Have you seen Frank Lotierzo’s young heavyweight prospect, Louis Ali? He’s like no other fighter you’ve ever seen fighting at heavyweight or any other weight. He’s fast of hand and foot, can adapt to all styles, can fight on the move circling the ring and he can stalk in a subtle fashion capable of cutting off the ring. He’s a great inside fighter possessing knockout power in both hands, never wastes punches and, on top of all that, he has a cast-iron chin and great recuperative power and never ending stamina. Louis Ali is going to own the heavyweight division for at least the next decade.
Of course no such fighter exists, but if he did boxing aficionados would find something wrong with him and foolishly compare him to a fighter who also isn’t real….in other words perfection. And that’s the question: why are all prospects measured against perfection that doesn’t exist? The imaginary fighter above is one you would get if you took the best of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, arguably the two greatest heavyweight champs in history, and molded them into one fighter. But perfection doesn’t exist in combat sports because all fighters have a flaw or something that can be exploited by a certain opponent.
On April 29th, IBF/WBA heavyweight title holder Anthony Joshua defended his title against Wladimir Klitschko, the man who for nearly a decade was recognized as the best fighter in the division. Klitschko was never viewed as being unbeatable or a fighter without warts, but his size and dynamite in both hands made him an imposing fighter. Prior to fighting Joshua, it was easy to get the sense that Klitschko was not only confident that he could handle Joshua, but was also approaching the fight with more focus and determination than was customary for him. And in the aftermath of the fight, it’s clear that those feelings were correct. In the 5th round Joshua dropped Klitschko and everyone watching assumed the fight would be recorded officially as Joshua TKO-5 Klitschko. But we were wrong, Klitschko got up and worked Joshua over for the remainder of the round and hurt him and then put him down in the 6th round. Joshua survived and learned things about himself he didn’t know for sure and went on to stop Klitschko in the 11th round.
Since the bout it’s been repeated that Anthony Joshua has no chin and is devoid of stamina. And some have questioned whether or not he could beat WBC title holder Deontay Wilder or stand up to the power of Wilder’s right hand – assuming Wilder lasted long enough with Joshua to land it — which I find astonishing as Joshua learned and improved more over the course of 11 rounds fighting Klitschko than Wilder has improved or learned in 38 pro bouts.
Joshua has been admonished by some for going down and tiring during what was the 19th bout of his pro career. Of course in a perfect world neither would’ve happened, but Joshua hadn’t previously fought beyond the 7th round and Klitschko wasn’t only the biggest puncher that he had ever faced, but the hardest single-shot puncher in the division. Not only did Joshua get up from one of the best right hands Wladimir ever landed, he survived the round, learned how to fight tired and, after getting his second wind, ended the fight with finality. Again, he did so against the most experienced and hardest hitting fighter in the division, on a night when that fighter never fought with more purpose and will to win. Yet some still question Joshua’s chin and stamina. Sure, I’d like to see him shed about 5 or 6 pounds and not carry so much muscle, but I think he’ll be okay.
In case some forgot or didn’t know:
In his 25th pro bout Joe Louis fought former champ Max Schmeling as a 10-1 favorite. Schmeling found a flaw in Louis’s style and proceeded to blast him with right hands over Joe’s left that he dropped after punching. After catching countless right hands on the jaw, Louis went down in the 12th round and was counted out. However, Louis wasn’t written off and two years later he destroyed Max in 2:04 of the first round. As most know, Louis’s chin held up for the remainder of his career and Joe went on to hold the title longer and make more successful defenses than any other boxer in history. Today, after the first Schmeling fight Louis would be written off as a fighter who couldn’t take a big punch.
In his 11th pro bout, the fighter then known as Cassius Clay was dropped in the first round by Sonny Banks (10-2 going in) by a single left hook. Clay went on to stop Banks in the 4th round, but the whispers that Clay couldn’t take a punch began. In the 4th round of his 19th bout, Clay went down again and was badly hurt by 27-8-1 Henry Cooper. Allowed a few extra seconds to recuperate between the 4th and 5th round, Cassius stormed back and sliced Cooper up in the next round and ended the fight. And the questions regarding his toughness and chin escalated. In his next bout he beat the baddest and hardest puncher in the division, the far more experienced Sonny Liston, to capture the undisputed heavyweight title.
On March 8th, 1971, eight years after being dropped by Henry Cooper, Muhammad Ali challenged heavyweight champ “Smokin” Joe Frazier. In the 15th-round of one of the most brutal title fights in boxing history, Frazier nailed Ali with a massive left hook. The punch was heard around the world and Ali went down. Muhammad was up before the referee even started to count…..his chin and toughness was never questioned again.
