Anthony Joshua has defended his record as a heavyweight boxer and insisted he will decide how long he continues to fight for, amid suggestions he would have no choice but to retire were he to lose his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk here on Saturday night.
Joshua faces Usyk with the intention of reclaiming the WBA, IBF and WBO titles the Ukrainian took from him via a unanimous points decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 11 months ago. Joshua was comprehensively beaten by an opponent of great skill and resilience in what was only his third fight at heavyweight following an era of dominance at cruiserweight, and few are predicting a different outcome when the pair clash again this weekend.
Some within the sport, including the former world champions Carl Froch and Kell Brook, have suggested defeat is not only likely for Joshua but would leave him with few options in a professional career launched on the back of his gold medal at the London Olympics almost exactly 10 years ago. The much-discussed all-British affair with Tyson Fury would almost certainly remain beyond reach, partly because Fury is again in a period of retirement. Were Fury to make a comeback he would likely face Usyk in what would be a mouthwatering unification battle.
Joshua firmly believes he can avoid a third defeat in his 27 fights, the other being his shock stoppage at the hands of Andy Ruiz Jr in June 2019, and instead is setting his sights on becoming a three-time heavyweight world champion, having previously reclaimed his titles with victory in his rematch with Ruiz Jr in Riyadh six months after their initial contest. In his return to Saudi Arabia, the 32-year-old also addressed the idea that a second defeat to Usyk would be a fatal blow to his future prospects, insisting that is unfair in as much as it his call.
“It’s up to me at the end of the day, it’s not up to anyone else what I do with my career,” said Joshua. “I don’t have to do this. Why do I do it? It’s because it’s all I know.
“This is also my 12th consecutive world title fight. I’ve been in world title fights back to back 12 times. It happens – if you’re fighting people at world level, you’re meeting people of world-level quality. I’m not fighting people who are below par.”
This is a sentiment shared by Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, who has labelled Usyk, who fights here having served in the Ukrainian army as part of the country’s defence against Russia’s invasion, a “genius” and insisted that should be taken into consideration if he is again victorious at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has denied the inclusion of the first women’s bout to be staged in Saudi Arabia as part of the undercard means the event is not part of the country’s sportswashing campaign. Ramla Ali, a British-Somali model and activist, will make history when she takes on Crystal Garcia Nova at the Abdullah Sports City Arena, and defended her decision to do so despite the restrictions on freedoms and rights for women in Saudi Arabia.
“I feel the way the media portrays Saudi Arabia is not entirely accurate,” she said. “What I have seen here is that women are free to do whatever they want and train alongside men if they want. They don’t have to wear hijabs if they don’t want to. And the fact that they are pushing female sport here and have allowed two girls to compete here for the first time shows how progressive the country is becoming and I am all for that.”
In a statement, Amnesty International wished Ali well but refused to back away from its criticism of any professional fight taking place in Saudi Arabia given its human rights record. The organisation reaffirmed its stance that the kingdom’s increased involvement in sport – which includes the hosting of a Formula One grand prix, the new LIV Golf Series and the takeover of Newcastle United – are part of a cover-up.
“Away from the glitz and spectacle of the boxing ring, the reality for women in Saudi Arabia is that they face serious discrimination in marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody,” said Amnesty’s head of priority campaigns, Felix Jakens. “In recent years, Saudi women who have been brave enough to call for reforms in the country have been jailed, tortured and completely silenced.
“We wish Ramla Ali well but this fight is yet more sportswashing as Saudi Arabia tries once again to distract from its appalling human rights record.”