JOSHUA vs POVETKIN
Ringside report and reaction from Wembley Stadium
DISASTER was in the air. Autumn positioned itself above Wembley Stadium and opened the skies. The flimsy undercard all but drowned in the downpour. Ponchos covered ringsiders as puddles of rain threatened to short-circuit their laptops. Even Neil Diamond and his trusty Sweet Caroline failed to repel the sense of impending doom.
This just did not feel the same as previous Anthony Joshua carnivals. And it wasn’t just the weather or the soporific support. It was the atmosphere. The thrill had gone.
Wladimir Klitschko had been greeted with open arms into an April 2017 showpiece that the world craved. Carlos Takam was invited along for the victory lap six months later. And then-wbo boss Joseph Parker was something of a necessity for March’s bring-a-belt party. In sharp contrast, Alexander Povetkin just wasn’t welcome. He wasn’t WBC champion Deontay Wilder or domestic rival Tyson Fury. He wasn’t even old foe Dillian Whyte. He was a two-time drug cheat. He was the WBA’S mandatory challenger, unquestionably accomplished, but unknown to too many. And when Wilder and Fury stole the attention just hours before to confirm they would fight on December 1, Joshua was under immense pressure to steal it back.
The Russian entered the ring first. Sheltered beneath the black hood of his robe, his face was emotionless. He embraced his role as villain. Moody rock music thundered through the stadium. And for 15 hectic minutes, maybe more, it looked like the 39-year-old imposter was going to turn the division upside down.
The Englishman was bone dry at the opening bell. Any sweat he had worked up in the dressing room had disappeared during his long walk to the ring. He watched his breath steam into the cold air. And when a piercing left uppercut and right hand smashed into his face at the end of the opening round, he watched blood dribble over his gloves after dabbing at his swollen nose. Povetkin remained close over the subsequent sessions, expertly hustling and bustling inside and arcing blows to the champion’s head. Joshua looked clumsy in those early stages. As the challenger’s weaponry rattled off hooks and uppercuts, it appeared only a matter of time before “AJ” walked into one and dropped out of consciousness. ³
‘WE’RE NOT WILLING TO WAIT UNTIL DECEMBER FOR WILDER’
Fast forward to round seven, one minute and 20 seconds in. Joshua, by now, was in control. He had adapted. He was spraying his jab all over his rival. The 28-year-old was picking his punches like a wise old veteran, hacking the body while moving his feet. His defence was catching punches and punishing Povetkin mistakes that had previously been successes. The Brit had changed his approach in a way that his vastly more experienced rival could not. Furthermore, he did so with admirable calmness.
As Joshua’s left hand played decoy, his right fist bulleted from his shoulder and slammed into Povetkin’s jaw. The underdog’s legs zigged and zagged as he struggled to remain upright. The target zone, previously tight and elusive, opened in front of the Englishman. A right hookstraight left combo was perfectly timed. The Russian’s feet left the ground as his backside plummeted towards it. He tried to get up. Even while on all fours, Povetkin could not find his balance. His head drooped through the boundaries and out of the ring. Yet he summoned all his strength and desire to stand on two feet.
Joshua did not hold back. Povetkin gamely tried to escape, drunkenly ducking and rolling before hitting the ropes like a fly in a spider’s web. The unbeaten superstar pounced. A savage right hand culminated the assault. As Povetkin teetered backwards, referee Steve Gray rescued the visitor while his corner signalled surrender at 1-59 of the session. Relief and joy hurtled through the victor and into the crowd. Joshua Mania was back.
This was just the performance that was required. Not only to save what had been an otherwise forgettable Box Office show, but to regain some momentum as the leading heavyweight on the planet. The Klitschko victory was full of thrills, but the subsequent Takam and Parker bouts – while more controlled – were pale in comparison. Some even suggested that the WBA, WBO and IBF champion was overrated all along, that the fearsome punching power that has now wiped out 21 of his 22 opponents was something of a myth. Well, against Povetkin, a robust and skilled bruiser who had never been stopped, Joshua proved that the force he packs is a reality. Moreover, coupled with the craft and peace of mind he exhibited to deliver it, Anthony Joshua should not be underestimated again.
Crucially, at least in terms of tempting Wilder or Fury into the ring, he was not flawless either. There were enough errors in the early going to encourage Joshua’s closest rivals. Indeed, as Povetkin’s punches swirled a mere whisker from the Englishman’s jaw and temple, it was easy to envision Wilder’s bombs detonating with devastating effect. Easy too, as Joshua struggled with his wily challenger at the start, to imagine Fury boxing and moving and running away with victory. Yet the way Joshua orchestrated the savage end, visions of Wilder and Fury being vanquished were also effortless to conjure. For now, though it’s all conjecture. One ‘what if’ after another.
