SAN DIEGO, April 26, 2017 – Despite the unlikely chain of events leading to Saturday’s heavyweight championship fight between Anthony Joshua of Great Britain and Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine, it is the most anticipated fight in the heavyweight division or perhaps any division for years.
Wembley Stadium in London will host a record-setting audience of 90,000 boxing fans, with millions more watching around the world, putting boxing back into a limelight it rarely enjoys. American boxing fans will have two opportunities to view the fight. Showtime will air the event live at 4:15 pm ET/1:15 pm PT. HBO Boxing will air the fight delayed in the evening at 8 pm ET/PT.
The buzz in the U.S. is a fraction of that in the U.K., but not due to a lack of interest. Showtime has a contract with Joshua; HBO has a longtime agreement with Klitschko. It took the American networks weeks to figure out how to split the arrangement. The result is a serious lack of promotion among U.S. fans, and it’s a shame. While the fight may not be all that entertaining, it is without a doubt 2017’s most meaningful bout.
Thursday afternoon in London, the participants and teams appeared in their final news conference, with scores of international news media hanging on every word.
On one side of the stage sat 27-year-old Anthony Joshua of Great Britain (18-0, 18 KOs) who has been on the fast track ever since winning a gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
On the other side sat one of the most dominant boxers in a generation, eager to win his crown back. Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) of Ukraine also capped his amateur career with a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Since that time, he has been the world champion twice, include a streak of nine years ended last year. This is his 29th world title fight.
Klitschko, age 41, acknowledged his unusual position as the challenger, calling himself “obsessed” with the outcome. “Is it a degradation that I’m actually the challenger and underdog in this fight after 27 years of being in sport? I don’t think so. I think it’s a great, great. I’m the challenger again. I feel young hungry, humble and totally obsessed with the idea and my goal to raise my hands again as the winner of my upcoming fight,” stated Klitschko.
Klitschko pointed out with amusement his opponent and his career have something in common. “Can you imagine my next opponent, which is Anthony Joshua, I’m going to fight a guy whose age is exactly the number how long I’ve been in boxing, 27 years. Can you imagine that? Pretty amazing fact,” said a grinning, energized Klitschko.
Joshua, age 27, comes in as the champion, an unlikely scenario. He betrayed no nerves and no lack of confidence in his remarks. “I’m looking forward to competing again,” said the boxing pride of Britain. “Even though it’s such an amazing event, I always try to strip everything down to reality, and what it really is and focus on it. It’s just me and a man coming to blows, and may the best man win.”
Joshua has been on a fast track ever since his Olympic gold medals. He comes to Saturday’s opportunity in only 18 fights after having won the IBF heavyweight title from American Charles Martin, who won the belt in his own unusual circumstances. He has been impressive, but he is untested.
Klitschko, the dominant force in the division in the modern era, ended a 22 fight winning streak when another British boxer, the rogue force called Tyson Fury, won a stunning upset decision on Klitschko’s home turn in Dusseldorf, Germany, to win Dr. Steelhammer’s three titles. Fury only held the IBF title for 10 days before being stripped for failing to face his mandatory challenger. A scheduled rematch with Klitschko was scheduled, delayed, scheduled again for July 9, 2016, and abandoned after Fury tested positive for cocaine. Fury gave up the rest of the titles and his boxing license is currently suspended.
A victory would make the veteran Klitschko a three-time heavyweight champion. Klitschko presents himself as extremely well trained and newly enthusiastic about boxing, as a result and not in spite of his improbable loss to Fury.
“I’ve been there, I’ve done that,” Klitschko said about the possibility of Joshua defeating him Saturday. “I shook it off and I came back stronger. I did it each time. There’s nothing scary about it.”
Joshua lacks the experience of dealing with a professional loss. Whether it’s playing in his mind, he isn’t expressing it in the least. “It doesn’t change me as a person. I just want to represent myself the best way … The belts, you see some people want to carry their belts. I’m not into that sort of thing. It’s not just what you do inside the ring. It’s a championship mentality for life,” explained Joshua.
This fight represents a significant crossroads at what remains the pinnacle of boxing, the heavyweight division. Are Klitschko’s best days past him at age 41? As Joshua’s trainer Rob McCracken pointed out Thursday, “Father Time is a terrible person when he shows up, and I think he’s already showed up. He doesn’t know if it’s there or not. It’s going to be tough for Wladimir, he’ll only find out Saturday night.” He’ll be finding out against a younger, stronger, faster opponent. Will Klitschko have the tools and skills to deal with it?
Did the former champion’s loss to Fury reinvigorate him with the challenge of regaining his championship status as it seems? Klitschko’s trainer Johnathon Banks says “Both guys always bring 100 percent to the ring … I believe the fight will live up to the hype of the 90,000 fans who will be in Wembley.”
As to Joshua, what will this test reveal? Does he have what it takes, or is he biting off more than he can chew? Will the grandeur and high stakes rattle him? Will the threat of his first loss concern him? Can Joshua cope with the potential tactics and tricks of a seasoned veteran like Klitschko?
When boxing has a true 50-50 matchup with advocates equally sure about opposite outcomes, it’s nothing but good for boxing fans and would-be fans of the sport. What we should not go into Saturday expecting to see is a Mexican-style guerra between these two warriors.
Yes, Joshua and Klitschko are power punchers in a pure sense. But they aren’t volume punchers per se. Klitschko likes to move in, and neutralize his opponent by staying close and clinching. What he can’t do with Joshua is lean on him, since Joshua can look Klitschko in the eye at 6-foot-7. Expect Klitschko to try and frustrate Joshua.
Joshua will rely on sheer physical ability to get to Klitschko, particularly his footwork so he can evade Klitschko’s attempts to clinch or slow him down. Once the footwork is in place, Joshua will need to deliver punches with speed and accuracy. He can’t waste effort on Klitschko, because he may need every bit of it fighting Klitschko off him for 12 long, hard rounds.
But any prediction someone like me can write is merely words and worth little. So there is no prediction in my column. For the action and the truth, you have to tune in Saturday. As Johnathan Banks quoted former referee and now judge Mills Lane, “Let’s get it on.”
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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