Ring­side re­port and re­ac­tion from Wem­b­ley Sta­dium

Boxing News - - Contents - Matt Christie @Mattcbox­ingnews

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


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.



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

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