By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
To the delight of his One Direction-esque following, Anthony Joshua’s showdown with former divisional kingpin Wladimir Klitschko is now just four days away. The Brit will defend his IBF heavyweight title, with the vacant WBA strap also on the line at Wembley Stadium. The IBO belt is also apparently on offer, but to anyone whose surname isn’t Eubank, that means nothing.
The similarities between the two fighters in this contest are striking. Both are listed at 6 ft. 6in. tall, both are former Olympic gold medallists and both men possess muscular physiques that set them apart in a division of Eric Molina’s and Lucas Browne’s. Additionally, both Joshua and Klitschko are regarded as two of the heaviest hitters in the division – Joshua boasting a 100% knockout record and Klitschko having stopped 53 men over the course of his storied career.
The most glaring difference between the two is, of course, their age. Joshua (18-0-KO18) is a fresh-faced and undiminished 27 year old, while Klitschko recently turned 41 years of age and has been in a professional ring 68 times (64-4-KO53). Certainly Wladimir is battle-tested, but he may also be battle-worn and past his best – who knows?
Conversely, Klitschko has a significant advantage in terms of experience. His first professional fight took place in November 1996 and his first world title fight – a unanimous decision victory over Chris Byrd – occurred in October 2000. He has faced the cream of an undoubtedly weaker than usual heavyweight crop over the last 20+ years, and has beaten the likes of Tony Thompson, Eddie Chambers, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin and Kubrat Pulev.
The best name on Joshua’s résumé, on the other hand, is Dillian Whyte, maybe? Dominic Breazeale? Molina perhaps? The jump from Eric Molina to Wladimir Klitschko is absolutely cataclysmic, and there is nobody Joshua has shared the ring with who can remotely prepare him for what he will face on Saturday night.
Of course if you’re searching for encouragement as a Joshua fan, you would immediately run the tape back to Klitschko’s last fight against the inimitable Tyson Fury in November 2015. The immediate assumption when this fight was announced was that, as the last man to beat Klitschko, Joshua should simply replicate Fury’s game plan from that night.
That’s just not possible.
Fury’s size, reach, unorthodoxy, agility and intelligence make him a unique proposition in the heavyweight division. He was able to befuddle Klitschko by being completely different to anyone he’d ever faced before, both physically and in terms of his fighting style. Furthermore, we cannot know how much of an impact Fury’s mind games had on the Ukrainian in that fight, but we can be sure that Joshua’s nice guy act will not have the same effect.
To ask Joshua to go out and be light on his feet, to out-jab the jabber, to be constantly on the move and to be patient to the point of sleep-inducing is just not in his DNA. Joshua is a head hunter, a refined and intelligent one, but a head hunter nonetheless. Also, Klitschko is the better boxer in this match-up. He’s better on the back foot, he has a superior arsenal of punches and he’s simply the more intelligent fighter.
That may mean nothing on the night, of course. We have no idea what we’re going to get from Klitschko. He hasn’t fought in 17 months and is undoubtedly in the twilight of his career. In his last fight he appeared gun-shy and confused. Is it too much to expect Klitschko to enter the ring and perform like he did at his peak? Will he even need to?
You would assume that Klitschko will start on the back foot, inviting Joshua in and looking to counter with hard punches. Admittedly, Joshua might try that same approach – in which case Klitschko can decide to utilise his jab in order to move forward into harmful positions without suffering heavy artillery in return. If Joshua comes out aggressively, he may be able to muscle his way in to close range and time his power shots.
How each man is able to negate the other’s strengths and which fighter possesses the better chin on the night, will likely decide this contest. Klitschko has been knocked out three times in his career, the last one occurring in 2004 but occurring nonetheless. Joshua, we know, was put down in the amateurs and came close as a pro against Whyte. Neither man’s chin is impregnable.
So will it be a changing of the guard, a passing of the torch or whatever other cliché Sky Sports has rustled up? Or will Klitschko return from sabbatical to reclaim what was his for so long – heavyweight supremacy? The questions have been asked and now we await the emphatic answers on Saturday night.by