First there were pleasantries. Then came the long and increasingly intense faceoff.
Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua went head-to-head Tuesday for the first time since their rematch for the world heavyweight championship was announced.
The boxers attended a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — where the Aug. 20 fight will take place — and it culminated with Usyk, the WBA, WBO and IBF champion, and Joshua, the challenger, refusing to budge in the faceoff, long after being directed out of the building.
While Joshua, sitting next to new trainer Robert Garcia, had earlier spoken of putting right the many wrongs of his loss in the first fight in London in September, Usyk’s team was already looking ahead to what might come next.
“For Oleksandr, it is very important to keep those titles,” said Egil Kilmas, Usyk’s manager, “and to go further, because there’s a very, very (big) possibility that the winner of this bout will go for the undisputed heavyweight champion.”
That might be news to Tyson Fury, who retained his WBC and Ring Magazine belts with a knockout of fellow Briton Dillian Whyte at London’s Wembley Stadium in April.
Fury said that would be his last fight and has reiterated that since. However, in a recent interview with British broadcaster talkSPORT, Fury did say he’d be willing to come out of retirement if he was paid 500 million pounds ($615 million).
Usyk will start as the favorite against Joshua after outclassing the Briton to win by unanimous decision at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September. He has been in camp for the rematch since March after leaving the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where he had returned in February to help defend his country from the invading Russians.
Suffice to say, Usyk will not be short of motivation.
“As we all know, we are not in the best conditions at the moment back home,” he said via a translator, “but we are doing what we have to do, we are doing our job together with my team. We are working hard to achieve our goals.
“I’ve never made very loud and bright speeches. All I did was just work hard in my training camp and gym, and that’s what I’m going to do until the date of the fight. Then I will enter the ring and make you happy with my boxing.”
Asked what made him confident of beating Joshua again, Usyk said: “The reason for my happiness is not my championship belts but the fact I have a family — my wife, my children — and a wonderful team around me.”
Joshua has ditched his long-time trainer, Robert McCracken, after acknowledging he was well-beaten by Usyk and wasn't prepared well enough for the first fight.
He will return to Saudi Arabia looking to reclaim his belts — like he did successfully in December 2019 in defeating Andy Ruiz Jnr. on points in a fight in Riyadh.
“I had to take that defeat like a man but I hold myself accountable,” Joshua said of his loss to Usyk. “I am someone who can admit when I’m wrong and hold my head high when I’m right.
“I don’t like to overcomplicate the situation. There is genius in simplicity. Sometimes if you keep it simple, you can achieve great things.”
Joshua, who wished Usyk “safe travels” before the fight, called himself “The Comeback King.” Not just from what he has achieved in the boxing ring but outside of it, too.
“The great thing is, I’ve got a second chance,” Joshua said. “What got me into boxing in the first place, when I was a youngster and I got into a little bit of trouble now and again, was that I was blessed with a second chance and I found boxing and took it with both hands.
"If you know me and my story, you know I’m the ‘Comeback King’ — you can put me down, but it’s difficult to keep me down.”
The next leg of their promotional tour for the fight is London on Wednesday.