JEDDAH: Fight Week for Rage on the Red Sea got underway in Jeddah on Monday night with headliners Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk making their first public appearances just days before their rematch at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena on Saturday, Aug. 20.
The British and Ukrainian fighters, as well as the organizers and promoters, gave their thoughts on the event to local and international media at the Shangri-La Hotel, with Saudi dignitaries present to cut the ribbon on what promises to be a seismic week for boxing in the Kingdom.
Rage on the Red Sea, with an undercard that also features Saudi-Egyptian boxer Ziyad Al-Maayouf and the first ever female professional fight in the Kingdom, is expected to be one of the biggest boxing events in many years.
Joshua, speaking to Arab News, said he is in a relaxed mood and very well prepared ahead of the most important fight of his career, as he looks to become world heavyweight champion for a third time.
“I don’t feel any pressure going into this unification fight. The preparations for the fight have been tough and challenging, but my confidence levels are very good and I believe we’re in a good place heading into Saturday night and (to make) history in the heavyweight championship,” he said.
“I have worked hard, sparred more and focused more on my fortitude,” he said. “Fans around the world should absolutely get ready for the extraordinary treat this weekend. For me, this is to become a three-time heavyweight champion of the world. It’s number one against number two; the unified titles, the Ring Magazine belt, it doesn’t get any bigger than this in our sport.”
Usyk is happy to fight in Saudi Arabia, and the reigning champion insisted he cannot allow the troubles in his home country to distract him from his title defense.
“Certainly my friends and people close to me are suffering, and many of the people have died in this war but I don’t let any of that get to me,” he said. “I have been training for months and it has gone extremely well. I am ready to take whatever comes my way in the main event. For a fighter, I believe mindset is exceptionally important ahead of Rage on the Red Sea and I have the mindset needed to win this fight again.”
Usyk carried a gift from his daughter as a good luck charm throughout the media session and called on his fans to watch him win on Saturday.
Frank Smith, CEO of Matchroom Boxing, said the fight will be one of the sport’s biggest nights.
“It’s been a long time coming for the Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk rematch. Joshua will be coming in looking to knock Usyk out of the ring and get his belt back,” he added. “He has been in Riyadh three years ago and to be back here hopefully is his good luck charm to win again.”
Alex Krassyuk of K2 Promotions said that the bout will rank among the biggest, most historic fights in history.
“This rematch is not any regular match,” he told Arab News. “This is something that will be happening as a result of the first fight, in which Usyk defeated Joshua after being the underdog, and gained three belts out of four. Although he is the reigning unified champion of the world in the heavyweight division, now he has to defend his crown.”
“It’s always a very complicated assignment for every fighter to defend rather than to achieve or obtain. Usyk is very professional and knows how to work, how to deal with his job, and how to get the preparations done properly. He stayed in the training camp for more than three months. Usyk is a real professional and he knows how to stay away from bad things that can influence his approach and just focus on what will happen inside the ring.”
Commenting on any strategies that the British fighter can use against Usyk, Krassyuk said: “Joshua has a lot to lose with this since it’s his second chance. This is do or die for him. He will come with everything that he has behind him and put all the effort to gain victory.
“He will be strong and brutal, and as fast as possible to deal with Usyk within the first six or seven rounds. Usyk has to be prepared to go through hell in the first part of the fight. He needs to stick to the game plan, listen to those in his corner, and remain disciplined. Nevertheless, he is prepared and has been working hard for it since the age of 15.”
Meanwhile Al-Maayouf, who will take on Mexico’s Jose Alatorre on Saturday, believes the main event is too close to call.
“I think it’s a 50-50,” he said. “If Joshua comes into a fight trying to change too much it will be a harder night for him. Maybe if he focuses on one small thing and works on that strength, he will get to win the title back. Whereas Usyk has a strong mentality going into this fight because of everything happening in Ukraine, and he is here fighting for a lot of very important people back in his home country.”
On being the first professional fighter to represent Saudi Arabia, Al-Maayouf said that “it’s an honor and privilege to be present here and get to do what I do best in front of my home crowd. I want to be the symbol for this sport not only in Saudi Arabia but in the Arab world. I want to empower the 2030 vision and bring more and more people to see how good Saudi Arabia is at this event.”
Fight Week continues with more media interactions and a public workout for all the fighters at the Saudi Airlines Club on Tuesday, Aug. 16, before the entire card returns to the Shangri-La Hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 17, for the full pre-fight press conference.
The public weigh-ins will then take place on Friday, Aug. 19, at the King Abdullah Sports City before the fighters return to the stadium on Saturday, Aug. 20, for fight night.