Recent history shows why Joshua could have advantage over Klitschko

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The Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight world-title fight is one of the biggest in the division in many years, perhaps since what turned out to be Lennox Lewis’ career swan song against Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir’s big brother, in 2003.

Where: Wembley Stadium, London
When: Saturday, April 29
TV: Showtime, 4:15 p.m. ET (live); HBO 11 p.m. ET (tape delay)

Others might view it as the most significant heavyweight title fight since Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson in their inevitable summit meeting in 2002.

But wherever you place Joshua-Klitschko in the pantheon of heavyweight title fights, it’s a big deal. A very big deal, as evidenced by the fact that there will be a British boxing-record crowd of some 90,000 at sold-out Wembley Stadium for the fight on Saturday (live on Showtime at 4:15 p.m. ET, taped on HBO at 11 p.m. ET/PT).

It’s a classic matchup between star fighters with huge power who are at different stages of their careers. England’s Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) is the 27-year-old reigning titleholder, a powerful young lion perhaps not even in his prime yet. Many view him as the future of the division, if he is not there already as he gets set for his third title defense.

Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) is the former longtime king looking to hold off the young man and recapture the glory that had him on the heavyweight throne for a decade in one of the most dominant title reigns in any division in boxing history.

The fight has captured the imagination of boxing fans because of the fact that it could signal a true changing of the guard in boxing’s glamour division. Joshua, with a huge fan base in the United Kingdom, is the favorite and he is boxing at home, where he will face by far his most significant opponent.

Klitschko, 41, has faced all sorts of titleholders, contenders and undefeated opponents during his 21-year career. But this is the first time Klitschko will go into a fight perceived as an old man and the underdog. It’s a role he has embraced during the lead up. He feels like he might be underestimated, which could make things awfully interesting.

Based on their most recent fights, it is understandable why Joshua is favored to win. Already perfect through his first 17 fights, Joshua looked superb when he was last in the ring on Dec. 10 in Manchester, England.

Eric Molina, left, wasn’t much of a challenge for heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua in December. Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Joshua destroyed American Eric Molina by third-round knockout with Klitschko at ringside hoping Joshua would win to set up their fight, which was already negotiated.

Joshua knocked Molina down with a left hand in the third round and followed up with a brutal assault of punches that left Molina out on his feet and the referee jumping in to save him from more punishment.

Joshua, of course, was a heavy favorite to defeat Molina, who landed only six punches in the fight, compared to Joshua’s 38. But what made Joshua’s performance even more impressive was the fact that Molina had gone nine tough rounds with titleholder Deontay Wilder 16 months earlier, yet Joshua shredded him. There are many who look at Joshua and Wilder as the two best in the division other than Klitschko, so it’s always fun to compare.

But unlike Joshua’s last fight, Klitschko’s was dreadful and the key reason why Joshua is favored and why the fight was made in the first place.

Klitschko looked like a spent bullet last time out, which was 17 months ago, when he lost a clear unanimous decision (and his title belts) to Tyson Fury, Joshua’s troubled British countryman, who vacated without ever defending and twice pulling out of a rematch with Klitschko.

Wladimir Klitschko, right, lost his heavyweight titles to Tyson Fury in 2015. Lars Baron/Getty Images

Klitschko turned in a dreadful performance in a horrible fight. He looked every bit his age that night — 39 at the time — against his 27-year-old opponent (sound familiar?) after having dominated previous, similarly skilled opponents.

Klitschko could barely land or even get off any punches. According to CompuBox punch statistics, Klitschko landed only 52 of 231 punches (23 percent). Fifty-two punches in 12-round fight? That is as bad as it gets, especially for a fighter with such a diverse offensive arsenal and great power in both hands. But Klitschko just could not pull the trigger.

Fury was not much better, but this was just a bad performance from Klitschko. So if anyone is basing their pick in the Joshua-Klitschko fight on how each man performed in his previous bout — yet another destructive performance from Joshua and a sorry one from Klitschko in a loss — it makes sense.

But remember one thing: While boxing is a young man’s sport, Joshua has never faced an opponent with even remotely close to the talent, experience and accomplishment of Klitschko, which he knows having served one of his sparring partners in the past. Also, Klitschko has been counted out before when he suffered knockout losses more than a decade ago but came back to score big wins.

Joshua, whose chin looked shaky in his knockout of Dillian Whyte in 2015 (in the fight before he won his world title) might very well beat Klitschko as most expect, but be warned: Don’t read too much into the results of their most recent fights.

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