Those what ifs won’t go away. They will only get increasingly inconclusive, and increasingly intrusive to fights that are not
fight. Wembley Stadium is already confirmed for Joshua’s next outing on April 13. It’s a mark of his popularity that the biggest stadium in the country has been booked without an opponent. And if tickets were to go on sale tomorrow, it’s likely a fair few would shift on Joshua’s name alone. But this is elite heavyweight boxing where the best must fight the best.
“Being British, we’d like Fury to win [against Wilder in December],” Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn explained about the possibility of matching Joshua with Wilder or Fury next. “But for April, Wilder must win if that [ Joshua fight] is going to happen. We’re not willing to wait until December to see. A deal must be done in advance of that, subject to him winning.
“Wilder-fury is a really good fight to see who’s the second-best heavyweight in the world. Joshua-klitschko was the biggest fight in British boxing history, and Joshua-wilder would eclipse that. We want that now. We’re not waiting for timewasters. We understand if they lose we’ll have to find another opponent, but if you win, we’re not waiting until December [to negotiate]. These aren’t negotiations that will take 24 hours, and Joshua’s career’s not being slowed down. If they don’t want to do that, we’ll fight someone else.”
Some might argue that anything but a Fury or Wilder would slow momentum. But at this point, negotiations with Tyson – promoted by Hearn’s arch enemy Frank Warren – would seem a non-starter. And it seems a long shot that Wilder would turn his attention to signing a deal to face Joshua in April with the crucial Fury bout just over two months away. Frankly, asking Wilder to do that is also a little
unfair. To put it into context, imagine Errol Spence Jnr agreeing terms to fight Terence Crawford while he was in training for Mikey Garcia. It just would not happen. The preceding contest is just too big to mess with, or to lose focus on.
Joshua, though, wants to get on with it. His post-fight comments suggest the fight we all want to see will become priority for later in 2019.
“I’ll start training again in early January, so I want to get it [April opponent] pencilled in as soon as possible, and those negotiations take a long time,” he said. “If Wilder’s not serious, there’s other people out there; when he’s ready, we’re ready.
“Good luck to them both [Wilder and Fury] – boxing needs it. I’ve had the burden of the heavyweight division on my back for some years, because it was all about me fighting Wilder, Fury, Klitschko, Dillian, Povetkin. That’s all they were interested in – me fighting them all. So, I’m happy those two are fighting. April 13 is booked, so whichever heavyweight is serious, we can look at making a deal.”
Waiting until December, if it means making the right fight, should not be too long. And the longer he waits for the WBC champion, the longer it gives other challengers like Oleksandr Usyk to start calling his name. Now Joshua is at the twofights-per-year stage of his career, only the best will do.
Also consider that if it’s not Wilder or Fury in April it’s likely to be Whyte or Dereck Chisora. Two old enemies who are now in talks for a rematch late in the year. If Joshua wants to know exactly who he’s fighting before December, that doesn’t fit either. But Matchroom can make that fit in a way that gruelling negotiations with Wilder or Fury will not.
Perhaps Whyte-chisora II will be billed as Winner
Takes All, and Joshua will sit at ringside as the star prize. That scenario is unquestionably easier to envision than Wilder or Fury signing a contract before December, unfortunately.
But if we learned only one thing from Joshua-povetkin it should be that the public, while still largely in love with the Watford giant, will only stand for so many inferior products. It’s true that the reported 80,000 in attendance on Saturday night is a gargantuan figure, but it’s some way below the number that came out for the Klitschko showdown. And while the estimated 7-to-800,000 pay per view buys was impressive, it’s significantly fewer than the record-breaking figure Hearn predicted in the build-up.
We know Joshua had little choice but to take this fight, and it’s not intended as a criticism towards him or his team. What he has achieved since turning professional in 2013 has never before been seen. Klitschko, Takam, Parker and Povetkin beaten in four stadium fights. Add Dominic Breazeale and Whyte to his list of victims and you have the leader of the division by some distance. But he can’t call himself undisputed yet.
Let him rest and enjoy one of the most complete performances of his career. Let him take a Whyte or a Chisora in April if he must. But remind him that his peak days will not last forever. Remind him of how sweet it felt to avoid disaster against Povetkin. And how much sweeter it will feel to truly rule the world.
THE VERDICT Supreme showing from Joshua against top opponent.
‘APRIL 13 IS BOOKED, SO IF YOU’RE SERIOUS, LET’S MAKE A DEAL’
THE POWER: Povetkin’s face screws up under the weight of Joshua’s right hand
UP AND OVER: Povetkin is a menace with his right hand
JOB DONE: Joshua admires his handy work as the dazed Povetkin is defeated
COMPOSED: Povetkin starts to feel the force of the champion as Joshua overcomes slow start to take over