ANTHONY JOSHUA vs ALEXANDER POVETKIN
The heavyweight king must defend his throne
‘YOU WOULDN’T CHOOSE POVETKIN. HE’S FROM THE TOP TIER OF BOXING AND VERY DANGEROUS’
THOUGH it’s been nearly six months in the making, Russia’s Alexander Povetkin arrived in London this week, ahead of a September 22 fight with Anthony Joshua, knowing he’s the opponent nobody wants.
Do-gooder purists don’t want Povetkin because he’s a two-time drug cheat, casual fans don’t want him because he’s not Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury or Dillian Whyte, and the team behind Anthony Joshua would rather not have to deal with him because Povetkin, despite his lack of marketability, is a very, very capable heavyweight contender.
But none of this matters. As WBA mandatory challenger, Povetkin is here, he has – according to rankings at least – earned his shot, and a March 31 knockout of David Price, when strategically placed on an Anthony Joshua undercard, was our four-minute warning that ‘Sasha’ was next.
So, prepare yourself. Deal with it. If it’s not a sexy enough heavyweight title fight for you, or if it suffers when compared to Joshua vs. Wilder or even Joshua vs. Whyte, find consolation in this truth: Povetkin, at his best, is probably better than anyone Joshua has faced not named Wladimir Klitschko.
“Without a doubt,” said Joshua’s coach Rob Mccracken. “It’s not even close. He’s the mandatory. You wouldn’t choose him, would you? He’s a good fighter, he knows what he’s doing, he’s an Olympic champ, a world champ, and only lost his world title to Klitschko. He’s from the top tier of boxing and is very dangerous and well-schooled.”
That’s the sell in its simplest form and, with a fight like this, it’s best to keep things
simple. Here goes: Povetkin [inset] is a 39-year-old from Kursk, Russia, and boasts a 34-1 (24) professional boxing record. Before turning pro, he won a gold medal at the 2003 World Championships and a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games and was quite the commodity when deciding to ditch vest and headguard in 2005. (Frank Warren, in fact, was the first promoter with whom Povetkin was linked.)
On his 35-fight pro record, you’ll find noteworthy stoppage wins against the likes of Carlos Takam, Mariusz Wach, Manuel Charr, a faded Hasim Rahman, and, of course, David
Price. When going the distance, he has bested Ruslan Chagaev, against whom he won the WBA world heavyweight title in 2011, Marco Huck, and Christian Hammer.
Simply put, Povetkin has power in both hands, sufficient enough to stop some decent heavyweight contenders, but also possesses an engine unmatched by many of the opponents he has come up against in a 13-year pro career.
Moreover, while physically disadvantaged at six-foot-two, Povetkin, unlike most small heavyweights, knows how to effectively use his stature and is as adept as anyone at bobbing and weaving, using quick feet to close the distance, and throwing clusters of shots once on the inside. Nicely balanced, he chops away at opponents with body punches and hooks to the head, and his right hand, thrown in an arcing manner from unconventional angles, has led to the demise of many heavyweights previously deemed sturdy.
“Povetkin has a sneaky overhand right that he catches a lot of taller guys with,” warned Cedric Boswell, an American heavyweight Povetkin stopped in 2011. “I don’t think Joshua has the best chin. He doesn’t have a terrible chin, but you can see he’s vulnerable sometimes when he gets hit. If Povetkin can land that overhand right hook, this crazy shot he throws really well, Joshua needs to be careful.
“He has a great chance of beating Joshua. People are sleeping on him. He’s very dangerous.”
The only man so far good enough to discipline Povetkin is the great Wladimir Klitschko. He tamed the Russian in a 2013 defence of his various world heavyweight titles but had to go the full 12 rounds to do so. Looking back, there was no quit in Povetkin that night, despite the fact he was knocked down once in round two and three times in round seven, and his stock remained high irrespective of the result. “He’s as tough as a box of nails,” added Boswell. “You’re not going to break his will. You’re going to have to properly beat him to win the fight. He showed that when he fought Klitschko. Klitschko was a much better fighter when Povetkin fought him than he was when Joshua fought him. He hit him with everything and Povetkin didn’t quit.” With an impressive record, a wealth of amateur pedigree, and a single defeat against Wladimir Klitschko, it would seem Povetkin is a respectable challenger for any reigning world heavyweight champion. Never stopped, ³
typically exciting, he’s a heavyweight against whom a point can be made, fun can be had, and a legacy can be enhanced.
Surely, then, for those reasons, he should be welcomed in London with open arms, not derision. He should be considered a stern test of Anthony Joshua’s credentials. He should be talked about the way Joseph Parker, Joshua’s last opponent, was talked about, or given the attention Dillian Whyte, perhaps Joshua’s next opponent, gets.
But, no, this isn’t the case. And the reason this isn’t the case is because the Povetkin story is about more than just an impressive pro record, some gold medals and a brave showing against a legend. He is also, lest we forget, a man who failed two performanceenhancing drug tests (for meldonium and ostarine) in 2016, and someone who, following the second of these, almost decapitated a desperate Johann Duhaupas, a late-notice replacement for Bermane Stiverne.
Each of these incidents blackened an otherwise commendable set of accomplishments and left Povetkin shunned and avoided for reasons above and beyond the fact he possesses power in either fist. A cheat two times over, he became an easy man to ignore; someone whose previous achievements were now hard to judge.
