Soon it will be official that unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua 21-0 (20) will be facing his WBA mandatory, former title holder Alexander Povetkin 31-4 (24), this September. Joshua and Povetkin were last in action on the same card in March. Before Joshua won a 12-round decision over Joseph Parker to unify the WBO, WBA, and IBF titles, Povetkin registered a fifth round knockout over David Price.
Povetkin held the WBA regular title from August 2011 through October 2013 when he lost it to Wladimir Klitschko via unanimous decision. The loss to Wladimir is Alexander’s only setback as a pro and since then he’s gone 8-0 (6). It’s been a long road back to the title for Povetkin who was scheduled to fight WBC champ Deontay Wilder in May of 2016, but the bout fell through when the Russian tested positive for a performance enhancing drug. Povetkin, 38, has been a consistent performer during his tenure. He’s never looked unbeatable but he seldom turns in a stinker. And although his fight with Klitschko is one he’d like to forget as he wasn’t able to get anything going, he exhibited toughness and durability in getting up from four knockdowns and was upright and coherent when the bout ended.
Some see Povetkin as a substantial threat to Joshua. For some reason AJ is portrayed by some as a fighter who lacks stamina and a dependable chin. Yet in his title bout against Wladimir Klitschko he found a second wind after tiring in the middle of the bout, and also got up off the deck after eating a flush right hand on the jaw from the biggest single shot puncher in the division. Since then, AJ stopped Carlos Takam and was forced to go the distance against Joseph Parker. Granted, he didn’t look like a world beater during those two bouts – but it’s not that simple.
Takam’s physical stature and awkwardness seemed to cause AJ some trepidation; it appeared he didn’t cut loose until he felt sure he was going to make contact. This led to gaps of inactivity during many of the rounds. As for Parker, Joseph fought to survive much more so than to win, and showed no gumption to take the necessary risk it required to win. However, Povetkin won’t have that luxury against Joshua and because his natural style is to fight as an attacker, he’ll be most inclined to push the fight. Povetkin tried to force it and get in on Klitschko, but he was either tied up in a clinch by Wladimir or got nailed coming in and that broke his stride and forward momentum. But he kept trying to get inside and never changed up. I think having a fighter come at him aggressively bothered Klitschko and caused him to be less offensive-minded and that probably enabled Povetkin to go the distance.
It’s safe to assume Povetkin is smart enough to know that if he fights Joshua in retreat, looking for the counter, it’ll extend the fight but lessen his chance of winning. But that’s not his style and if he fights on his back foot, AJ will put more heat on him than he did against Parker. Joshua knew Parker was in his wheelhouse fighting in retreat and trying to stay out of range, simply because mostly every fighter who has gone at Parker forced him to go back. This doesn’t apply to Povetkin, and AJ will sense that if Povetkin chooses to go back of his own volition, he’s silently accepting the role as the prey. And I don’t think that’s who Povetkin is – therefore I believe he’ll try to push the action and get in on AJ.
Since looking like the best heavyweight in the world on the night he stopped Klitschko, Joshua hasn’t turned in a performance to further endorse that sentiment. In fact it’s been the opposite and lately his reputation has been taking some arrows and slings in the boxing media. Couple that with the fact that Povetkin has never been stopped and I think it spells Joshua being totally focused and set to turn in his best performance since fighting Wladimir.
Call it a hunch, but I believe Joshua will relish Povetkin attempting to close the distance between them. That plays to his strength in two ways…first, if Alexander steps to him, AJ can nail him even harder by drawing him into his power. Secondly, against the taller Klitschko, Povetkin came in repeatedly with his head down and with his eyes virtually looking at the ring floor. And Joshua is the last heavyweight you want to move into with your head down with his arms and elbows out of view – because he throws a murderous right uppercut, a punch that Povetkin would be directly in the path of and not see in time to avoid. Stylistically, Joshua is a very dangerous fighter to carry the fight to. It positions his opponents in his line of fire without him having to hunt them down and it allows him to catch them once they’ve committed. And if he times it right after they’ve committed with their feet, it’s usually too late for them to react and avoid what he sends back at them.
With the fight against Deontay Wilder not likely to be made until 2019, Joshua needs a good showing against Povetkin to firmly re-establish himself as the alpha fighter in boxing’s flagship division. The Russian fighter is considered one of the top five heavyweights in the world, so it’s not as if Joshua is getting a free ride against him. A stoppage win will go a long way for Joshua, reigniting his stature as the fighter who represents the future of the division.
On paper stylistically, Povetkin could be the ideal fighter for AJ to get back on track. He’ll be facing a guy who has never backed away from any challenge and who realizes that at this stage of his career he’ll not likely get another title shot again. And that translates into Povetkin coming to fight, something it didn’t appear that Joseph Parker did, and for that reason Joshua will have a better chance to shine.
Up to this point in his career only two fighters really attempted to fight it out with Joshua, Wladimir Klitschko and Dillian Whyte, and they both were stopped as a result. The sense here is that Povetkin will fight to win more than go the distance and he’ll meet the same fate as Klitschko and Whyte.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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