Anthony Joshua is in the unusual position of being the underdog heading into his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk.
But former world titleholder Callum Smith believes he needs to “get back to his old Joshua” but believes the Briton can be crowned champion this weekend, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
Smith’s boxing career has been co-produced with Joshua. They were amateur teammates in the GB team 12 years ago. As they both rose in the professional sport, they often boxed on the same bill, with Smith fighting on the undercard of Usyk-Joshua on Saturday as he sought to secure a world title in the new division.
Like Joshua, Smith previously fought in Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saturday’s venue, the King Abdullah Sports Center in Jeddah, was the highlight of Smith’s career. In the year He defeated George Groves to win the WBA super-middleweight title in 2018.
This weekend, he now has a crucial World Cup qualifier against France’s Mathieu Bauderlieke at light-heavyweight. Having practiced boxing in crowded arenas in the West, he knows what to expect from boxing in Saudi Arabia. All that matters, Joshua advises, is focus.
“The minute you’re in the ring, you can be anywhere. You don’t turn it off, you turn it into it,” Smith told Sky Sports. “I think being an international amateur helps with that – when you fight a Russian in Turkey you can hear a pin drop.
“You get used to it like that and you have a job to do and focus on what you’re doing. Anyway, I’ve never been one to play the crowd or anything like that. I’ve always been. Pretty professional: I’m in there to do my job.”
“It’s a very good fight at home, but the goal and the job are still the same, and this is to go and win.”
For Joshua, a win in the main event has never been more important. “There’s a lot at stake. It’s a big fight for both of them. You’ve got three of the four belts on the line, you don’t expect anything less, but I like those two personally, they’re likeable. They’re characters,” said Smith, a World Boxing Super Series winner like Usyk.
As Joshua did against Usyk, Smith fought great pound-for-pound. He lost a points decision to Canelo Alvarez. For elite fighters like Smith and Joshua, it’s a surprise when they go up against the rare opponent who can’t even dodge a jab. For top-level boxers, that’s a situation they’re not used to.
“[Canelo] It’s a decent punch. The only thing that surprised me when I was with him was his defense. It’s hard to hit clean,” Smith said. “Then he stops throwing.
“Your fusion will stop, don’t drop the third right because your second hit thin air.
“Usik did this to Joshua [in the first fight]”If he can’t land one shot with Joshua, he’s going to stop throwing two, three or four when the fighters are like that,” Smith added.
Usyk v Joshua 2: Weighing
Friday, August 19, 7:00 p.m
But now he knows. He has been with him. He’s had a long time to think about it and plans to defeat him a second time. [Andy] Ruiz for the second time. He had to fight Rice and box for the second time. At this point, I probably have a lot of boxes left. [in the first fight] And he must return to the old Joshua. It’s a good fight and I hope I can sit back and enjoy it.”
Smith believes Joshua can turn the tables on Usyk in the rematch. “I think the first fight was convincing for Usyk. Joshua made it easy for him. He stood next to him and stood in front of him. I think. [Usyk] He must have been surprised at how easy it was. I’m not Joshua’s trainer, but I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that he needs to go a little more for him and make him feel like he’s with the big man.
“I don’t think he used it. [his size] As much as he can have. He has to be a little uncomfortable, but he has to be smart when he does it. I think Usyk’s smart and will pick up on any mistakes Joshua makes, so he can’t really be careless.
“If he goes for him and doesn’t take him out, he can go back, then he’ll be gassed and he’ll be a target for Usyk.
“I think they’ll both be fine from the first fight, they’ve both gone 12 rounds with each other so they’ve gotten to know each other a bit better this time.
“It’s very difficult. I think Joshua can go for it and we saw Usyk’s face after the first fight, he was pretty marked and physical, he wasn’t as good as he could have been.
“So Joshua could have destroyed him if he wanted to.”
Listen to the latest Toe2Toe podcast from the heart of Usyk vs Joshua fight week
Anthony Joshua’s massive heavyweight rematch with Oleksandr Usyk is on Sky Sports Box Office on Saturday 20th August. Catch Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!