Anthony Joshua’s toughest test lies ahead against Wladimir Klitschko

Joshua v Klitschko 27/03/2017

It’s come a lot sooner than many of us thought it would, but on April 29 at Wembley Stadium, IBF World Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua takes on former champion Wladimir Klitschko with the Super WBA and IBO titles also on the line. Will the young gun overcome the all-time great? Either way, it promises to be an amazing night of boxing.

Joshua Bids to Unify the Division

British boxing has been going through a boom period for a while now, but what it really wants is a unified world heavyweight champion. It looked as if Tyson Fury would be the UK’s best bet to achieve that after he went to Germany and defeated Wladimir Klitschko. He hasn’t set foot in a ring since, though. That being said, Fury winning a collection of world titles ironically had a massive impact on the career of Anthony Joshua.

It’s okay holding a collection of titles, but it means you have several governing bodies with different sets of rankings to deal with. After his title victory, Fury had his eyes set on the rematch with Klitschko before another unification bout with Deontay Wilder for the WBC belt. However, the IBF wanted Fury to take on their number-one challenger Vyacheslav Glazkov and that wasn’t on his agenda, so the British boxer was stripped of his title. Glazkov took on Charles Martin for the vacant belt and, due to a knee injury suffered by his opponent, it was Martin who won the title in January 2016.

All that proved to be great news for Joshua, who had steadily been proving that he could one day be a world champion. A title shot wasn’t imminent at that stage until what happened in the IBF. When it became clear that Martin was prepared to put his title on the line against Joshua, the golden opportunity was eagerly grabbed and Joshua quickly dispatched the American in a couple of rounds. Joshua had won the world title even before a new holder of his 2012 Olympic Super Heavyweight title had been decided.

Suddenly, the young British boxer was a world champion and any plans for him to continue his steady progress through the ranks had totally gone out of the window. Already plans were being made for him to take on Deontay Wilder for the WBC title sometime in the future, although any immediate proposals were disrupted by Wilder being out injured until early this year. All-British title fights with perhaps David Haye or a returning Tyson Fury were mooted, or even a rematch with Dillian Whyte, who had given Joshua his toughest fight in 2015.

Since winning the title, Joshua has made two successful defences against Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina. Neither were top rated challengers and the champion had few problems dispatching them in seven and three rounds, respectively. At the end of the Molina fight, it all got a bit like WWE – a route Eddie Hearn loves going down every now and then.

Sitting at ringside was none other than Wladimir Klitschko, still to climb back in the ring since his title loss to Fury. The Ukrainian managed to get in the ring this time, though, and the announcement was made that he would be taking on Joshua with the IBF, WBA (Super) and IBO titles on the line.

A 90,000 crowd will be in attendance to see the two warriors face each other, and the latest odds at betting comparison site oddschecker have Joshua as favourite to win at 2/5.  The winner of this bout is likely to take on the now fit again Deontay Wilder sometime in the future. New WBO champion Joseph Parker is also in the mix in an ever increasingly competitive heavyweight division. But has this all come too soon for the British heavyweight?

The Wembley showdown will take place with Joshua still to reach four years boxing as a professional. Of course, if he does lose, there’s plenty of time for him to come back again and he’d know that the new champion would be retiring in the not too distant future. If he can beat his ageing opponent, then the world really is at his feet with big money matches in the future.

Klitschko Bids to Regain Titles

Late March sees Wladimir Klitschko celebrate his 41st birthday: is that perhaps the most important statistic in this upcoming title match against Anthony Joshua? Another key statistic that has to be considered is that he hasn’t had a fight since November 2015, when he put in that incredibly disappointing display against Tyson Fury and lost the belts he had held since 2006. How will that inactivity affect Klitschko?

This is a massive fight for the Ukrainian, because, despite his long and hugely successful career, he’s never performed in front of a sell-out 90,000 crowd at Wembley – or anywhere comparable, for that matter. Too many times Klitschko put his title on the line in Germany against a conveyor belt of challengers that had little chance of taking the belts from him. In 2015, he did have a title defence against Bryant Jennings at the famous Madison Square Garden. That was his first fight in the USA since a fight against Sultan Ibragimov back in 2008. He may have fought Tyson Fury and David Haye in the past, but his only fight in London was 17 years ago, at the London Arena.

In many ways, Klitschko has had a career that could have been so much bigger. More fights in the USA would have been desirable but a lack of top quality contender hasn’t always been available. Of course, it was also a bit difficult unifying the belts when his brother Vitali also held versions of the world heavyweight title. Now, he comes to Wembley Arena at the age of 41 for what is the biggest fight of his career and possibly his last.

