How soon is now for Anthony Joshua
The questions raised and acknowledged in New York will continue to swirl in a London fog of imponderability until the opening bell…
Anthony Joshua MBE and Wladimir Klitschko PhD began to turn the promotional wheels a little for their April 29th heavyweight showdown with a press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, followed by some further photo opportunities in Times Square for a few New York minutes.
This is as cerebral as heavyweight boxing promotion gets and shared more in common with leather-bound book tours where two dueling philosophers enjoy a healthy respect for each other’s dogma but are happy to gently debate the differences under the arc lights.
Following a cordial “Good day New York, Good day Madison Square Garden” greeting to the assembled press pack, Professor Klitschko’s assessment of the imminent battle concluded with “I am obsessed with my goal to become three-time world champion. An obsession with love. I do it with love. And I know how serious my opposition is and I’m happy to give to the fans, that have great patience for seeing me back in the ring again. It’s going to be an amazing event and a great fight.”
Between the greeting and the assessment, he also pondered the questions that we are all pondering “Is he (Joshua) going to be the biggest star in boxing? Maybe yes. Maybe not. Is it too early for Anthony? Is it too late for you? How Anthony’s going to handle somebody that is not afraid or in fear standing in the ring? How’s he going to feel if he’s fighting at a pace he’s not controlling? How’s he going to feel if he gets hit again, again, again and again… and again…?
By way of reply, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Joshua opined, “It’s interesting. It’s interesting because this now is all about the mind games.”
“No, no, no, this is not mind games,” interjected Klitschko.
“It’s all about the mind, all about the mind,” replied Joshua before a refined acknowledgement that the questions of “Is it too soon, what type of audiences has he fought in front of? What type of opponents has he faced? Is it too soon?” were questions that should be raised and would largely be answered by destiny.
Cerebral, yes. Mind games not so much, yet.
And there’s a certain irony in that, because this is actually the most exciting, significant and potentially competitive heavyweight clash in more than a decade and one that cuts right through the alphabetti spaghetti of title belt mayhem too.
This already record-breaking spring date at London’s Wembley Stadium will give us a much clearer picture of whether the Klitschko era really is over and whether Anthony Joshua is more than an exciting contender. And one who, with a victory over the Ukrainian legend, could also become a champion who can really grow into the IBF belt that he already holds.
The questions raised and acknowledged in New York will continue to swirl in a London fog of imponderability until the opening bell parts that mist and the answers are punched into view.
And there is also much more at play here than mere youth versus experience too, although that is of course the fat that marbles the prime sirloin of the fight narrative.
This might not be a ’68 Comeback Special for Wladimir Klitschko, but it is a comeback all the same. A comeback, by fight night, from 17 months away from competitive action and more significantly a comeback from defeat.
2015’s loss to Tyson Fury in Dusseldorf was a frustrating one for the then champion who was also undefeated in more than a decade. And a clear loss it was, handed down by the tactically perfect-on-the-night Fury who nullified Klitschko and made him look old and ordinary enough to suggest that the baton had officially changed hands.
And the signs were there prior to the Fury defeat too. The unanimous decision victory over Bryant Jennings in New York earlier that year showed that chinks of light were beginning to cut through the darkness of the Klitschko method and illuminate at least the makings of fallibility.
By the time Wladimir laces them up to meet the beats rocking, sponsor dripping, Olympic gold medal toting Anthony Joshua under the Wembley arch, he won’t have looked great inside the ring for almost two years to the day.
That’s a long time gone for a fighter with 68 on the clock, a defeat fresh in the muscle memory and a 41st birthday only a month removed…
So is that advantage Joshua? Maybe. Maybe not.
Over the course of his last four fights, Anthony Joshua has proven himself a legitimate contender in the heavyweight division, with wins over exactly the sort of unbeaten prospect and ranked opponents that you would expect him to be meeting in fights 15, 16,17 and 18 of his developing career.
It has been a perfect professional start for the 2012 Heavyweight Boxing Gold Medal winning Olympian, since he signed with the ubiquitous Matchroom Sport promotional banner in July of 2013 — 18 Fights. 18 Wins. 18 Knockouts.
Fight 15 was interesting, being a professional meeting with Dillian Whyte, a man who had inflicted Joshua’s last defeat in the ring, albeit an amateur encounter back in 2009.
But promotions need stories and this was a perfect one, providing a twist of grudge and a chance for repeat or redemption for two fighters then yet to taste defeat as a pro.
A Joshua knockout victory in the 7th round capped an entertaining fight between two prospects, one hot the other hotter, but at similar stages of their fledgling paid careers.
More notable was Joshua’s ability to recover from a leg stiffening, cling to survive 30 seconds in the second round, following a solid Whyte left hook which exhumed the bench-pressing ghosts of Frank Bruno.
Fight 16 took place in April of 2016 at London’s O2 Arena, against California’s Charles Martin — the IBF World Champion — a title taken from Vyacheslav Glazkov, three months earlier, following the latter’s inability to continue due to a knee injury, in a bout contesting the vacant belt.
Martin arrived in the London ring wearing a crown, a shroud of inevitability and shorts which looked borrowed from the lost property peg.
He left the ring without either his crown or his IBF Championship belt following a couple of unremarkable knockdowns in the second round, which left him smiling in a combination of athletic concession and the fortune of financial gain.
In June of the same year, Fight 17 saw Anthony Joshua make a successful first defense of his IBF belt against fellow 2012 Olympian Dominic Breazeale.
A former NFL quarterback, boxing latecomer Breazeale, like Joshua, had also competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games, but unlike Joshua had exited after the preliminary rounds.
But the unbeaten, 17-fight pro career which followed was enough to bring him back to the same city to challenge for the IBF heavyweight title.
Joshua’s one-way offensive traffic proved too much for the tougher than expected Breazeale who failed to beat the count following a second knockdown in the 7th round.
2016 ended in December as years do, with Joshua drumming Eric Molina back and down into his own corner over three one-sided rounds for a TKO win in front of Wladimir who climbed into the ring to fuse brands Klitschko and Joshua in announcing their agreement of terms to meet.
“Do you want to see a big fight?” Klitschko asked the audience from center ring across the O2 Arena public address system, “Do you want to see two Olympic champions in there? You got it.”
The question was rhetorical but the audience response was rapturous.