MARTIN SAMUEL: Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk is a PROPER fight the public wants

MARTIN SAMUEL: Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk is a PROPER fight the public wants

MARTIN SAMUEL: Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk is a PROPER fight the public wants

Sometimes you can believe the hype. Particularly when there are none.

Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk frowned under a big screen promoting The Rage on the Red Sea, which took place on Saturday. It’s not a great slogan, it’s not Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila, but the marketing department works with the summary that is given.

What’s a copywriter to do, considering location? The nerve crusher in Jeddah? The wrecker not far from Mecca?

MARTIN SAMUEL: Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk is a PROPER fight the public wants

Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday doesn’t require any trash talk

Regardless, this is a fight that defies empty bombast. Why? Because it’s a fight. It’s a proper fight that the public wants to see, and a fight that must be made. It’s not an empty competition, it’s not part of a trilogy as the champion eludes a better or more worthy opponent, it certainly isn’t easy to win either.

So for once, no one needed to listen to trash talk or watch a mock confrontation after intense observation to make it interesting. They did not speak in vain of fatality, or of blasphemies or invented hatred. The protagonists could have sat at the main table, knitting. In fact, Usyk was wearing a traditional Cossack outfit that suggested he might have done it.

If this were at Wembley, tickets would be like gold dust even with room for 90,000. It only takes place in a room of 8,000 people, with about 5,000 paying customers, because most of the money for boxing promotions these days comes from the East.

However, the fight does not need false inflation. The stakes for both men are immense. Eddie Hearn, reduced to acting as master of ceremonies since most of the promotional investment is entirely from Saudi Arabia, asked Usyk about the biggest fight of his career, but that’s surely a question best directed at Joshua. .

Joshua focused on revenge after losing the first fight against Usyk last September

Joshua focused on revenge after losing the first fight against Usyk last September

He’s the one clinging to the hope of a legacy, he’s the one who may be contemplating retirement if this ends in a second defeat.

Usyk’s motivation is just as great but very different. He wants to inspire a nation under siege, to ensure that the Ukrainian anthem is heard around the world, according to its promoter, Alexander Krassyuk.

Any one of these incentives would be a sale, a marketable backstory in a world obsessed with them. However, the fact that the fighters are well-matched, the fact that this promises to be a technical and tactical battle as well as an old-fashioned breakout, adds to its appeal.

Many times we think we know what will happen in the ring; So many times they don’t serve us the dish we want. This is different. So when the fighters came face to face yesterday, none had been baited with slurs or insults, no one was under pressure to act like a salesman. They respectfully discussed their intentions in the ring and then, called to face each other, they watched until it got boring.

Joshua looked like a western jock, toned and well-built under his tailored blue shirt. Usyk looked like a character from a Disney movie, and not necessarily the good one either. He is an intimidating outfit, the Cossack uniform, unmistakably Eastern, the shaved head with a single long lock of hair emanating from the middle, the mustache drooping. He is from Crimea, the part of Ukraine that Russia has annexed, and his clothes seemed to funnel Zaporozhian Cossacks from east of the Dnieper River.

Usyk looked fearsome in his Cossack uniform at Wednesday's pre-fight press conference.

Usyk looked fearsome in his Cossack uniform at Wednesday’s pre-fight press conference.

They were a fearsome race, famous for their raids on Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Usyk’s clear intent was an echo of that lineage. With a modern touch, of course. Usyk can no longer ride with a Tartar’s head on a pike, as depicted in a famous 18th-century painting by Tymofiy Kalynskyi, but there are other feats of courage and strength, more appropriate for combat than 21st-century entertainment.

“I have never seen anyone in 45-degree heat ride a bike for 100km,” Usyk manager Egis Klimas said. I have never seen anyone swim for five hours. I’ve never seen anyone hold their breath underwater for four minutes and 40 seconds, nearly die, and then shake off. I hope this all helps on Saturday.

Joshua could have put on lipstick. Not unless we’re having a pool fight, man. But he did not. This is too serious to be smart. Instead, as the men stared at each other, it was his entourage who barked in encouragement, the way figures on the fringes often do in boxing.

Krassyuk had a little chip back, but the fighters remained unmoved. Then, when Joshua parted from him, Usyk smiled broadly and began leading his local contingent in a rendition of Ukraine’s national song.

Usyk's promoter, Alexander Krassyuk (L), intervened in the press conference, but Usyk did not respond to any liquidation tactics from Joshua's entourage.

Usyk’s promoter, Alexander Krassyuk (L), intervened in the press conference, but Usyk did not respond to any liquidation tactics from Joshua’s entourage.

Oi u luzi chervona kalyna translates to Oh, the red Viburnum in the meadow. It was written in 1875 when the country was fighting for independence but has understandably found new life in recent months. The words were unintelligible to most ears, though not to the guys in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on a T-shirt, with COLORS OF FREEDOM written across the chest, but the meaning was not.

Usyk the Cossack was grinning and clapping as the Joshua cheerleaders made their way to the exits. Tyson Fury sings Sweet Caroline or American Pie because he’s a showman, but something deeper was going on here. This was not patriotism as the scoundrel’s last resort. This was a country and a people fighting for the right to exist; though many miles from the actual battlefield. As Madonna said of Rita Hayworth, Usyk also puts on a good face.

Yet here we are, in Saudi Arabia, because they have a lot of money. In addition to Usyk’s acapella, the hosts’ national anthem was played twice. Once before the undercard intro, then again after Joshua and Usyk took the stage.

Eddie Hearn was in charge of the press conference, while Joshua and Usyk remained respectful

Eddie Hearn was in charge of the press conference, while Joshua and Usyk remained respectful

Everyone was expected to stand up and obediently they did before Hearn launched into a rant about the boxing revolution now taking place across the country. Juniors taking over the game, women on the card, everyone who spoke thanked their gracious hosts. It was the only part of the event that felt done with a palette.

Saudi Arabia’s love and contribution to the sweet science must be sold because it then distracts from considerably more uncomfortable questions about what the fight is doing here and the motivations on all sides.

However, when the bell rings, that will be forgotten because what is expected is an eternal fight. The anger at the Red Sea. Although it is the complete absence of sound and fury that tells you, this time it is real.

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