Boxing: Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua aware legacy at stake in Oleksandr Usyk title defence

Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua isn't driven by ego, so don't expect the Brit to exchange in a technical game of boxing chess, when he defends his titles later this month.

The WBA, WBO and IBF titles will go on the line in London on September 26, when Joshua clashes with undefeated Ukraine Oleksandr Usyk.

A former cruiserweight world champion, Usyk made the jump in weight class in 2019, winning two from two, including a decisive decision win over Derek Chisora last October.

The parallels between Joshua and Usyk are eerily similar, with both winning Olympic gold at London 2012, before dominating their respective divisions at the professional level.

Usyk (18-0) represents the biggest pure boxing test for Joshua (24-1), since he stopped Wladimir Klitschko to unify three world titles in 2017.

But Joshua won't be drawn into a technical battle - he will rely on his growing skillset that includes the scariest heavyweight power since the days of Mike Tyson.

"I'm a boxer fighter," Joshua says. "I'm going in there to fight as well

“I'm going in there for the knockout and when you go looking for the knockout, it's because you box anyway, so I'm going to box looking for great opportunities to land big power shots.

"[It's] a different ball game, a different fighter, different tactics, but ultimately, as a fighter, we have to go in there looking for the knockouts. You have to go in there to box, but you also have to initiate the fight as well."

A renowned boxing historian, Joshua is aware of the stakes come September 26.

For only the fourth time, two Olympic gold medallists will contest for the heavyweight title and Joshua has fond memories of the last time, when he stopped Klitschko in the 11th round in one of the greatest bouts in the last decade.

Joshua says the fight with Usyk presents him with a great opportunity to further his legacy.

"It wouldn't mean so much if he wasn't an Olympic champion, and for me to test my skills against him and him against me, it's great for boxing.

"People want to see these match-ups. We wanted to get the undisputed fight with Tyson Fury, but that fell through and I wanted the next best thing, and Usyk is that.

"He is an unknown quantity in parts of the world, but we will bring him to the fore, fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world - the biggest prize in sports."

One of the defining moments of Joshua's career came when he beat Kiwi Joseph Parker to add the WBO strap to his IBF and WBC titles.

For Joshua, that style of performance was about proving his detractors wrong, and showing he had the cardiovascular ability to go the distance and outbox a boxer.

"With the Parker fight, I trained differently," Joshua reflects. "During the fight build-up, they said Parker's very quick - he's got the fastest hands in the heavyweight division.

"That was the media attention, that this is the guy with the fastest hands.

"He was a champion at the time, so for me, I wanted to just nullify his speed. They said I couldn't go 12 rounds, so I wanted to go 12 rounds and show my conditioning. 

"These things were really good to give me the motivation to prepare and how I approached it was good weight management, good preparation to be a 12-round fighter, controlling the fight from round one to round 12."

Oleksandr Usyk
Oleksandr Usyk Photo credit: Matchroom
Joshua and Parker go toe-to-toe
Joshua and Parker go toe-to-toe Photo credit: Getty Images

Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk streams live exclusively in New Zealand on DAZN and the DAZN app

Joshua says that fight was the beginning of his evolution as a fighter.

"I truly think I've improved a lot [since beating Parker], not because of just time making you better," Joshua says. “I've put in a lot of work. 

“I work really hard in boxing and I do a lot of researching, a lot of studying. 

"I've researched a lot of the 1950s trainers - Ray Arcel, Nacho Beristain, Eddie Futch, Jack Blackburn, Angelo Dundee - all these great trainers and the psychology they played, and the motivation they gave their champions.

"I study boxing, so my depth of wisdom in boxing has grown over the years. 

"That's why I believe I'm going to look better now - because I've been dedicated, I've advanced that little bit more.

"The Anthony Joshua of today would destroy the Anthony Joshua of 10 years ago."

Join Newshub for live updates of Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk on September 26.