Anthony Joshua can be, and is, viewed in several lights by the boxing public. One camp is ready to crown the undefeated heavyweight as the #GOAT (Greatest Of All Time for you non-hashtaggers. That actually pained me to type) based on his destructive path through the division so far. He has battered all before him and has the full force of the Matchroom hype machine behind him, raising his international profile through the roof.
The other camp can kindly be described as realistic (cynical?) and understand that while all of the opening paragraph rings true, none of those facts are a solid basis for the legendary status that many seem so keen to bestow upon AJ. He remains relatively unproven, and definitely untested, at the highest level. He was fortunate to get a shot at the IBF title against a limited champion following Tyson Fury’s vacating / being stripped of the belt and is yet, Saturday pending, to have a credible defence (in the eyes of his detractors at least).
In the build up to his maiden world title challenge, we advised that even with the IBF trinket around his waist, there would be no change to the Joshua model. Following his win, it was very unlikely that he would immediately be thrust into unification bouts or defences against the top contenders. The fact that this is widely accepted in modern boxing, shouldn’t be celebrated but you can hardly blame Joshua for the quality (or lack of) of his opponents since becoming champ.
Personally, I think it is a combination of the lacklustre opponents and the massive promotion that Joshua receives, which seems to rile his critics the most. He is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the Matchroom Boxing stable. Olympic Gold Medallist in his home country in 2012, undefeated, media-savvy and possessing mass appeal. The reasons why Joshua receives such a push are clear, even to his staunchest ‘haters’ (and I loathe the term). However, rather than be accepted, these reasons probably contribute to a lot of the hate he gets. It can be, and has been, perceived as preferential treatment for Eddie Hearn’s golden egg.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on probably skews your prediction somewhat; yet you cannot argue that his upcoming unification clash with former heavyweight ruler Wladimir Klitschko contains masses of intrigue. The reason for such a detailed (perhaps longwinded) introduction does filter into my prediction for Saturday’s action. Whichever of the factors discussed you nodded in agreement with, will no doubt impact how you see the action going. We’ve broken down our thoughts below, feel free to slate in the comments section:
Why AJ will conquer:
- Youth. He is by far the younger and fresher man in the fight. His energy will be enough to see him walk through all that the younger Klitschko has to offer. As he has smashed his way through all 18 opponents so far, AJ is yet to be involved in a war so his immensely formed body has very few miles on the clock.
- Momentum. The hypetrain simply continues to grow. It’s a long time since Joshua lost a boxing match (arguably his Gold Medal winning effort in London 2012) so he will go into this one full of confidence. This could prove vital in the opening rounds where both men will look to establish themselves, and in a bout where one shot could end it.
- Power. Heavyweight boxing is the pinnacle of the sport. In terms of public interest at least. The aforementioned “one shot” has a lot to do with that and the Brit certainly knows how to end a contest early. He is yet to go the distance and Wlad has been hurt, and stopped, in his illustrious career. In addition to his heavy hands, AJ has the raw strength to ensure he won’t be bullied physically by an opponent who is used to being the bigger man.
Why Wlad will win:
- Experience. The Ukranian’s biggest advantage is undoubtedly his vast experience. 16 years before AJ was thrust into the public eye, Vitali’s little bro won his own Super-Heavyweight Olympic Gold in 1996. Since that day in Atlanta, he has gone on to win multiple word titles and rule the division, alongside his brother Vitali. While the quality of the division during that time can be debated, Klitschko has contested 28 world championship bouts. That cannot be disputed (if I’ve counted correctly). This background will mean that despite the media frenzy of this event, the current WBA title holder won’t be fazed in the slightest.
- Power. His own punching power cannot be underestimated here. Especially with the question marks over Joshua’s chin. Wlad has never been known as a one punch knockout artist, preferring to jab and wear down his opponents into submission. That said though, he does have sufficient power to hurt and is skilful enough to land a potentially game changing punch. Which leads me seamlessly onto…
- Skills. While Joshua is no slouch, and did have the ultimate success as an amateur, Klitschko’s technique is far superior based on what we have witnessed so far. AJ is raw and powerful but has also been called stiff and can lack accuracy in his flurries before he does damage. His veteran opponent however has relied heavily on his technical ability to dominate lesser opponents during his reign so if this turns into a tactical chess like battle I’d strongly favour the Ukranian to box his way to victory. Whether or not he would get the judges’ nod is another matter entirely.
When I started this piece, I hadn’t actually made a prediction. As I wrote down my thoughts, I slowly brought myself off the fence so here’s my tip. A lot depends on which version of Wladimir Klitschko turns up. Even though he is boxing away from home, I don’t see this having too much of an impact on the outcome. What I do see as a decisive factor however is the fact that the former unified champ is now 41, inactive and coming off the back of a hugely demoralising defeat. Klitschko’s success was largely based on a powerful jab and using his physical advantages to hold and lean on his opponents. I don’t believe he has these physical advantages over Joshua who is also riding the crest of a wave as his career goes from strength to strength. While he hasn’t been in too many wars over the years, I feel that the cumulation of over 20 years in the sport will finally take its toll. That is why I’m tipping the Brit to get the job done and predict that Joshua will overwhelm Klitschko to get the stoppage win, possibly around the half-way mark.