Saudi Arabia ready for heavyweight showdown between Joshua and Usyk

'Rage on the Red Sea' title rematch to take place in Jeddah on Saturday

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Ukraine's defending champion Oleksandr Usyk will hold the upper hand in the "Rage on the Red Sea" heavyweight world title rematch with Britain's Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Usyk weighed in at 100.5kg, barely changed from before although still the heaviest of his career, while Joshua was 110.9kg - four pounds more than when he lost the titles last September in London.

Usyk, 19-0, is the favourite after his unanimous decision on Joshua's home turf for his first defence of the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts at the 10,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah.

“All this stuff doesn’t matter, it’s just about the fight,” said Joshua, who is looking to regain the belts and become a three-time world champion. “Weight, face-offs — none of it matters to me. I’m just looking forward to the fight.”

Usyk is also carrying the hopes of a nation following the prolonged crisis brought on by Russia's invasion, while another defeat for Joshua would pose big questions about his future.

Usyk left Ukraine in March for a training camp in Poland and more recently in Dubai. He has had to spend so much time away from his family — he has a wife, Yekaterina, and three kids — and that has not been easy.

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

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

Meanwhile, Joshua called retirement speculation "nonsense" after suggestions he could hang up his gloves if he loses to Usyk again.

Some experts have said a third professional defeat could end the career of the former Olympic heavyweight gold medallist - a claim dismissed by Joshua.

"I'm competing with a pound-for-pound ]one of the most skilled across all weight classes] fighter," he said.

"I'm not losing against some has-been. It's crazy to suggest I should retire. If I would lose to one of the top fighters of the world today [people would say] 'Oh he should retire, he lost to one of the best'. What type of nonsense is that?"

Joshua said he is well aware of Usyk's tricks and knows what he must do to defeat the Ukrainian.

Usyk beat Joshua in front of a sell-out crowd at London's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last year.

The 32-year-old, who now has a new trainer in American former super-featherweight world champion Robert Garcia, said he learned a lot from his first meeting with Usyk.

"I know what he's going to do, I know what I've got to do," Joshua told the BBC. "I've been in there before, I know his tricks. I've got to go change the narrative. I'm the author of my own movie.

"I took myself to the United States, worked with some new trainers. I just wanted to kind of revamp things. I'm going to be 33 in a couple of months. I want to try something new, I want to revamp myself, reinvent myself - let me bring in some new coaches."

The rematch is the second world heavyweight title fight to take place in the kingdom after Joshua's rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr in Riyadh in 2019. There, Joshua regained the heavyweight belts that he subsequently lost to Usyk.

Updated: August 20, 2022, 2:04 PM
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