Anthony Joshua has defended his record as a heavyweight boxer and insisted he will decide how long he will continue to fight, amid suggestions he would have no choice but to retire if he loses his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk here on Saturday night.
Joshua takes on Usyk looking to regain the WBA, IBF and WBO titles the Ukrainian took from him via unanimous points decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 11 months ago. Joshua was beaten by a skilled and resilient opponent in just his third heavyweight fight after an era of cruiserweight dominance, and few are predicting a different outcome when the pair meet again this weekend.
Some within the sport, including former world champions Carl Froch and Kell Brook, have suggested that defeat is not only likely for Joshua, but would leave him with few options in a professional career launched with his gold at the London Olympics almost exactly. 10 years ago Britain’s much talked about affair with Tyson Fury would almost certainly remain out of reach, partly because Fury is once again in a period of retirement. If Fury were to return, he would likely face Usyk in what would be a delicious unification battle.
Joshua strongly believes he can avoid a third loss in his 27 fights, the other being his shock stoppage at the hands of Andy Ruiz Jr in June 2019, and is instead looking to make it a three-time heavyweight champion of the world, having previously claimed. his titles with victory in his rematch with Ruiz Jr in Riyadh six months after their initial contest. On his return to Saudi Arabia, the 32-year-old also addressed the idea that a second loss to Usyk would be a fatal blow to his future prospects, insisting it is unfair as his appeal .
“It’s up to me at the end of the day, it’s not up to anyone else what I do with my career,” Joshua said. “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 12 times. It happens, if you fight world-class people, you meet world-class people. I’m not fighting people who are below me of the level”.
That’s a sentiment shared by Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, who has called Usyk, who fights here after serving in the Ukrainian military as part of the country’s defense against Russian invasion, a ” genius” and insisted it should be considered if he wins again 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 sports washing campaign. British-Somali model and activist Ramla Ali will make history when she takes on Crystal Garcia Nova at the Abdullah Sports City Arena, defending her decision to do so despite restrictions on women’s freedoms and rights in the ‘Saudi Arabia.
“I think the way the media portrays Saudi Arabia is not entirely accurate,” he said. “What I’ve 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 a hijab if they don’t want to. And the fact that they’re promoting women’s sport here and have allowed two girls competing here for the first time shows how progressive the country is becoming and I’m all for it.”
In a statement, Amnesty International wished Ali well but refused to back down from its criticism of any professional fights taking place in Saudi Arabia, given its human rights record. The organization reiterated its position that the kingdom’s increased involvement in the sport, which includes hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix, the new LIV Golf Series and the takeover of Newcastle United, it’s part of a cover-up.
“Away from the glitz and glamor of the boxing ring, the reality for women in Saudi Arabia is that they face severe 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 imprisoned, tortured and completely silenced.
“We wish Ramla Ali well, but this fight is even more of a sport as Saudi Arabia once again tries to distract from its appalling human rights record.”
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