay, won his Olympic gold at Rome 1960 as a light-heavyweight. He moved up to heavyweight when turning pro.

Several 178lb light heavies and the 22lb heavier cruiserweights have chanced their arms to challenge bigger men for the world heavyweight crown without success, dating back to Billy Conn against Joel Louis in wartime 1941.

Others have included Archie Moore and Bob Foster, both against Ali. Floyd Patterson, an Olympic middleweight champion also failed against Ali.

One who did famously succeed against The Greatest was Michael Spinks’ bigger brother, Leon, an Olympic light heavyweight champion who outpointed an out of sorts Ali on a split decision in New Orleans before losing the return, though he had been fighting professionally as a heavyweight.

One of the best known episodes in Britain of a light heavyweight trying to win a heavyweight title was that of fearless Freddie Mills who gamely but unsuccessfully fought Bruce Woodcock, albeit for the British title, before becoming a world light-heavyweight champion.

Also back in the day in 1955 Britain’s game Don Cockell, who campaigned at both light heavyweight and cruiserweight, suffered nine rounds of sheer savagery from Rocky Marciano.

So much for history, back to reality. Underdog Usyk has nothing to lose but his 18 fight unbeaten record, the last two nominally at heavyweight. What could be the most fascinating contest of the year.

Both carry a knockout punch. Usyk is the more efficient boxer but the question is, while attempting to keep out of harm’s way he can amass sufficient points to sway the judges. Championship rounds, from 10 to 12, could be decisive.

Even the bookies seem to be hedging the bets, with the odds closer than anticipated, 5-2 on in favour of Joshua but only 9-4 against Usyk, Take your pick. Mine is Joshua on what might be a hometown decision - rather like the one some thought he received when he won Olympic gold in London.

Usyk may be up to a couple of stones lighter but it could be heavy going for A.J, pugilism’s pinup boy. It is all a matter of weight and see.