Now Joshua Needs To Go Challenge Wilder

This past Saturday night WBA/IBF heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua 20-0 (20) stopped challenger Carlos Takam 35-4-1 (27) in the 10th round to make his fourth successful title defense. Most of the 78,000-plus in attendance thought the fight was halted a little prematurely, as did I. The seemingly quick stoppage ultimately robbed Takam of his chance to extend his tremendous effort and Joshua was robbed of the opportunity to close the show impressively as he usually does.

Joshua had been the talk of the boxing world all week leading up to the fight, but he wasn’t stellar against Takam. And if you had never seen him fight before, you’d come away thinking he wasn’t so special and only did what he was expected to do, and that’s overwhelm the smaller and less skilled fighter. In a surprise to many observers, Joshua, weighing a career high 254 pounds, looked lethargic. Couple that with Takam’s upper-body and head movement, along with his shorter stature forcing AJ to punch down, and it wasn’t Joshua at his best. It was the first time since winning the title that he didn’t look like the destroyer he’s perceived to be.

In the coming days you’ll read how Joshua is overrated and not quite the fighter he’s advertised as being, but that’s not something I’m on board with. Takam, who was a late replacement for Kubrat Pulev, had a completely different style and fought a terrific fight in his first world title shot. Takam is a more than competent pro that wasn’t intimidated by Joshua or awed by the pressure of the moment. He did just enough moving and feinting to keep Joshua a little befuddled and tentative.

In turn Joshua, instead of getting wild and rushing everything, remained composed and measured even after knocking Takam down in the fourth round. In spite of being a little out of sync, AJ never lost his confidence and continued to press behind his jab looking to create an opening. Eventually he started to get through with his right hand counters from the outside, along with his short uppercuts and left hooks on the inside. Takam was cut and bleeding and as the fight progressed his movement was less than what it had been during the first half of the bout, and Joshua began to hit the target more frequently.

Once Joshua saw Takam was winding down, he upped his activity and that was the beginning of the end. When the fight was stopped, Takam wasn’t quite defenseless but he never would have survived the round. In the end Joshua did what he was supposed to do. He gained a ton of experience during the rounds the bout was extended, he satisfied his mandatory obligation and he kept his knockout streak alive.

After the fight Joshua was interviewed in the ring and said his goal was to accumulate all the belts in the division. If he succeeds, he will become the biggest star in boxing since Mike Tyson circa 1986-88, and maybe the biggest since Muhammad Ali. When it comes to projection and personality, Anthony Joshua is from central casting. The icing on the cake is that he also has an aesthetically pleasing style of fighting. Even during a fight in which he was troubled by his opponent’s unorthodox style, it was enjoyable watching him trying to solve the riddle. With only 55 rounds of experience going into the bout and having turned just 28 two weeks prior, he still has a lot of potential to improve dramatically as a fighter. If you compare him to Lennox Lewis, the last great British heavyweight, Joshua has shown his ceiling might even be higher than Lewis’s at the same age after the same number of fights.

Joshua is a natural in front of the camera and is also very telegenic, which couldn’t be said about Lewis or the Klitschko brothers, the last three dominant heavyweight title holders. And that’s why he can take boxing to a stratosphere they never did. Lewis never completely won over the fans with his personality and turned them off on his bad nights. Vitali Klitschko was successful but the fans never warmed to his personality or awkward style and his younger brother Wladimir had good form and technique but never fought a memorable bout until Joshua pushed him to raise his game when they met last April.

This coming weekend WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder 38-0 (37) defends his title at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in a rematch with Bermane Stiverne, the only fighter who has gone the distance with him. Within a span of seven days the two most high profile heavyweight title holders will have fought on the same network. The arrangement couldn’t be more suitable to compare and contrast Joshua and Wilder. At the moment Joshua is viewed as being the better fighter and rightful champion, but it’s not unanimous and there are plenty of detractors around who think Wilder would be his stumbling block.

In order for boxing to maintain the momentum it’s gained during the banner year of 2017, Anthony Joshua needs more exposure. Boxing is at its best when the heavyweight champion is a superstar and attracts quasi-fans to watch it. Joshua, if he ever became the undisputed heavyweight champion, would dwarf the next biggest star in either boxing or MMA. However, for that to happen, Joshua needs to incorporate a little WWE in his step and show up at Wilder-Stiverne this weekend to challenge Deontay in the ring after the fight if Deontay wins as expected.

Before Joshua arrived, there hadn’t been a highly anticipated heavyweight title fight since Lennox Lewis fought Mike Tyson in June 2002. Most everyone that follows boxing knows that Wilder isn’t going to meet a truly dangerous opponent until he gets a big money fight, the type money that only fighting Joshua would net him.

So let’s get it out of the way.

Overall I thought Joshua looked like a good, poised professional against Carlos Takam. He didn’t get rattled when Takam smashed his nose with a head butt and he stayed nice and patient throughout. He’s a very well equipped fighter. It wasn’t an inspired performance, but it put him light years ahead of every other heavyweight. And the guy’s the most marketable fighter I’ve seen in many years!

Photo credit: Esther Lin / Showtime

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