Oleksandr Usyk and his team fought and then fought some more, until they finally got the fight they wanted all along.

The move from cruiserweight to heavyweight has been a relatively smooth transition for Ukraine’s Usyk (18-0, 13KOs), though receiving his overdue title shot in boxing’s most storied division proved to be another matter. Nearly two full years after moving up in weight, the former World cruiserweight champion finally gets the chance to become a two-division titlist ahead of his challenge of WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua this weekend.

“This fight with Anthony was overdue,” Usyk pointed out ahead of their title fight this Saturday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. “It should have happened a year ago, but it was God’s will that it’s happening [now] and I’m happy about it.”

The bout marks the third appearance at heavyweight for Usyk since moving up in 2019. It came after becoming undisputed champion at cruiserweight, a run that saw him serve as boxing’s ultimate road warrior in defeating three separate unbeaten titlists in their home countries. A twelve-round win over Russia’s Murat Gassiev in their July 2018 World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament final in Moscow—where both boxers entered as undefeated, unified cruiserweight titlists—was followed by a knockout win over England’s Tony Bellew later that November in Manchester, England for his final cruiserweight title defense.

From there came the move to heavyweight, where he was installed as the WBO mandatory challenger at the sanctioning body’s annual convention in December 2019. The combination of the pandemic and a legal battle that saw IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev get his title fight first led to a lengthy delay in Usyk pursuing his goal of claiming title status in a second weight division.

It’s a daunting task ahead, as Usyk takes on a fellow 2012 Olympic Gold medalist who has since established himself as one of the best heavyweights of his generation. Joshua (24-1, 22KOs) attempts the second defense of his current reign after having regained all of the belts in December 2019, having previously lodged six successful defenses during his first title tour. The 6’6” Brit is more than a 3-1 favorite to prevail this weekend, though with a healthy portion of the industry viewing Usyk as no worse than a live underdog.

The undefeated southpaw views himself as so much more than that.

“I’m focusing on becoming a champion in the heavyweight division,” insists Usyk, who has not fought since a twelve-round win over Derek Chisora last Halloween. “I’m not motivated by money or titles or belts.

“My only motivation is boxing, and this is what I’m doing for the sake of boxing.” 

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox