Oleksandr Usyk on Ukraine war and preparation for Anthony Joshua rematch

Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua will get back in the ring with the Ukrainian fighter looking to keep hold of his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles won in London last September

Oleksandr Usyk has admitted he “cannot stop thinking about the war” in Ukraine as he begins preparations for his rematch with Anthony Joshua.

The IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion has been back in his war-torn homeland for the last six weeks after Russia's invasion at the end of February. After receiving special dispensation to start preparing for a late June fight with Joshua, Usyk is trying to focus on the day job.

Usyk joined a territorial defence battalion near Ukraine at the start of the invasion. He is relieved not to have witnessed much of the conflict but says the horrors of war have not totally eluded him.

"Luckily I did not see much of the war. But what I see and what I know from my relatives and my friends is terrible," Usyk (19-0) told Blockasset.

"Some of my friends are missing and we do not know where they are now. Many of my relatives lost their homes, and lost their friends and loved ones.

'"Frankly speaking, all that is going on now is quite horrible in Ukraine. Every day I pray for the soonest possible end of this horror. In comparison with war, boxing is child's play."

Usyk, who dominated in his 12-round win over Joshua in September, has revealed he has started his preparations for the fight which looks set to take place in Saudi Arabia.

Usyk outclassed Joshua from the first round at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with all three judges giving him the nod - 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113.

The former cruiserweight champion says he has started training for the fight and is trying to put the war to the back of his mind.

"'Although it was not easy for me, but I took such a decision, so now I am here and I have already started preparation for the rematch with Anthony Joshua," he added.

"Now I want to concentrate as much as possible on my preparation.

"'Because at the moment I cannot stop thinking about the war, about my friends in Ukraine.

"'And I have to get rid of such thoughts as much as possible in order to be prepared well for the Anthony Joshua fight and be able to glorify again my God and my native land."

Joshua's build-up has been in stark contrast to that of Usyk's. For his part the Watford fighter has been talking about his earlier years as a footballer.

It's unfair to say that Joshua (24-2) has had a pressure-free preparation. He has switched trainers with Angel Fernadez stepping into the shoes of long-time coach Rob McCracken.

The two-time world heavyweight champion has worked with Eddy Reynoso and Ronnie Shields since his defeat to Usyk, but Fernandez, who has been in his camp for the last few years anyway, has taken on the role as his main trainer.

Joshua risking top-five spot

And while the upheaval may not have affected Joshua too much, he does face the prospect of falling out of the top five heavyweights in the world if he loses to Usyk again.

Joe Joyce, Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz J are all waiting in the wings.

While Usyk has been focused on defending his country, Joshua has taken in a local community day and been speaking about his time as a semi-pro footballer.

"I used to play football with [his friend] Hiney when we was 13! I was a problem! Top striker! 41 goals a season," Joshua wrote alongside a video of him playing with an old team-mate.

Usyk's title defence against the Brit will present two fighters who have experienced vastly different build-ups.

Whether Usyk's war experiences will see him more determined than ever remains to be seen. It could work against the 35-year-old, who could see a more effective Joshua under the tutelage of Spanish coach Fernandez.

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