A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
JOSHUA vs. KLITSCHKO
The fight between undefeated IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) and former long-time unified world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs) is the biggest fight that can be made. “JOSHUA vs. KLITSCHKO” will take place on Saturday, April 29, at Wembley Stadium in London, England. More than 90,000 are expected to be in attendance.
“JOSHUA vs. KLITSCHKO” will pit two Olympic gold medal winners with tremendous size and concussive knockout power against each other. What makes “JOSHUA vs. KLITSCHKO” so appealing is the fact that this fight could be a significant ‘changing of the guard,’ as the much younger Joshua could officially cease control of the world heavyweight championship from the older Klitschko, who at 40, is the second longest-reigning heavyweight champion in history at 9 ½ years. Klitschko is also third behind Joe Louis (25) and Larry Holmes (20) for most consecutive world heavyweight title defenses (18).
Aside from Joshua’s IBF title on the line, the WBA, along with the IBO, and presumably the RING Magazine heavyweight title will also be at stake. The vacant WBO heavyweight title was filled by Joseph Parker following his 12-round unanimous decision victory over Andy Ruiz on December 10 in New Zealand. Deontay Wilder, the unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion, is recovering from a bicep injury. Wilder, who won the WBC title in January 2015, has defended his title four times.
During the press conference in London, Klitschko, appearing fit and confident, was noticeably sizing himself to Joshua at every turn. Looking to take off his jacket to flex his muscles alongside Joshua every chance he could muster. Klitschko remained standing and didn’t sit until Joshua sat in his seat at the start of the conference. Klitschko, referring to Joshua as his ‘little brother,’ revealed a five-step plan that will help him mentally prepare for Joshua.
“My first step is my goal – to become three-time world champion,” Klitschko said. “Second is the consequences. If Anthony wins this fight, I will congratulate him. When I win, I will help him to come back. The third step is finding somebody who can help me get back into shape. So I will have sparring partners. We are both probably going to look for the same guy because we are so alike. Same size, same reach, different colours but the rest is the same.”
“And the fourth step,” Klitschko added, “is for me to imagine standing in the middle of this stage holding those belts in my ends, with 80 or 90,000 fans cheering. And the fifth step is my obsession with my first step – to become three-time world champion.”
The difference in this fight is Klitschko would have turned 41 by the time the bell rings. That may be a disadvantage for a Klitschko, as Joshua, 27, is much younger and perhaps stronger. While Joshua has fought three times in 2016, Klitschko hasn’t fought since his remarkable 9 1/2 –year title reign ended abruptly when he did nothing for twelve rounds against Tyson Fury.
Klitschko’s inactivity, the longest of his career, along with his dismal performance with Fury, has allowed fighters like Joshua, who wasn’t ready a year ago, to be in prime position to take over where Klitschko left-off as a dominant heavyweight. Thus far, Joshua has knocked out his previous 18 opponents since the start of his professional career. Joshua has been dominant, but Klitschko is a furious step-up in competition for the young British world heavyweight champion.
“This fight will be one of the biggest nights in my boxing career,” Joshua said, “it marks the highest point of my climb through the professional ranks. It is three years since I turned professional, I have taken the time to gain experience, fight men who have fallen and some who have fought hard and through this I am learning my trade, how the business works and gaining the ring craft which is sometimes underestimated as everyone wants to see the mega fights right away.”
“It is the perfect time for me to move up another step and contest my heavyweight championship belt against one of the legends of our sport,” Joshua said. “There is no doubt this will be a titanic battle with a huge amount on the line, just like every fight, but when I enter the ring I will be prepared for victory as I have been with all my other fights. The legend against the champ – it’s time to write history.”
Why would Klitschko place himself in a dangerous spot against Joshua? After all, Klitschko will be fighting in front of more than 90,000 of Joshua’s people in Joshua’s hometown for Joshua’s belts. Klitschko, as dominant, as great, and as elite of a champion he was, has a burning desire to not only fight again, but to restore himself as the unified world heavyweight champion. Klitschko deserves to have another big fight, as he has had many in the past. He was a great, great champion and was lied to on many occasions prior to Fury’s self-imposed collapse, which cost Wladimir an opportunity to regain his belts.
Now that the heavyweight titles have been squandered, Klitschko has a chance to win back many (not all) of his titles, but also reestablish himself as a driving force of the heavyweight division.
