Anthony Joshua talks up Takam with Deontay Wilder waiting in the wings
Carlos Takam, under normal circumstances, would have been the perfect sparring partner to help Anthony Joshua prepare for the fourth defence of his IBF world title in Cardiff next Saturday night. The 36-year-old Frenchman is tough, skilled and hungry for any work that comes his way. He is also doomed, having been catapulted into the most inhospitable space in boxing: the corner opposite a champion who has stopped all 19 of his opponents.
Having been drafted in so late to replace the injured Kubrat Pulev, Takam will make the best of his dubious privilege and in the coming days his connections and the promoters will no doubt elevate this honest former Olympian into some sort of roaring ogre, despite the fact he has operated on the periphery of his sport since turning professional in 2005.
Takam, a lively character who bristles with self-belief, will give his best, take his licks and, if he can compute the experience in a disorientated haze later on, then send his thanks to Pulev for inadvertently giving him the biggest payday of his career. The Bulgarian, whose shoulder went on him in training, was receiving a seven-figure sum; Takam will get less because he had few alternatives. He last stepped into a ring in June, accounting for the moderate challenge of the 35-yearold Ivica Bacurin in two rounds on the undercard of a small show in an Italian casino.
Takam has moved in better company than that, otherwise the esteemed IBF would not have rated him No3 in their heavyweight list. Would they ...? Whatever Sky, Matchroom or the fighter and his trainer proclaim in the days to come, there is no other believable scenario that would have launched Takam into the scariest night of his life. By virtue of his ranking, he was a contracted fallback and, more than likely, he will be falling back again after a few rounds next Saturday night.
It is not difficult to gauge Takam’s reduced worth in the wider mix. Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, is talking to the unbeaten American Deontay Wilder, who will surely meet his British rival next summer. Hearn first wants Wilder to fight and beat the growling Londoner Dillian Whyte, before bringing his WBC belt to London for Joshua. Wilder wants Joshua after his upcoming defence against another old warhorse and former victim, the Haitian-Canadian Bermane Stiverne.
Takam, like the 38-year-old Stiverne, is one of those hardy perennials with a sound chin and decent power, but he is not Pulev – who was knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko three years ago. Nor is he Joseph Parker, who outpointed him in May last year, and who only just beat Hughie Fury in Manchester last month; he is no Alexander Povetkin, who stopped him in 10 rounds in Moscow two years ago; but he is probably on a par with Mike Perez, the talented but wasted Cuban exile, who drew with him in 2014 and who three weeks ago could not quite do
enough over 12 rounds in Riga to beat Mairis Briedis, a 32-year-old undefeated Latvian who is even more anonymous than Takam.
Joshua won this version of the title last year, blowing away Charles Martin, then did much the same to Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina, before the finest performance of his career, when he got off the floor to stop Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley in April. Even using the reduced currency of modern heavyweight boxing, replacing one 36-year-old challenger of reasonable distinction with another of the same age and similar pedigree should be a tough sell and, going on the adverse reaction of fans who had already shelled out for pay-per-view, that is what this fight will be.
Joshua, however, has done his best to be candid about his changed circumstances. He identified the central dilemma created by Pulev’s late withdrawal. “This is a mustwin fight,” he said. “As much as my supporters want to see me win, there are still a few people who doubt me and want me to lose and disrupt our plan. They don’t want to see the cream rise to the top. Twenty wins, 20 knockouts ain’t bad, but boxing’s unforgiving. If Takam beats me, that loss will stay on my record for a lifetime. That will always be my legacy.”
Joshua, unlike some fighters, sees his legacy stretching out beyond boxing. He told TalkSport: “If you are only looking for success in my job, you are going to keep searching for a new high every time, and you are never going to be happy. I want to help people from the ground up and support people who need it, because I needed help and I got it, it’s made me a better person. Forget the belts and selling out arenas, the sport has made me a better man and that’s what I want to give back. That’s a legacy.”
Sounding like the reincarnation of St Anthony, he added: “Boxing is a working man’s sport. The fans are people that get up early in the morning and graft – and that’s the boxer’s life, so people relate to that. I’ve always told my story and been honest with who I am and where I’ve been in my life. People have related to it and got behind my journey, from the amateurs all the way to Cardiff.”
On their behalf as much as his own, then, Joshua will not take Takam lightly, even if fans and experts have already made their minds up about the outcome. “He’s so tough,” Joshua said. “He just keeps on walking forward, and that’s disheartening for a fighter. When I’m in there with him, it will be interesting to see how game and ready he is, and what fire he is ready to go through.”
It will be. For about 10 minutes.
Anthony Joshua works out with his trainer Rob McCracken in preparation to fight Carlos Takam.