This will be his 29th world heavyweight title fight and no boxer in history has had that many. He’s an all-time great but who would you rather watch fight given the choice of Klitschko, his brother Vitali, the late great Muhammad Ali, and Joe Frazier? Sorry, but Wladimir would be at the bottom of that list because I just can’t recall that many thrilling fights he’s been involved in. Hopefully, this title match against Joshua might get him a bit higher up the list but he’s destined to be someone known for his record rather than his in-ring performances.

Time after time, Wladimir put his titles on the line and fans went home pleased he’d won (again) but wondering when he’d be up against some better opponents. It’s not entirely his fault, of course, because some governing bodies’ world rankings are absolute jokes. The likes of Alex Leapai and Francesco Piatani ‘earned’ title shots but never had a serious chance of dethroning the much taller champion. He’s used to just plodding along, keeping his opponents out of reach and jabbing them to defeat. Throw in some roughhouse tactics that he probably won’t be able to get away with at Wembley in April, and so many of his title matches were just so boring.

There are so many questions that have to be answered in this bout. Klitschko was so disappointing in his title loss to Tyson Fury. Surely, he couldn’t be that bad again – because if he is, then this might not last that long. He looked ill-prepared for that title match against Fury and that certainly won’t be the case for his Wembley showdown with Joshua.

Age must play some part in this contest for sure. At 41, Klitschko takes on an opponent that will be 14 years younger than him and has had four fights while his Ukrainian opponent has been in the ring. Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be that way: Klitschko had that rematch against Tyson Fury lined up, before injuries and personal reasons kept delaying the fight until Fury finally got to the stage where he had no titles to put on the line.

Couldn’t Wladimir have had some warm-up bout in the meantime? He could easily have found a suitable opponent with little chance of beating him. After all, that’s what he did for years as champion. Or is Wladimir haunted by that performance against Fury? Is he fearful that he could train like mad but once the bell rings, his days as a top performer will desert him and another lacklustre performance will follow?

With so much money at stake, it could just be a case of getting one bigger pay-day and hoping he might get lucky and win his titles back. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in boxing and it wouldn’t be the last. It seems though that the former champion is fully preparing himself for this fight. Beating Joshua means everything to him, even claiming that he was “obsessed” with beating the British boxer.

Wladimir has had an amazing career but a closer look at it produces some worrying statistics. Ross Puritty stopped him in 11 rounds to take the WBC International Heavyweight title away from him in 1998. Five years later, he took on Corrie Sanders for the WBO Heavyweight title and only lasted two rounds. A year later, with that title vacant again, he faced Lamon Brewster for the belt and was stopped in the fifth round, a defeat he got revenge for in 2007.

Three times Klitschko has been beaten inside the distance. His methods have changed since, but that chin is now 41 years of age and getting ready to take on a hard hitter like Anthony Joshua after over a year out of the ring. If I was a Klitschko fan, I’d be seriously worried about this contest.

Although Fury never looked like knocking Klitschko out (despite his size, he’s still not the heaviest puncher), he did catch him many times. Recent Klitschko fights have seen his opponents (fighters of lower quality than Joshua) earn some degree of success against him. What will happen when a younger, hard hitting confident boxer like Joshua faces him?

Why else is this such an important fight for Klitschko? Well, the last thing he wants is to have an illustrious career that has two successive defeats right at the end of it. Too many boxers carry on far too long and end up tarnishing their reputation. Does any boxing fan really want to see his career end with an early knockout by Joshua?

Success for Klitschko could easily see him taking on Wilder or Parker (or perhaps even Hughie Fury?) in unification bouts. Defeat would almost certainly mean the end of his career, though with so many titles around these days it’s not an impossible task to find one that you might be able to win.

It’s been a while since there has been a world heavyweight title match that means as much as Klitschko against Joshua; this is the classic old guard versus new kid on the block battle. Both are Olympic Super-Heavyweight gold medallists but the Ukrainian won his sixteen years before Joshua won his. Yet now they meet in the heavyweight fight of the year and it’s Joshua who has a belt to wear around his waist.

Joshua has achieved far more in the first four years of his professional career then even he could dream. Klitschko receives another title shot at an age when he should be at home with his feet up enjoying all the money he’s made in his career.

There are so many big questions to be answered in this intriguing bout. Joshua has been highly impressive in his career to date, but is he the finished article? What happens if Klitschko catches him clean on the chin? What if Klitschko does what he’s best at and use his reach and dirty tactics to frustrate his opponent? 

Previous fights have seen Joshua get frustrated if the opponent in front of him survives for more than a few rounds. How will he perform if this fight goes past the half way stage; will he tire? Will frustration cause him to make a serious mistake, enabling Klitschko to take advantage?

Questions need answers and that’s why this is going to be a fascinating world heavyweight title match. Klitschko is nearing the end of his career but can he pull out one more world title winning performance or is Anthony Joshua on the verge of becoming the most dominant heavyweight in the business? My gut feeling is that Klitschko is way past his best and an early stoppage win for Joshua cannot be ruled out.