Superficially speaking, the big wins still look good on paper, and they still form the record of a quality heavyweight contender. Yet, knowing what we now know, to what extent do they represent the real Alexander Povetkin? Furthermore, will we see the old Alexander Povetkin on September 22 or a new Alexander Povetkin?
It’s here it gets messy, confusing. It’s here you look for Mccracken to do what he does best. “You kind of simplify it in boxing gyms – you simplify everything,” he said. “Basically, he’s an Olympic champ, he’s a world champ, he’s very dangerous, and he’s a top-end fighter. That’s how we’ve approached it.”
It’s not so much a swerving of the question as a call, again, for simplicity. Because, frankly, if you think too hard about this fight, and go too deep, you’ll probably come to the conclusion it shouldn’t really be happening at all; that a man with two PED convictions shouldn’t be in a position to force the hand of a WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion.
Still, if nothing else, the controversy surrounding Povetkin adds a layer of intrigue, or a layer of dirt, to a matchup that is otherwise quite sanitised and lacks the wow factor of some of the alternative heavyweight fights currently being floated. Speculation, too, for who really knows what version of Povetkin will show up at Wembley Stadium this weekend? How will he look? How will he perform?
Certainly, against Price in March, the former champion appeared a mixed bag. On a positive note, he used his bob and weave style, his body shots, and those looping overhands to eventually cut down a man six inches taller than him, doing so in dramatic, brutal fashion in round five. Yet, if talking negatives, Povetkin, 39, was badly hurt on more than one occasion, close to being stopped before the bell saved him in round three, and seemed eminently beatable whenever Price, admittedly a mammoth puncher, so much as grazed him.
In many ways it was the ideal test run for those weighing up Povetkin as Joshua’s next opponent. He looked vulnerable, old and faded at times, but still had enough about him to secure a highlight-reel knockout before the halfway mark – with a shot that will no doubt be replayed to within an inch of its life during Joshua vs Povetkin fight week in an effort to make people care.
“Because he’s from Eastern Europe, maybe that’s an issue,” said Mccracken, when asked why Povetkin is a tough sell to British fans. “There’s a bit of mystique around the East but we’re in boxing and in boxing everybody knows Povetkin’s credentials. Everyone saw what he did against David Price. I’m sure he’ll be motivated and I’m sure he’ll be in tip-top shape. It’s a real challenge, but one Anthony is up for.”
He’ll need to be. For although it might not be the fashionable fight in the division, and Alexander Povetkin might not be the Alexander Povetkin of old, Joshua’s rise, which has so far been meteoric, can end with a single shot and Povetkin, no matter the version, is good enough to still end fights with a single shot.
‘PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING ON HIM. HE’S VERY DANGEROUS. HE HAS A GREAT CHANCE’ ‘YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BREAK HIS WILL. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO PROPERLY BEAT HIM TO WIN THE FIGHT’
What’s more, there’s an emphasis this time around on Joshua, 21-0 (20), not only getting the win and defending his belts but also entertaining in the process. Harsh though it may seem, his March victory over Parker didn’t get bums off seats, nor did a first defence against Carlos Takam in October, and there’s a feeling he needs to produce something decisive on Saturday night. With standards high, and the Klitschko classic still at the forefronts of our minds, Joshua has to deliver and remind people that stadium fights are about more than just long ring walks, oversized robes, retaining belts, and Michael Buffer miming along to ‘Sweet Caroline’.
In Povetkin, he has the ideal opponent to help him do this. Not only that, Joshua’s improvements, thanks to the work with Mccracken, are there for all to see, and while performances against the likes of Parker and Takam were efficient rather than dazzling, he showed new dimensions to a skillset many have criticised for being A-B-C. There was, for instance, variation and patience to his work; he seemed content to operate behind his jab, stifling the natural desire to scrap it out that led to trouble against the likes of Klitsckho and Whyte. His stamina, also, seems to have improved, a by-product of increasing composure, and he went the 12-round distance in March – for the first time – with very little difficulty.
All these additional wrinkles to his game, while not conducive to fireworks, will stand Joshua in good stead against a shorter but dangerous opponent like Povetkin. They will help him nullify his advances. They will help to break him down gradually, first by softening him up with his jab, and then by making him feel the weight of the champion’s bulk in close.
Of course, it’s in these areas Joshua, 28, will also have to be careful. Povetkin, though undersized, remains a sneaky, short-range puncher with a knack for finding holes most larger heavyweights don’t know exist. If he maintains his sharpness and snap, he can get to Joshua in close, perhaps when the bigger man loses concentration or feels winded, and will unquestionably take confidence from seeing the champion dropped and rocked in previous fights. This, for Povetkin, should provide hope even if Saturday becomes dark and gruelling and painful for the import. It will ensure he never stops trying. It will keep him swinging.
In the end, though, while an upset victory might be the only thing that makes Alexander Povetkin less popular than he already is, it’s hard, even in a sport that does its best to allow cheats to prosper, to make a case for it.
ULTIMATE TEST: Joshua [left] beats Klitschko at Wembley Stadium
CUT DOWN: Povetkin levels Price on the Joshuaparker undercard