Klitschko, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the super heavyweight division, emerged as the premier Klitschko’s potential appeared endless until he suffered two shocking defeats to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster that changed the course of his ‘great potential’ career to ‘great big bust.’
Klitschko was considered a ‘dead man walking’ prior to his September 2005 fight with Nigerian Samuel Peter. However, with late long-time trainer Emmanuel Steward, the legend himself, Klitschko survived three knockdowns to put together a sound rally behind tenacity, intelligence, good boxing skills, and brute power. With the fight hanging in the balance in the final round, Klitschko landed a devastating left-hook that rocked Perter badly in the middle of the ring. Klitschko continued to land great shots and pulled away with a unanimous decision by the narrowest of margins (114-113, 114-113, 114-113) across the board.
Since that legendary night in Atlantic City, Klitschko has never looked back. Klitschko, along with the genius that was Emmanuel Steward, put together a style that has been extremely difficult to compete against. For the next decade, even following Steward’s death from diverticulitis in 2012, Klitschko, along with his older brother Vitali Klitschko (retired as WBC champion), were the heavyweight division’s elite.
Nobody else came close.
Klitschko unified the IBF/WBA/WBO and IBO/Ring Magazine heavyweight championships. He avenged his loss to Brewster, defeated Peter a second time in stunning fashion, defeated a number of undefeated fighters, and has sold out stadiums all over Germany and fought at the famed Madison Square Garden. Eventually, Klitschko, along side older brother Vitali, WBC champion, became the only brothers to simultaneously reign as world heavyweight champion.
Although Klitschko lost his titles to Fury, to his credit he did invoke his immediate rematch clause, but Fury twice pulled out from fighting Klitschko in 2016. Fury failed drug tests for performance enhancing drugs, as well as cocaine. There are questions to whether Fury was clean for his initial victory over Klitschko.
While Fury was stripped of all of his title belts, along with his professional boxing license, Klitschko too has suffered to a degree. Klitschko did not fight in 2016. He will be nearly 1 ½ years away from the boxing ring and will be over 40. The odds are against him the same way that odds were against him during the first Peter fight in September 2005. The British press (Joshua’s cheerleaders) has not been kind to Klitschko at all. Everyone in the U.K. is predicting a sound victory for Joshua, which goes to show you how desperate and thirsty for anyone from Great Britain to win a big heavyweight fight.
As dominant Joshua has been at this stage of his career, Klitschko presents a massive step-up in class. Klitschko has a lot of experience, a huge pedigree, and is extremely intelligent. Can Joshua win, yes, but just because Klitschko will be 41 and hasn’t fought in nearly 1 ½ years doesn’t make this an easy fight for Joshua.
In fact, Wladimir’s older brother Vitali disappeared from boxing while he was WBC heavyweight champion, as ‘Champion Emeritus’ in 2005. Vitali was absent for more than three years and when he can back, he gained the WBC title in 2008. He defended it nine times before leaving boxing in 2012 to become elected Mayor of his native Kiev, Ukraine.
Klitschko isn’t coming back against another champion. He is returning to the ring against a fighter whom many consider is the future of the heavyweight division. Anthony Joshua equals star-power. He has the look,t he intellect, and the style to rule the heavyweight division, but considering Joshua’s inexperience and the fact that he has never fought past the seventh round as a professional, the question remains whether Joshua is read to elevate his level to that of a Klitschko?
SHOWTIME Sports are excited about Joshua, as they signed him to an exclusive U.S. TV deal prior to airing his IBF title victory against Charles Martin in June. Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn believes that his man is ready otherwise, he would not jumped at the opportunity to fight a 41 year-old, 17 month-inactive Klitschko at the end of the first quarter of 2017.
Joshua may be inexperienced, but he has gradually progressed consistently following each professional contest, especially after his war with Dylan Whyte, another young British heavyweight on the rise. Joshua was badly hurt in the second round, but came back to win in style. It also helps that Joshua sparred with Klitschko and that they’ve followed one another’s career for many years. They truly have become if not friends, very familiar and fans of one another, which played a significant factor in how this fight was made so quickly.
Time is on Joshua’s side. Time is opportunity. Opportunity awaits Joshua, as it does for Klitschko, who is destined to prove that he has plenty of time left.