As news broke last week of the two-fight deal that has been provisionally accepted by both Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua for 2021, the WBO was quick to make some announcements in response.
While there are rumors that the WBC might be willing to allow Tyson Fury to avoid Dillian Whyte as a mandatory challenger, by elevating him to franchise champion in a similar way they have already done for Vasily Lomachenko and Canelo Alvarez, the WBO has appeared much less lenient with their rules. The WBO recently announced that the winner of Fury v Joshua will be required to immediately face Oleksandr Usyk, who they have installed as their Heavyweight mandatory challenger ahead of Joseph Parker, due to his dominance as WBO Cruiserweight champion.
As soon as Usyk announced that he would be moving to Heavyweight and released pictures of his new 215lbs frame, questions began to be asked about his physical suitability to boxing’s glamour division.
So… Is Usyk too small for Anthony Joshua?
Oleksandr Usyk stands at 6’3″ which, while small for the modern Heavyweight division, is just 3″ shorter than AJ. A three-inch height disparity at any weight is far from insurmountable, especially for a boxer as freakishly talented as Usyk.
An opponent’s height advantage in itself is not the issue for any boxer, but the longer reach that usually comes with it. As a person’s height is usually equal to their arm span, the chances are a shorter boxer will also have shorter arms.
Taking a look at Usyk, he has a 78″ reach which is actually 3″ longer than most men his height, which puts Usyk’s arm span in contention with 6’6″ boxers like Anthony Joshua. The problem is that AJ’s arm span is also 4 inches longer than average, at 82 inches, which effectively gives him the arms that someone standing 6’10” would be expected to have.
It’s no coincidence that high-level boxers tend to be above average with these specific dimensions. The ability to outreach someone in the ring is obviously a clear advantage and while not the only factor, it is a rule that polices itself. While Usyk gives height, reach, and anywhere between 20-40lbs in weight to Joshua, he has consistently demonstrated that he is the far more skilled fighter.
AJ is a very skilled Heavyweight and a well-rounded fighter. While the Heavyweight division has historically been filled with two types of big man, the one who can move and box and the one who comes to brawl, Anthony Joshua sits somewhere in between. If Tyson Fury sits at the extreme end of the skilled-Heavyweight scale, then Dillian Whyte and Carlos Takam sit at the other end. AJ has placed himself somewhere in the middle, pairing his technical skill with his extremely heavy physique. He has built his career on being a decent boxer, who is too big for the stronger Heavyweights to bully.
This is an ideal match for an out-boxer like Usyk, whose complete skillset puts him ahead of Joshua in every category. Usyk will be able to outmaneuver, sell the feints, cut inside, and generally control the fight. As long as he can gain enough muscle to put behind his punch, he will likely be too much of a boxer for AJ to deal with.
Usyk will never outgun AJ, both of them know this, but he outboxes him 9 times out of 10. The plan for AJ depends on how confident he is in his pure boxing ability. He can either come in at a career-heavy 254lbs as he did against Carlos Takam and hope to dominate Usyk with physicality, much like Tyson Fury did with Deontay Wilder in their second fight, or he can come in light and maneuverable as he did against Andy Ruiz Jr in their second fight.
For AJ to come in light against Usyk and hope to outmaneuver him would be, in my humble opinion, a big mistake. Usyk will weigh-in his heaviest ever, somewhere just above 220lbs most likely, but will always be faster and slicker than AJ on his best day. So, AJ’s best bet is to go where Usyk can never match him, take him to the Heavyweight dep-end with sheer size and strength.
I don’t believe Usyk is too small for a fight with AJ, he has arguably the best boxing IQ and technical ability in the game today and is in the running for all-time pound for pound status. Usyk is well aware of what he brings to the table and will be looking to find his absolute lean-weight limit to maximize his boxing skill against AJ.
And Is Usyk too small for Fury?
If a man like Deontay Wilder or Dillian Whyte is the dream matchup for Usyk, Tyson Fury is the absolute worst. Fury represents the same type of boxer that Usyk does, just a much larger version. Usyk gives away 6 inches of height, 5 inches of reach, and about 60lbs in weight to Fury. Fury’s reach is again above average at 85 inches, meaning you’d expect him to be 7’1″ based on his arm span.
While the physical differences shouldn’t be insurmountable for Usyk if he faces many of the other Heavyweights, the problem is that Tyson Fury hasn’t built his game around power, but skill. Fury is an extremely slippery out-boxer, much like Usyk. He has phenomenal head movement, great ring positioning, perfect understanding of his and his opponents’ range, and can see any telegraphed punches coming a mile off. Fury’s skillset and Usyk’s skillset overlap in a big way, so finally Usyk’s size begins to play to his detriment.
While Usyk could potentially outbox Joshua and very easily outbox Wilder, hoping to weather the storm of Heavyweight power they throw at him, he might not be able to outbox Fury. As a one for one comparison, Usyk is faster both with his hands and feet than Fury, but the difference is not as stark as it is between him and everyone else at Heavyweight. Fury is far longer and stronger than him and in the same realm of boxing skill. Usyk already knows that Fury is his hardest fight at Heavyweight, he has said as much in past interviews, because he knows that Fury is what a 6’9″ version of himself looks like.
As for his game plan, I’m sure Usyk has something special in the works for Fury, but in my opinion, he should forget the idea of targeting his head and focus on his body for almost the entirety of the fight. Fury is the king of Heavyweight movement; bobbing, weaving, and keeping his head away from damage like the best Featherweights.
Targeting the torso with consistent shots is what slows down fighters at Lightweight, Middleweight, Cruiserweight and it’ll work at Heavyweight too. Usyk needs to fight like a less powerful Mike Tyson, keeping his head low and constantly moving so Fury is punching down, not letting Fury back up to jabbing range, but not letting Fury lean his considerable weight on him either. He needs to avoid targeting Fury’s head because Fury is too tall, he moves too well, and he can absorb even Wilder’s punches. He needs to get inside on Fury, target his body then keep moving laterally like Lomachanko and Mike Tyson.
If he can tire Fury out, sap his agility, he can start targeting the head as Fury’s 6’9″ frame becomes more fatiguing to move. He won’t be able to KO Tyson Fury, but he might wear him down with exhaustion.
I don’t believe Usyk is too small for the Heavyweight division at all. I don’t think he’s too small for Wilder, Whyte, Povetkin, Pulev, or Joshua. I do think he’s too undersized to pose Fury any real threat, but until we see how heavy and powerful Usyk can make himself, we really just don’t know.