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Robert Garcia must solve Joshua’s problems to solve the Usyk puzzle

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The weight on Anthony Joshua’s shoulders never came just from the hefty world heavyweight titles that once rested on them. That subtle pain has always been complemented by the constant pressure of being Britain’s chosen heavyweight hero.

The feeling should perhaps have eased a bit by now – lifting those belts off Joshua’s shoulders and onto Oleksandr Usyks relieves both the literal and metaphorical burdens weighing on the Brit.

Instead, Joshua’s emphatic loss to the undefeated Ukrainian last September only served to increase the pressure on the beaten champion. When the two meet again in the ring this Saturday in the obscure setting of the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah, there will be more at stake than the heavyweight titles that Joshua has lost and regained once in his career. Also at stake is AJ’s already splintered status as a heavyweight of his generation – a status that Tyson Fury has organically begun to scratch, despite all the crafting skills of Eddie Hearn. Additionally, Joshua’s tenure as a top-tier heavyweight could simply be swallowed up once the Rage on the Red Sea subsides.

So don’t be surprised if Joshua’s shoulders continue to sag a bit on Saturday, the pressure is still very much there even though the titles won’t come before the main event of the weekend. But for once, that pressure may not just be limited to Joshua in the Brit’s corner.

Because at his side – and with a slight camera pan down – Robert Garcia will also feel the heat in Jeddah.

The selection process for Joshua’s new coach, which took the Briton across the pond, caused speculation and intrigue in equal measure. It became arguably the strangest rematch build-up narrative. Eventually, Garcia became the latest addition to Joshua’s team, the man tasked with reversing the outcome of last year’s showdown in London and doing what no coach has done before: finding a way past Usyk. After Joshua’s longtime coach Rob McCracken retired from the 32-year-old’s coaching staff, Angel Fernandez will take on a more prominent role alongside Garcia.

Anthony Joshua knocks a punching bag out of Angel Fernandez’s hands

(Action pics via Reuters)

But make no mistake, any credit or blame for the outcome of Joshua’s rematch with Usyk rests on the shoulders (there they are again) of Garcia and Joshua, much more than Fernandez’s.

When Joshua avenged his June 2019 loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. with a points win over the Mexican six months later, McCracken rightly ensured AJ traded a ruthless, KO-centric approach for a more measured and disciplined one. The revised game plan paid off as Joshua stabbed Ruiz Jr. to pieces in Riyadh instead of pouncing on Ruiz’s gloves like he did in New York City.

For Garcia, the goal is the opposite. The American must ensure Joshua avoids any attempt to outsmart Usyk. This is of course an oversimplification; Simply encouraging Joshua to take a more aggressive approach won’t solve either the Brit’s problems or Usyk’s conundrum. Usyk thrived in the first bout, using his more deft footwork and superior speed to create inventive angles from a southpaw stance and a lower height. The undefeated Ukrainian also used incessant feints to make Joshua feel like he was fighting on the backfoot, even when he wasn’t. To be clear though, AJ was actually behind for most of the fight, Usyk was keen to finish first in as many matches as possible.

If Joshua is able to initiate more clinches and hit hard on nearby Usyk, perhaps the Brit can blunt the former undisputed cruiserweight champion’s sharper skills. At any other distance, even a more aggressive approach is unlikely to help Joshua, who will still be the slower, less mobile, less creative and less relaxed fighter. In fact, a more forefoot-focused tactic could make Joshua vulnerable to being stopped himself.

Oleksandr Usyk almost stopped Joshua in the last round of their first fight

(Getty’s)

Garcia is used to working with lighter fighters. The 47-year-old – once Coach of the Year – was himself a super featherweight champion in the 1990s and is known for his strategic acumen as a coach. The American has coached numerous world champions including his brother Mikey as well as Jose Ramirez, Antonio Margarito and Victor Ortiz. If Garcia could gift Joshua some of his own fighting qualities – or those of his former trainees – then AJ would surely be the favorite at Jeddah.

Instead, Garcia needs to maximize the qualities Joshua already possesses. The Brit is technically flawless, despite all the justified criticism of his rudimentary shot selection. The punches he lands show very little wind-up and are clinical, almost robotic – but not in the negative way some observers have suggested over the years. Joshua also has almost unrivaled heavyweight power. Although Usyk has gained weight for this rematch, Joshua is stronger than his Olympic gold medalist, who at times felt the 32-year-old’s power in his first fight. Joshua seemed to stab Usyk multiple times, but he wasn’t able to produce such effective shots in enough numbers or in quick enough succession to get a finish. A more aggressive approach can at least produce the right kind of output volume and consistency of clean hits.

Joshua didn’t target Usyk’s body very often, especially last September, and fierce shots to the Ukrainian’s midsection – including as many as possible in the clinch – would be an advisable way to slow the champion and carve openings to his head. At the very least, such an offensive would give Usyk something else to think about; In the pair’s first fight, Joshua was just thinking – too much of it (one reason for Joshua’s inability to string his best punches together). Joshua was reluctant to get involved. The 32-year-old’s legitimate criticisms also include an inability to adapt particularly well in real-time, so Joshua will need to make sure he leads the dance and forces Usyk into a plan B.

Former Cruiserweight Champion Usyk has massed for his rematch with Joshua

(AFP via Getty)

That seems to contradict the suggestion that even a more positive approach might not be enough for Joshua – that he might even be stopped. Therein lies the most frustrating factor for Joshua: his best option is still a bad one.

So on Saturday night, Garcia will lead Joshua through the biggest fight of the Brit’s career with a likely troubled game plan but the best the pair can come up with.

The odds are slim, but the pressure remains; such is the size of this fight and its timing in Joshua’s career. If Garcia can get Joshua over the line, they’ll share the praise. If Joshua falls short again, they will share the blame.

By the time Sunday morning swallowed Saturday night in Saudi Arabia, their shoulders could have slumped even further. Joshua and Garcia will hope this is due to the weight of the reclaimed heavyweight titles and nothing else.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/boxing/robert-garcia-anthony-joshua-usyk-2-b2146356.html Robert Garcia must solve Joshua’s problems to solve the Usyk puzzle

Fry Electronics Team

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