As most know, IBF world title-holder Anthony Joshua 17-0 (17) recently signed to defend his heavyweight title against the IBF’s eighth ranked contender, Eric Molina 25-3 (19). The bout will be held in Manchester, Lancashire on December 10th. Many were hoping that Joshua would be fighting former champ Wladimir Klitschko on that date after Klitschko’s rematch with the fighter who took his title, Tyson Fury, fell out when Fury withdrew for personal reasons. Just as it appeared Joshua was going to fight Klitschko, Wladimir had second thoughts because one of the titles he lost to Fury, the WBA, wouldn’t be on the line.
Without the WBA title on the line, Klitschko pulled out and left AJ scrambling for an opponent to beat up on the 10th of December. Since then, the WBA consented to recognize Joshua-Klitschko as a title bout when they meet in probably the spring of 2017. The only problem with that is that Joshua must first defeat the 6-4, 232 pound Molina, who stepped in as a replacement, before he can fight Klitschko. Perhaps I was wrong by stating that fighting Molina, 34, will be a problem for Joshua, 27, because it won’t be. Molina is very willing, he’s there to be hit and he’s been stopped by the two best punchers he’s fought in Deontay Wilder and Chris Arreola.
The thing that has blown me away is how much Joshua has been excoriated in some boxing circles for bothering to fight Molina. Usually, it’s the upper-tier fighters in boxing who are admonished for not fighting often enough. And that’s fair. But Joshua has only had 17 fights as a pro and is trying to stay busy. He’s still trying to gain experience and has a lot to learn. In his entire career as a professional, he’s only fought 41 rounds. Young fighters on the way up are supposed to stay busy by fighting, not just training. Some are of the opinion that Joshua is the most exciting heavyweight to come along since Mike Tyson, and the most explosive since Lennox Lewis. I suggest those who are shaking their head at Joshua for fighting Eric Molina, go back and see how many onions Tyson and Lewis fought during their first 20 pro bouts.
For those who expect Joshua to fight a clone of Sonny Liston every three months, consider these two factors. One…..Joshua is really, really good, and has the ingredients to become a great heavyweight down the road. Anthony has great height at 6-6 and an 82-inch reach, he throws straight punches, and everything in his arsenal is concise and tight. His hands are fast and he’s imaginative with his shots when he puts them together. He also has legitimate two-handed power and he’s a pretty good boxer. Aside from Luis Ortiz, he’s the best boxer-puncher in the division. On top of that he trains like a monster, he’s hungry for greatness and he has natural ability. Those types of fighters are born and can’t be manufactured in a gym.
Another problem for Joshua is that today’s heavyweight pool of talent is just not deep like it was during the 70’s and 90’s — probably the two best and deepest eras in heavyweight history. Other than the top of the division occupied by Joshua, Ortiz, Wilder, Klitschko, David Haye and, on a good day, maybe Joseph Parker, there’s not many contenders who could hang with Anthony for more than a couple of rounds. Sure, it would be great if the division was littered with contenders like Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle, George Chuvalo and Earnie Shavers from the 70’s…..or Tim Witherspoon, David Tua, Ray Mercer and Andrew Golota from the 90’s. Instead he’s left to choose from a field of Fres Oquendo, Alexander Povetkin, Eric Molina, Chris Arreola, Kubrat Pulev and Bermane Stiverne. As you can see, the fighters on the fringe from the 70’s and 90’s were more formidable and could give Joshua more rounds for everyone to see just how special he is or maybe isn’t. But they don’t exist today.
So Joshua is doing right by staying busy and fighting all comers and giving them a shot at the title and to make some real money. And it’s not like Molina is a stiff. I have no doubt if you were bringing a young and relatively inexperienced fighter up – you’d probably stay away from him unless you were managing a talent in Joshua’s league. But fighters of that stripe don’t stroll into boxing gyms throughout the world every other week. The thing Joshua should be lauded for is his willingness to stay active and fight anyone who is out there.
When the fight with Klitschko was being bandied about, the Internet and my in-box was littered with those who held the opinion it was too early for Joshua to mess with Wladimir. Their reasoning was that Wladimir was too experienced for Joshua! And on paper they’re right, but fights aren’t won on paper. Anthony, although still green, knows what he brings to the ring as a fighter and what Wladimir’s deficiencies are. Moreover, Klitschko’s cautiousness plays right into Joshua’s mindset of attacking and showing the other guy right off the bat who the boss is inside the squared jungle. Anthony believes if he jumps on Wladimir, he’ll instinctively clam up and go into defensive mode – which all but throws away his big edge in experience.
So let us not admonish Joshua for fighting Eric Molina and other fighters like him. The reality is that there’s less than a handful of elite heavyweights in the world who can stay many rounds with Joshua. We know as soon as Joshua gets by Molina he’ll fight Klitschko. And after he beats him, he’ll be willing to fight the next best guy in line and, if he’s not available, then he’ll seek the next best in line….And as fans that’s all we can hope for from the best fighters and title-holders in the sport.
Remember, it was Klitschko who walked away from fighting Joshua. If Klitschko were really confident he’d have beaten Joshua, he would have gone ahead and picked up the available belt. Nobody turns down a heavyweight title belt if they’re sure they can win it!
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com