Oleksandr Usyk can severely stall the heavyweight picture Saturday when he faces off against unified champion Anthony Joshua at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the United Kingdom.
The fight is the first leg of the unofficial heavyweight tournament that is designed to yield an all-British box-off between Joshua and Tyson Fury in 2020. The pair have already signed a two-fight pact that is designed to crown an undisputed champion. One punch, of course, can severely disrupt those plans.
Fury is the WBC champion, while Joshua owns the WBO, WBA, IBF and IBO belts.
Fury has to separately pass his daunting task against Deontay Wilder on Oct. 9 in a third fight more that is more than one year in the making.
Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) was ordered by the WBO to fight Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs).
Although he was an undisputed cruiserweight king till 2019 and still widely considered a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, Usyk is considered a betting underdog in a battle between 2012 Olympics gold medalist.
The 34-year-old Ukrainian is relishing his role as the favorite to lose.
“I haven’t really thought about that I’m an underdog or not. I’ve put my mind to the maximum, I’ve done thorough training, I’ve been through the camp. I’m not really thinking about, I’ve never really thought about it, I’m just going to box -- the thing I love doing. That’s it,” said Usyk.
“I’m thinking about people underestimating me at all, I’m not concerned. If people what to think that way, it’s their problem, not mine. I’m not suffering with that, it’s no problem with me.
“I’m not even thinking about it, we’ll see how it goes in the fight, when I enter the ring on September 25. I’m not thinking about what people are saying and making plans, we’ll see how it goes on the 25th.”
Usyk has not looked anywhere near being the world-beater he once was at cruiserweight in two fights against heavyweight contenders Chazz Witherspoon Dereck Chisora.
Regardless, he feels he’s ready to rip the belts off Joshua.
"This fight with Anthony was overdue, it should have happened a year ago," said Usyk. “I’m focusing on becoming a champion in the heavyweight division, I’m not motivated by money or titles or belts, my only motivation is boxing, and this is what I’m doing for the sake of boxing.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com