Boxing has enjoyed a great year in 2017 with two and a half months still to go. IBF/WBA heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua 19-0 (19) defends his belts against former title challenger Kubrat Pulev 25-1 (13) later this month on October 28th. The following week, on November 4th, WBC champ Deontay Wilder 38-0 (37) fights a rematch with the man he beat for the title back in January of 2015, Bermane Stiverne 25-2-1 (21). Five weeks later on December 9th, ring marvels WBO super featherweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko 9-1 (7) and WBO super bantamweight champ Guillermo Rigondeaux 17-0 (11) meet in one of the more highly anticipated bouts of the year.
Boxing is back and maybe the heavyweights too!
Since Lennox Lewis last fought in 2003, the heavyweight division was dominated by the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali. The brothers were a tough tandem and were seldom challenged, which resulted in a boring and pedestrian heavyweight division. Then five years after winning a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic games, British heavyweight Anthony Joshua beat former champ Wladimir Klitschko with the IBF and WBA titles on the line in a thrilling fight, and things were looking up. Add to the mix Deontay Wilder who won a bronze medal at the 2008 games and has recently emerged as an opponent for Joshua….and for the first time in a while there is a heavyweight title fight on the horizon that has fans picking sides.
By this time next month, most likely Joshua and Wilder will have stopped their last opponents, Pulev and Stiverne, and attention will be focused on them meeting in a unification bout sometime before the summer of 2018. As it’s been said before, Joshua vs. Wilder, an undefeated British heavyweight title holder who has knocked out every opponent he’s fought, facing an undefeated American title holder who has stopped all but one of his 39 opponents, is a natural. Until Lennox Lewis started beating American heavyweights in high profile bouts back in the mid-to-late 1990’s, it was the fighters from the U.S. who usually got the better of these matchups, but Lewis flipped the script and Joshua is looking to add another chapter.
The most intriguing aspect about seeing Joshua and Wilder fight is that both are power punchers who view going the distance almost as a loss. But in reality, other than boasting a high KO percentage, they don’t share much in common. With the exception of single shot power in their respective right hands, Joshua gets the check in every category. He has the superior left hand, is better on the inside, throws straighter punches with better form, puts his punches together more fluidly, is harder to hit and, capping all that, he’s been in with better opposition and already has shown he can handle adversity and get off the canvas to come back and win. As fighters I don’t see them as being in the same league. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joshua, when he finally retires, is viewed as an equal to Lennox Lewis or even greater….whereas I feel that when Wilder leaves boxing he will be remembered as Michael Grant with a big right hand and better management.
Another big difference between Joshua and Wilder is their self-awareness. Listening to them speak, it is impossible to miss.
Joshua, who is often compared to Mike Tyson, a man he respects, correctly acknowledges the differences between them. “I can take people to the trenches and I can turn it into a fight about heart, but I want to show my finesse and Mike Tyson wasn’t known for his heart, he was known for his technique, he was known for how great he was on the inside,” Joshua told Sky Sports.
“A lot of fighters aren’t known just for being sluggers and stuff. They are known for being great fighters and that’s where I’m trying to get to. That’s why I don’t call myself the greatest or the most feared fighter, or this or that, because I know I’m going to get to that. But I know I’ve got bags of heart and I’m willing to go through it to get to that.”
“People think they can come and beat me. Mike Tyson broke his opponents before they got in the ring; I break them in the ring.”
Joshua is on point with all that he says. Pulev will enter the ring later this month believing he can win their fight, which is different than how he’d probably go into a fight with a prime Mike Tyson. Mike fell apart against Buster Douglas and twice against Evander Holyfield. He was down in five of his six defeats and never got up to come back and win. Joshua got up off the canvas in the sixth round and then overcame some tough rounds to come back and stop Wladimir Klitschko.
Joshua has also said that he’d probably lose if he fought in MMA. Everything he says is based on reality, and that’s what makes him so likable and easy to root for. He’s as tough and willing as any heavyweight in the world, but like Muhammad Ali during his title reign, especially during the 1970’s, AJ likes to laugh and have fun.
Conversely, Wilder, who has never fought anyone of note, keeps yelling about how he’s one of the greats. Deontay has struggled, been hit a lot and looked like an amateur with a big punch in his last fight against Gerald Washington. I’m sure he trains hard, but in all honesty he hasn’t improved much over the past three or four years. Yet he talks as if he’s a fighter who can punch like George Foreman and box like Larry Holmes which is an unfunny joke.
Now he’s patting himself on the back for fighting Luis Ortiz, just because, on paper, they made it look like he was willing to take the fight. Going further, he’s saying he’s “the most feared heavyweight in the division.” And just this week he inferred that Joshua is using PEDS. Is there anybody who believes that, and I’m talking fans and the top contenders in the division?
Wilder has also scored some dubious wins on his way to the title. One that stands out is his first round knockout over his friend Malik Scott. His record is littered with soft chinned journeymen who looked more as if they were on script instead of there to win. For all his big talk, his team doesn’t appear to share his confidence (look at his challengers).
Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are night and day different as fighters and the same applies to them outside the ring. To this point it appears that Joshua has a much more realistic identity as to who he is. Because of the cancellations involving the two best fighters Wilder was going to fight that fell through — Alexander Povetkin and Ortiz — there are many more doubters and questions surrounding Wilder. No, Wilder can’t be faulted because Povetkin and Ortiz tested positive for PEDS, but it is too coincidental that in both instances he was about to face a fighter who he was not a prohibitive favorite to beat.
The perception that he has been shying away from an authentically risky opponent will hover over him until he fights and beats Anthony Joshua.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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