Anthony Joshua stands at a crossroads in his career but which direction will he go?

Planet Sport's Ryan Allan analyses what Anthony Joshua needs to change if he is to avenge his Oleksandr Usyk defeat and become heavyweight champion again...

The heavyweight game is littered with stories of redemption.

Even the greatest of champions will reach a crossroads in search of their ultimate fighting destiny. Anthony Joshua is one such champion.

Should the 32-year-old hang up his gloves tomorrow, no one could argue that his career has been anything other than an enormous success.

However, having surrendered his world titles to the brilliant Oleksander Usyk, Joshua faces the fight of his life with the upcoming rematch with the Ukrainian pencilled in for early 2022.

Can the former two-time heavyweight ruler and Olympìc gold medalist pull it off and become only the fourth man following Muhammad AliEvander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis in becoming a three-time heavyweight champion?

At this point, it would take a brave writer to answer in the affirmative.

Having appeared unable to change gear in his second career loss against Usyk, a change of trainer now appears to be the revival remedy sought by Team Joshua. Indeed, AJ has already travelled to the US to meet with Ronnie Shields and Virgil Hunter, among other esteemed trainers across the Atlantic.

Criticised for his decision to try and outbox the exceptionally skilled Usyk, the tactical game plan made by head-trainer Rob McCracken failed miserably. New ideas are now sought. But with McCracken set to remain as head trainer, will they make a difference?

Lessons from the past

While it is often said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, that old adage might not necessarily ring true in this case. For one, AJ remains relatively young in the tooth at just 32 and still only has 26 fights on his resume.

As a point of reference, Lennox Lewis, now considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, was 29 with 25 fights on his record when he suffered an embarrassing first loss, losing his WBC title to the hands of the unheralded Oliver McCall.

Indeed, Lewis is a fine example for AJ to follow. The great Brit would also suffer a second career loss, this time a brutal knockout loss at the hands of Hasim Rahman at the age of 35 and yet still managed to enhance his CV with a revenge win over Rahman. Further victories over Mike Tyson, and Vitali Klitschko added further gloss to an already outstanding legacy.

Lennox Lewis walks to corner after Michael Grant is knocked down in the 2nd Round

While Usyk is undoubtedly a better fighter than either McCall or Rahman, AJ would do well to borrow some of the single-minded mentality Lewis displayed in regaining his titles and ultimately finishing his career having beaten every man he ever faced inside the ring.

Or what about Wladimir Klitschko? The man Joshua stopped so gloriously at Wembley back in 2017. Prior to his 10-year rule at the summit of the heavyweight division, Wlad had been stopped on three separate occasions against less than stellar opposition.

Having been knocked out by Lamont Brewster in 2004, Klitschko would then hire the great Manny Steward as head trainer and as they say, the rest is history. Of course, those were different days and altogether different circumstances. Usyk is an outstandingly skilled fighter who will likely enter the rematch as a solid betting favourite.

Unfortunately, for Joshua, the veil of supremacy that he once adorned has now slipped from his crown. Losing to Andy Ruiz Jr could have been considered a mistake, a balls-up if you will. However, the Usyk loss will have cut that much deeper. He was well beaten by a far better and more skilful man on the night.

One punch can change everything

Oleksandr Usyk

Still, there is some hope for Joshua.

While the brilliant Ukrainian largely controlled their first bout, the Londoner did have his moments between rounds three and seven. However, despite some brief flurries, an inability to put his foot on the gas rendered any hope of victory obsolete. Yet, Usyk did look to be somewhat troubled by Joshua's pressure during that period of the fight.

Should AJ have adopted a more aggressive approach earlier and more consistently throughout the fight? Hindsight is a wonderful thing but attempting to outbox a man with over 300 amateur victories in his background was probably not the smartest idea.

While tactical deficiencies have been blamed on the loss, the question must be asked - is Anthony Joshua really the same fighter that fought so brilliantly between 2016 and his first loss to Andy Ruiz Jr?

While it would be unfair to label Joshua as gun-shy, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and the addition of a new voice to his team probably makes sense. However, the retention of McCracken's services would suggest that moving in an entirely new direction could prove somewhat challenging.

Certainly, AJ must use the natural physical advantages that he undoubtedly possesses in the rematch. Taller, broader and heavier, AJ would do well to take a leaf out of the near metamorphosis that Tyson Fury has employed in his two brilliant wins against former WBC king Deontay Wilder.

Previously considered a safety-first counter punching heavyweight, Fury would dispense of the services of head trainer Ben Davison and instead hire Kronk disciple SugarHill Steward.

The addition of serious firepower to the Fury armoury ensured the Gypsy King's remarkable evolution into a brutally skilled banger who uses all of the natural advantages - namely size and weight - that he brings to the table.

Joshua, while an undoubtedly brilliant athlete, has rarely made great use of his physical advantages. Standing at 6ft 6in with a body that Adonis himself would have yearned for, AJ remains one of the biggest punchers in the division.

Yet, in both his rematch with Ruiz Jr and the loss to Usyk, Joshua fought defensively and ultimately, unconvincingly. All of that devastating punching power was left in the locker room.

Tyson Fury to help avenge defeat?

Tyson Fury

Should he develop a few more tricks under the wise tutelage of a Shields or Hunter, and learn to fight taller, it is certainly conceivable that the Brit could yet become a three-time champion.

Fury has spoken, perhaps with tongue somewhat in cheek, that should Joshua allow himself and SugarHill to train him for the rematch, a victory would be "guaranteed".

While such a suggestion is easy to scoff at, there is a certain degree of truth in Fury's words. A more aggressive, come-forward style needs to be adopted but ultimately, whether Joshua can redefine himself as a new dog in the division remains to be seen.

Certainly, Joshua must step back from the "sweet science" approach he has adopted in recent bouts with Ruiz Jr and Usyk. Blunt force trauma surely needs to be adopted and an ability to pull the trigger rediscovered. And yet, as Wilder recently discovered, sometimes, someone just has your number. Styles make fights, and Usyk seems to be all wrong for AJ.

Even with a new approach, and the addition of a top American coach, success is far from guaranteed for AJ and should he come out of the rematch with a third career loss, it will be hard to shake the feeling that his time as a heavyweight champion will have drawn to a close.

Now at the crossroads of his career, everything is on the line for the two-time heavyweight ruler.

Will he sink, or will he swim? Only time will tell.

Read more: Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson - Every WBC world heavyweight champion

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