Usyk the favourite ahead of Joshua rematch

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Boxing - Oleksandr Usyk v Anthony Joshua - WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight world title - Press Conference - Shangri-La Ballroom, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - August 17, 2022 Oleksandr Usyk during the press conference Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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Aug 18 (Reuters) - Ukraine's defending champion Oleksandr Usyk is attracting the money ahead of his "Rage on the Red Sea" heavyweight world title rematch with Britain's Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

British bookmaker William Hill had Usyk as the 4/7 favourite, with 80% of customers backing the Ukrainian to win by knockout or stoppage. Joshua was down as a 13/8 underdog, with a draw at 16/1.

"Most of the commentary around this rematch has been in favour of a Oleksandr Usyk victory, with the Ukrainian being very much the one our customers want to be with ahead of Saturday night," said Hill spokesman Tony Kenny.

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Spread betting firm Sporting Index forecast Usyk would stop Joshua early in the ninth round.

Both men will be fighting for more than a fistful of world heavyweight boxing belts and a bumper payday when they step into the ring in Jeddah.

Undefeated Usyk, putting his WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts on the line, will carry the hopes of a nation scarred by battle and fighting a real war for survival after Russia's invasion.

The 35-year-old, who has served with the Ukrainian army, wore Cossack clothes and stood to sing a patriotic call to arms when the fighters came face to face at a news conference in Jeddah on Wednesday.

"His incentive to take this fight was not his thirst for success or willingness to become the greatest; he took it for his country and for his people, because Ukraine needs victory," his promoter Alexander Krassyuk told the BBC.

Joshua, who lost to Usyk in front of a sell-out home crowd at London's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last September, is fighting for his future.

The 32-year-old may not be heading into retirement if he loses again but his days of big-money title fights could be over.

"It’s up to me at the end of the day, it’s not up to anyone else what I do with my career," Joshua told reporters this week as retirement questions were asked.

"I don’t have to do this. Why do I do it? It’s because it’s all I know."

Victory might be enough to make WBC champion Tyson Fury rethink his retirement, opening up the prospect of an all-British showdown for the unified title in what would be box office gold.

Usyk and Joshua will meet for the weigh-in on Friday, with Usyk expected to be considerably heavier than in the first fight with Joshua.

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Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond

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