The heavyweight championship of the world – how did it ever come to this?
It was once the marquee boxing division; loud, brutal, thrilling and awash with hype and money. These days, it’s an embarrassment, a mongrel mess of heavy feet and stiff arms, lumbering robots and flabby scrappers.
The Klitschko brothers have dominated the division for a decade, with Wladimir still fighting. He’s efficient, technically decent and dull. Very dull.
WBC champion Deontay Wilder is about the only established name out there who has the presence, power and athleticism to give the heavyweight division a chance of regaining its long-lost credibility.
But in his last two fights, against supposedly world class opposition (if Stiverne, and especially Molina, can actually be classified as such) ‘The Bronze Bomber’ has hardly set a decidedly dreary division alight.
It might be left to a novice from Watford to get the heavyweights shining for the first time in decades.
The evergreen (but still dull) Wladimir Klitschko seems to think so.
“Anthony Joshua is the future. He is young, big, strong, fast, an athlete and a powerful puncher.”
Lennox Lewis agrees.
“The world is waiting for the next dynamic heavyweight. If Joshua is that big man then translate those hundred million dollars into pounds, for starters. He would certainly earn more than Mike Tyson or myself.”
Can we believe the hype?
His pro career, like so many before him, has been blighted with accusations that he’s fought only hand-picked bums and fall guys, journeymen and paunchy punch bags.
Twelve fights, twelve KOs, just 22 rounds started. The seventh of those bouts involved Joshua’s first experience of an opponent to have fought for a world title. Fellow Brit Matt Skelton was the opponent. Joshua beat him by TKO in two rounds.
The doubters wanted a marked step up in class for his thirteenth fight.
American Kevin Johnson was duly delivered – a man who’d never been stopped in 36 bouts, who’d taken Vitali Klitschko the distance, who’d bet 15 grand on himself to school Joshua.
A number of pundits considered that to be money well spent. They wondered whether Johnson would be too soon and too savvy for the Brit. Joshua, after all, only took up boxing, as an 18-year-old, in 2007. Two years after that, while Johnson was fighting Klitschko, Joshua was winning the Haringey Box Cup.
Could raw young talent even lay a glove on weathered professionalism. Could it chip away at that granite chin?
Joshua put Johnson down twice in the first and ended it in the second.
He had arrived.
So what has he got? A lot.
He’s big – 6ft six ins, athletic, powerful, quick. He’s all muscle but not muscle-bound. His hands are fast for a heavyweight, his right hand a cruel weapon.
But has he got the lot?
Time will tell. He’s not been pushed back, threatened or even tagged yet. He’s not had to go beyond three rounds. So his stamina and far more importantly, his ability to take a punch, remains a question not truly asked yet.
With the exception, maybe, of Deontay Wilder, there don’t seem to be many out there with the capability to make that enquiry. Or, it seems, the desire – his promoter is already claiming that Joshua is the man they want to avoid.
His rise has been fast. Only five years after starting the sport he was winning Olympic gold, albeit amid accusations of home town decisions.
Now, just two years after turning pro, he’s being talked of as the man to unify a division too long a fractured and uninspiring mess.
Wilder has gone on record with the following pronouncement: “It’s time to bring back the undisputed heavyweight championship to America, where it belongs.”
It might happen. It really might.
But the smart money is beginning to be drawn to the possibility of an undisputed champ from the other side of the Atlantic.
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