Sometime in the next few days, certainly before the bell rings for the start of the IBF-WBA heavyweight title match between unbeaten champion Anthony Joshua and former champ Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans on Saturday at Wembley Stadium in London, someone will say the bout is the one to save boxing.
As sure as President Trump will take to Twitter to complain about his media coverage, someone will write or say that it’s necessary for Joshua-Klitschko to be a classic in order to uplift the sport.
It’s nonsense, and even if when it is over, Joshua-Klitschko is being compared to the epic 1975 “Thrilla in Manila,” battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, it won’t mean anything except that the paying customers got what they paid for, for a change.
The significance of the bout is that, for once, some people are paying attention. Promoter Eddie Hearn had to get special permission from London Mayor Sadiq Khan to sell 90,000 tickets at Wembley Stadium.
The bout is one of the most significant sporting events of the year in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., it’s big enough that both Showtime and HBO have sent crews to broadcast the fight. Showtime will air the fight live at 4:15 p.m. ET. HBO will have the primetime replay at 11 p.m. ET., in one of the few times in their history the competing cable networks have worked together.
This bout could lead to a renaissance of sorts for the long dormant heavyweight division, which appears to be in a better place than it’s been since about 1996, when Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were in their primes.
There are questions about both Joshua and Klitschko – Is Joshua too inexperienced? Is Klitschko, at 41, too old? – but there are always questions.
The same questions once dogged a young Joe Louis as well as an Olympic gold medalist from 1960 named Cassius Clay.
It would be best, of course, if Joshua were to win, and better yet, to convincingly knock out Klitschko, who has never been all that popular worldwide despite his classiness and incredible dominance over the last two decades.
He’s 64-4 with 53 knockouts and once made 18 consecutive successful title defenses. That long run of defenses ended on Nov. 28, 2015, when he seemed strangely lethargic and unable to do much of anything in a bout with Tyson Fury.
Fury wasn’t highly regarded going into the fight – he’d once been dropped by Steve Cunningham, who is a cruiserweight – and he’s not considered a great fighter by any means now.
Klitschko suddenly looked old and slow and tired in that fight, and he was unable to deal with the oafish 6-foot-9 Fury hanging all over him.
He hasn’t fought since, a rematch having been canceled several times.
If Klitschko were to win, it would temporarily halt the belief that a heavyweight revival is at hand. In addition to Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker are heavyweight title holders and hold similar promise.
Joshua is a 2012 super heavyweight gold medalist (as is Klitschko, from 1996) and he’s 18-0 with 18 knockouts. His competition hasn’t been much, and he’s yet to show he can handle a ring-wise opponent who won’t crumple after absorbing his first good right hand.
Of Joshua’s 18 wins, five ended in the first round, eight in the second, three in the third and two in the seventh.
But he’s faced no one who either knows his way around the ring like Klitschko or who punched nearly as hard.
Should Joshua win, that would lead to potential matches with Wilder, who is 38-0 with 37 knockouts, or Parker, who is 22-0 with 18 knockouts. Together, Joshua, Wilder and Parker are 78-0 with 73 knockouts.
All are big – Joshua is 6-foot-6 and around 245; Wilder is 6-7 and about 225 and Parker is 6-4 and 235 – and far more athletic than heavyweights of recent vintage. Boxing’s decline was fueled, in part, by a drop in the quality of the heavyweight division. There are many reasons for that, but a primary one is that athletes who in the past would have gone into boxing and become heavyweights have chosen other more lucrative sports
Article by Kevin Iole