An­thony Joshua talks up Takam with Deon­tay Wilder wait­ing in the wings

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Kevin Mitchell

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.

Pho­to­graph: Richard Heath­cote/Getty Images

An­thony Joshua works out with his trainer Rob McCracken in prepa­ra­tion to fight Car­los Takam.

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