In spite of going down after being hit by some hard punchers on their climb to the title and afterwards, the chins and durability of Louis and Ali didn’t prevent them from becoming the standard bearers of the heavyweight division.
At one time circa 1987-88, some observers believed Mike Tyson might’ve been on his way to surpassing Louis and Ali as an all-time great. Then, in his 38th bout he ran into James “Buster” Douglas. In what was the roughest give-and-take fight of his career to that point, Tyson was nailed by a big right uppercut in the 10th round, went down, and didn’t beat the count. After that Tyson went down again in fights against Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Danny Williams and Kevin McBride. He lost every one of those bouts. Never once did he come back to win a fight in which he was knocked down. And most historians correctly consider Tyson one of the greats in heavyweight history.
Lennox Lewis is also considered one of the greats. Lennox fought some big punchers during his career but only went down twice. Oliver McCall dropped him with a right hand the first time they met. Lewis was up at six, but he was so wobbly that the referee could’ve dropped him again with his jab if he had hit him. Hasim Rahman put him down with a right hand seven years later, and Lewis didn’t come close to beating the count. Like Tyson, Lewis never got off the deck to win a fight.
Heavyweight history is replete with greats who went down before or during their title reigns, but got up to win the fight. Since Ali first won the title, that can be said about Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield and even Wladimir Klitschko. In fact, only one outstanding heavyweight title holder never had to answer that question. His name is Vitali Klitschko.
There is no such thing as the perfect fighter. A fighter who doesn’t have a terrific chin isn’t one who goes down; he is one who seldom beats the count. Even in the cases of Tyson and Lewis, in spite of them never getting off the canvas to win – I didn’t consider their chin a liability. Any heavyweight can be caught and dropped and that’s what happened to Anthony Joshua during the sixth round against Wladimir Klitschko.
Had Joshua beaten Klitschko in two rounds like Corrie Sanders did back in 2003, the talk would be that he looked great but we still don’t know if he can take a punch or has stamina and we won’t find out until he gets nailed real good or is forced to go more than a few rounds. Instead, a lot of the talk is that since AJ tired in the middle of the fight, his chin and his stamina are suspect.
Those who question Joshua’s credentials as an elite fighter confound me…that is, unless they are comparing him to perfection (and I’ll part ways with those of that mindset). Anyone waiting for a special fighter to come along who can’t be dropped or never tires – well, he might as well stop following boxing because no fighter will meet his lofty expectations. Then there are those who already think that Vasyl Lomachenko is the greatest pound-for-pound fighter they have ever seen – yet Lomachenko hasn’t been tested nearly to the extent of Joshua.
WBC champ Deontay Wilder 38-0 (37) has been hit and marked up in almost every fight since winning the title. I’ve seen him look shaky and no more than a couple punches away from being in trouble, and that’s with him having nobody in front of him. No one knows what kind of a punch Deontay takes. Can he get up and finish if and when he goes down? Does he have the ability to pick things up and adjust his game during a tough fight the way Joshua did against Klitschko? Would Wilder get up and beat Klitschko had he been hit with the same right hand that felled Joshua? If Joshua doesn’t measure up to perfection, where does that leave Wilder?
Joseph Parker holds the WBO title and is undefeated at 23-0 with 18 KOs. The best opponent he’s been in with is Andy Ruiz. Parker looked good and clearly won – but it wasn’t easy; he had to strain himself to stay ahead. I have no idea what kind of a punch Parker takes, nor do I know if he will come apart when things don’t go his way. If anyone could answer those questions about Parker and Wilder, I’d feel much more confident assessing their potential. Conversely, Joshua has answered those questions with nearly flying colors.
I don’t know how far Anthony Joshua will go or what his legacy will be and neither does anyone else. What I do know is that his future looks as or more promising after 19 fights than Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko did after the same number of bouts. I know that nobody in the division is going to hit him harder than Klitschko did and he got up to win in a big way. I also know if he tires during a fight, he’s not dead in the water and gets a second wind. And maybe most importantly, he’s a very tough and determined fighter and convincing him that he can’t beat you during a fight will take some effort – an effort I’m not sure any other active heavyweight is capable of achieving.
Joshua has a few things he can improve on to become a more complete fighter. Granted, he’s no match for my young prospect Louis Ali, but he is at the top of the food chain among his current peers.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com