Wilder Has Served; Can Joshua Return Serve?

For the year or so that WBA/IBF heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua 20-0 (20) and WBC title holder Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39) have been merging towards colliding, most boxing fans and insiders viewed Joshua as the better and more complete fighter and would favor him if they fought. Then on March 3rd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Wilder loses four of the first five rounds against unbeaten Luis Ortiz, survives a few close calls in the seventh round, exhibiting toughness he’s never needed to exhibit before, and then rallies to stop a tiring Ortiz in the 10th, changing the perception of him and gaining some new fans.

Prior to Wilder beating Ortiz it was hard to find anyone who would outright on the record pick Wilder to beat Joshua in what would be the most anticipated heavyweight bout in more than 20 years (since Holyfield-Tyson II on 6/28/97), but there are a lot more now who hold that opinion. And since Wilder has won the signature fight of his career and Joshua is less than a week away from challenging WBO title holder Joseph Parker 24-0 (18), it appears now all the questions are pointed to what Joshua’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities are.

Here’s what David Haye told the (London) Daily Star:

“He can’t take a punch, or I’m too fast, or he’s too slow. Everyone has got a reason why they believe they are going to win, but he seems to have the solutions, the answers to everybody, including Wladimir Klitschko, who once again said that he’s got too much experience. When he lands his right hand he’ll knock him out. It didn’t happen. It landed, he put Joshua down. Joshua was able to get back up and show great recovery skills to come back and force an 11th-round stoppage. It’s easy to say that from the outside, but when you’re in there, Anthony Joshua is an absolute monster of a man. The reality of Anthony Joshua, once he starts punching the face, gets real pretty quick.”

Haye touches on everything. The myth Joshua can’t take a punch has been addressed and rebutted. He’s already been hit by a fighter who is a more natural and harder puncher than Wilder in Wladimir Klitschko. Also, Klitschko has short power and doesn’t need to draw back and wing his shots to generate his knockout power and Wladimir had a big left hook, something I haven’t seen from Wilder (or should I say it’s not on the same level as Klitschko’s)…..with a major difference between them being Wilder isn’t handcuffed when the fight is on the line and he lets his hands go which makes him more dangerous to Joshua on some levels than was Klitschko.

There’s also the faction who believe Joshua is too muscle-bound and tires late in his bouts because he’s carrying too much weight (254 in his last bout against Carlos Takam). This I believe has merit, and even though Joshua says he’s not intentionally trying to lose weight, his body appears to be leaner now than it was a week out from his last bout. And you would think with Deontay Wilder getting more traction, Joshua will look to bring no less than his A-game against Parker with the boxing world watching. Although he comes across as a good guy, AJ has a big ego and no doubt isn’t thrilled with the prospect of Wilder gaining supporters and, maybe, in the eyes of some, supplanting him as the alpha fighter in the division.

If we’re being honest, Wilder didn’t look great against Luis Ortiz and was bettered in six of the nine completed rounds. But that’s been forgotten and it doesn’t matter because Wilder beat Ortiz conclusively, erasing all questions as to him being at worst the second-best heavyweight in boxing. Deontay showed he’s got the heart of a lion. He totally believes in his power and ability and won’t be awed when he’s standing in front of Joshua at center ring, and AJ knows that as he heads into his bout with Parker.

Now that Wilder has served a bullet, the onus is on Joshua to return serve equally as hard.

For 11 months — since he stopped Wladimir Klitschko — Joshua was seen as the fighter holding the more significant career win, something that I don’t think changed when Wilder beat Ortiz, but the margin became much tighter. If you couple that with Joshua not looking spectacular in his last bout against Takam, you could say that for the first time since Joshua and Wilder have been measured against each other, that it is AJ who has a little to prove when he goes against Parker who is among the top five heavyweights in the world. And if you’ve listened to Joshua recently, he’s been talking about how hard he’s been working to up his game via improving his punch placement, defense, pacing and spacing, along with other tweaks where he sees room for improvement.

Obviously, Joshua’s intent in regards to fighting Parker is not to just win, but to do so more impressively than Wilder did against Ortiz. To do that, he cannot be out-boxed by Parker and lose more rounds than he wins, even if he scores a late round stoppage. However, Joshua will find it more difficult, at least in the early going, to look better against Parker than Wilder did against Ortiz. That’s because Parker will be looking to use the ring and create space, opposed to Ortiz who mostly carried the action to Wilder. It’s harder to look good and overwhelm an opponent who’s looking to box more than engage and fight it out with you. So Joshua is going to have to go after Parker, forcing Parker to open up and fight him off without being sloppy or reckless. Parker is a good boxer and he has fast hands, so Joshua will almost certainly encounter resistance, but that shouldn’t stymie him for too long.

Joshua said this week….

“Unless I take care of my business, no one’s going to want to interview me anyway, so I have to make sure I stay focused on the job at hand. That’s the fear of losing: it keeps me motivated; I just know how quickly the tables can turn. One minute you’re the man, and the next you’re not.”

Fighters motivated by the fear of losing all that they’ve acquired monetarily, and in status, are dangerous. I expect AJ to be really jacked for this fight and to reveal the monster David Haye spoke of. I believe Joshua wants to take away the play that Wilder has realized over the past four weeks. And if he utterly dismantles a formidable title holder like Parker, that’ll show he can really get up for a big fight and, like Sugar Ray Leonard, that there’s an assassin residing under that nice guy persona.

The intrigue of Joshua-Parker isn’t who will win; based on who they’ve fought and what they bring to the ring, Joshua is a clear favorite. And let’s be honest, he’s being measured against Wilder for the first time in his career and maybe fighting Parker so soon after Wilder fought Ortiz will be a plus for him.

I believe Joshua will draw from the Wilder comparisons and he’ll be looking to beat Parker quicker, more impressively and without any close calls to one-up Wilder…. and that’s what everybody wants to see, whether he can do it. And if Joshua destroys Parker in a one-sided fight, he’ll have returned serve back to Wilder and it might even become difficult once again to find those willing to stick their neck out predicting Wilder will beat Joshua if and when they fight. But if AJ struggles some, those favoring Wilder will become a dime a dozen.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com.

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