When IBF/WBA heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua 19-0 (19) enters the ring this weekend at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to make the fifth defense of his title against replacement opponent Carlos Takam 35-3-1 (27), it’s a safe assumption he’ll have the eyes of the boxing world on him…not because anyone believes Takam has a better chance to upset him than Joshua’s original opponent, Kubrat Pulev — no, not at all. As was true against Pulev, Joshua is an overwhelming favorite. The reason is that Anthony Joshua is the most interesting heavyweight title holder since Mike Tyson was boxing’s biggest star in the mid-to-late 1980’s.
Joshua has two things Tyson had when he was on top…1) he can punch with both hands and fans watch him fight because they expect him to win by knockout and 2) he’s approachable and unassuming after a big win, as was Tyson circa 1986-88. But this is where the similarity ends. Joshua is five years older than Tyson was during his heyday and is also more mature and charming. Inside the ring AJ is better constructed physically and stylistically to last longer at the top and perhaps eclipse Tyson in the eyes of historians. The reason I say that is because Tyson was short and had to fight his way in to be effective, and swarmers who fight like that tend to burn out sooner. Joshua is 6’6″ with an 82-inch reach and doesn’t have to get inside nor enter the punching range of his opponents to land big shots. AJ does his best work from outside and only goes inside if his opponent is hurt and he’s seeking to finish him.
In Joshua’s last fight he scored an exciting 11th round TKO over former universally recognized champ Wladimir Klitschko who was the dominant fighter in the division for a decade. Klitschko, in a losing effort, may have produced his finest hour and not only answered questions some still had about him, but in the process he pushed Joshua to provide irrefutable answers to the questions fans and observers had of him. Joshua showed he was more than a body beautiful and capable of getting off the canvas as he did in the sixth round when it looked as if he was about to suffer his first defeat. He then rallied back to win against Klitschko who was fighting with an escalated sense of urgency. In just his fourth year as a pro, Joshua has already done something that Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, both certified all-time greats, never did during their entire careers, and that’s get off the canvas and rally to win.
Prior to fighting Klitschko, many questioned Joshua’s opposition on his way to compiling an 18-0 (18) record, and with good reason as Dillian Whyte was the only notable fighter that he had met. What AJ’s critics overlooked was that special fighters are supposed to dispatch limited opposition effortlessly. When he fought Klitschko in his 19th bout, he took a monumental step up in class, so much so that I challenge anyone to name a past champion who fought such a formidable opponent in only their 19th fight. The closest you’ll get is Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali who defeated Sonny Liston for the undisputed title in his 20th bout.
Speaking of Ali (and I know this may be blasphemous to some), AJ has some of Ali’s natural charisma. And like Ali after he regained the title from George Foreman in 1974, he can win over and dominate any room he’s in by showing up and cracking a corny joke with a smile. During the 1970’s Ali was one of the physically bigger heavyweights of the era, and the same applies to Joshua now. But neither project fear to those who come in contact with them. I doubt anyone would approach Joshua with trepidation on a given day like they might WBC champ Deontay Wilder who scowls and broods sometimes when in front of the public.
Now that he’s proven he has a reliable chin and a big heart, Joshua seems to have it all. Because of his height, reach and ability to fight both inside and outside along with his power and great form, he’s going to be more than a handful for the fighters vying for his title, and that could be for some time to come. But lately I’ve been equally impressed with certain things Joshua has said regarding himself and his understanding of the big picture.
“Twenty wins, 20 knockouts ain’t bad, but boxing’s unforgiving. So don’t ask me what you do for your 21st fight,” Joshua said. “I can’t afford to lose, and I don’t want to lose.”
Joshua’s words are a window into his mindset. Here’s a fighter who has two world titles and is undefeated, who attracts massive attention everywhere he goes, yet still gets it. He fully grasps that even with all he’s accomplished, he’s one bad night from waking up the next day being considered an over-hyped Olympic gold medalist who was exposed after being spoon fed.
“Boxing is a sport that’s unforgiving in a sense that if Takam beats me, that loss will stay on my record for a lifetime. That will always be my legacy. It will not be, ‘Oh, he was a world champion, and he did well for the sport of boxing.’ No, no, no, no no. It would be, ‘He’s 19-1.’ That’s the new legacy and I just don’t want that blemish on my record right now.”
If I were Carlos Takam and read these words, I’d dismiss the thought that Joshua may be looking past me. Obviously Joshua is cognizant that Takam could do to him what Buster Douglas did to Mike Tyson 27 years ago. And if that were to happen, Joshua’s mystique quite possibly might never be reconstructed. Some fighters never learn until it is too late how much a single loss can derail their career. (Adrien Broner comes to mind.) What escapes them is that once they lose, it’s easier to accept the next defeat and the one after that. Realizing how things could easily slide the wrong way off of one defeat, Joshua, at least to me, appears to be fighting as hard as he can to prevent that from happening to him.
“In a career, it’s all good going undefeated and looking good, but (Wilder) hasn’t had any memorable fights. He needs a real remarkable fight to stamp his name in the book of heavyweight boxing.”
This quote from Joshua is another example illustrating how Joshua understands that it’s not how many you beat – it’s more about who you beat. At 38-0 (37), Wilder has twice as many wins and knockouts as Joshua, but isn’t viewed as being on the same level by most respected observers. That’s because Joshua, based on his fight with Klitschko and how he fights more like a seasoned pro, has clearly overshadowed all that Wilder has done to this point. Saying Wilder needs a “real remarkable fight to stamp his name in the book of heavyweight boxing,” is his way of conveying that Deontay hasn’t yet beat a truly notable opponent.
After 19 fights, Anthony Joshua is further along than any other past great heavyweight champion if we’re going by accomplishments and maturity. A fight with Tyson Fury down the road, if Fury can get it together, or meeting Deontay Wilder sometime next year, would be huge and career-defining for AJ. To get there he must beat Takam, and doing so in an impressive fashion will add to his mystique and make these fights even bigger.
As for Joshua fighting Takam this weekend, it’s impossible to find a path to victory for Carlos. He can only be effective inside versus AJ. The problem is getting there. Takam’s defense and head movement aren’t anything close to special and once Joshua makes contact with his left jab, Takam’s forward progress will be blunted. If he decides to play the wait and react game, looking to land after a Joshua miss or mistake, he’ll be too far out of range to land anything substantive. If he fights over-aggressively he’ll be met at the door with Joshua’s straight punches and disguised right hands. And once he has his man hurt, Joshua is a good finisher. When all is taken into account, Takam needs to get lucky, because he doesn’t have the skill, physicality or style to beat Anthony Joshua.
Earlier this year Joshua gained a lot of notoriety and fans by beating Klitschko. Look for that AJ train to gain momentum after he more than likely dispatches Carlos Takam in a spectacular fashion.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com