The £200million super fight with Tyson Fury had evaporated after 12 rounds of being eviscerated by Usyk, who delivered the perfect fight plan while Joshua’s went awry from the opening bell.
It led former heavyweight George Foreman to suggest the Briton had lost his identity, had too many different voices in his head telling him what to do and needed to find his own path.
The required path is for Joshua to get back to the explosive puncher who knocked out Usyk’s countryman Wladimir Klitschko, himself sat in the front row at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, so brilliantly four years ago.
Instead, he tried to take on Usyk at his own game on Saturday and tactically he just was not good enough.
Can he beat Usyk? The manner in which he was outboxed — the Ukrainian comfortably won at least eight rounds — would initially suggest not.
But if he goes back to his strengths rather than be obsessive about how much he has improved as a fighter since beating Kubrat Pulev then victory is eminently achievable.
Instead of having his left jab prodding unconvincingly in front of him early on as he had done in fight one, he needs to go on the offensive and use that additional power — he boasted 19lbs more in weight, three inches in height and four in reach — to his advantage.
Joshua said: “I’m just going to go back and look at myself and correct my wrongs. I’ll pick up from where we left off now and then I’ll come back and try to be better. I’m sure I’ll be better in the next one.
“I’ve got an opportunity to go back to the drawing board. I can’t go back and sulk, that’s wasting time. I’m going to look at ways I can improve. Straight away, I’ve already been watching the fight and figuring out what I could have done better. I’m a quick learner and we’ll bounce back.”
Joshua’s learning will have to be rapid. Promoter Eddie Hearn is already pushing for a rematch as early as February. The UK is again the favourite to host it and, while new champion Usyk would dearly love it to take place in Kiev, he is also unlikely to push particularly vehemently against a return to London, the scene of his two biggest wins – Olympic gold in London 2012 and now this.
Asked to rank the fight in his career, Usyk said simply it was not his hardest, a truthful summary of how much he dictated proceedings.
He will have every confidence in a return against Joshua. He came close to ending the fight in the final round and will have got in the head of his opponent the way he rubbed salt into the wound late on knowing fight one was won and the rematch already looming.
The question of whether Joshua will win the rematch is harder to answer.
Carl Froch, commentating ringside for the BBC, said: “I don’t fancy AJ in the rematch. Usyk could have spent the last rounds avoiding getting hit but instead he went at Joshua and now he’s in his head. He looked like he could go a few more rounds too. The only way AJ wins now is if he roughs him up, bullies him.”
Joshua also needs to forget Fury, arguably too much of a distraction leading into this fight with its potential riches and the shot at reunification. The only reality is that lose to Usyk again and his career is in tatters.