Klitschko and Joshua: Legacy and Legitimacy

Klitschko and Joshua: Legacy and Legitimacy

The King is dead; long live the King.

Saturday night, Wembley saw a record attendance for a boxing match and a bout that will become the thing of legend. It was more than a passing of the torch: it was a fight for the ages. A reminder why the heavyweight division is the pinnacle of the sport, and a moment in time where long burning questions were finally answered.

Previous perfunctory performances, like the Haye fight, had done little to endear Wladimir to fair-weather boxing fans. They want excitement and edge of the seat action. He played his part in providing this against AJ.

It’s a shame Haye couldn’t bring this side of Klitschko to life. Imagine a world where a slicker, more focused Wladimir stomped on the heavyweight division instead of politely keeping it at arm’s length with a jab.

This writer has always been a fan of boxers that box smart instead of taking risks for the sake of show. Mayweather is a genius that bores the untrained eye. Wladimir to many, was dull and a fallacy.

Of course, these claims are untrue. He was a master technician that painfully learnt his weaknesses in his early fights and adapted style accordingly. Paradoxically, it was his years of methodical experience that went against him on Saturday.

After he put Joshua down, the younger man looked spent. He was there for the taking. Even as AJ launched the final, deadly attack, it was from rocky ground.

But Klitschko was too use to seeing fights out, meticulously choosing punches at the optimum time. Had he ignored this well-tread instinct, the British Gold Medallist would have been surrendering to his Ukrainian counterpart.

Instead it was down to the man without any experience at world level to change the course of the fight: The course of heavyweight history.

Both men left everything in the ring. In defeat, Wladimir Klitschko is humanised. The mechanical, robotic sounding, professor of the punch became a dynamic warrior, ready to go out on his shield with his sword still swinging.

AJ will continue to improve, this was invaluable experience. It means should Klitschko face him again, he’ll have to raise his game even further. At forty-one, that may be too much of an ask. But at least we now know there was something left in the tank. More than a little, as it happens.

Anthony Joshua took a large step to fulfilling the prophecy that he can become one of the all-time greats, should he maximise his potential. The chinks in his armour – ones that had been hinted at – were fully exposed. But he stood tall and kept his relentless hunter mode active.

It may have been Joshua’s first proper fight at world level but he proved he belonged there. For all the hype surrounding him, real calibre shone through when it mattered most. He may still be “vulnerable” in the way Klitschko said, and demonstrated, but the balance of talent versus deficiencies sways in his favour.

Joshua getting better with time must strike fear into every future opponent. The best heavyweight boxer of the last decade, in the finest shape of his life, couldn’t halt his ascension. The legitimacy of Anthony Joshua can no longer be questioned.

Neither can the legacy that Wladimir Klitschko leaves behind. Often overlooked because of the entertainment factor, people miss the point: he made boxers look ordinary and always got the job done.

The Fury defeat can now be placed into context. There was a question as to why Klitschko tried to add extra padding to the canvas. It was a move that a man recovering from injury would take. He didn’t look 100% that night but took the fight anyway.

This isn’t to diminish the Fury achievement, he went with a game plan and executed it perfectly. It was the thing needed to light the fire in Wlad’s belly.

Once burning again, we saw a glimpse of the great man that’s always been there.

His boxing record already ensures Wladimir Klitschko is a Hall of Fame addition. The character and professionalism he’s displayed in every situation signifies what being a champion is all about.

He hands over his crown to Joshua in a fitting coronation. The British boxer has displayed he also has a positive demeanour. In the coming years, it will be tested as fighters try to drag him to the dark side of the sport.

In those moments, he’d be well advised to take a pause and wonder what Wladimir would do.

Sympathy not Fury

Sympathy not Fury

There’s fewer places in the world as unforgiving as a boxing ring. Once inside, there’s nowhere to hide and the only sure way to get out is make a date with the canvas. Unfortunately for the men that are brave enough to step between the ropes, the spectacle that follows them around in between bouts can be more brutal. This week it went into overdrive and focused on world heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury.

The self-proclaimed Gypsy King has always been a polarising figure, both in and out of the ring. His detractors had to review their claims following his unexpected win over Wladimir Klitschko. For years Fury’s hype was seen as a way to deflect attention away from a lack of boxing ability. The win in Germany, that gave him legitimate claim to be the best in the division, marked a step-up in performance.

Until Wladimir fights again the jury will still be out regarding the validity of Fury’s victory. Was Klitschko having an off night, not match fit, or over the hill? If he blows his next opponent out of the water, Tyson Fury’s victory will take on even more emphasis.

It’s the continued questions that speculate Klitschko’s decline and resulting inability to present a genuine challenge that must have worn on Fury’s mind. After finally reaching the mountain top, he wasn’t presented with a round of applause and a pat on the back. They were reserved for Anthony Joshua, despite the Olympian having no names on his boxing record.

For a man like Fury, who clearly wears his heart on his sleeve, the cracks began to show. He aired these frustrations to a press that only give him column inches if he’s dressed as Batman and clowning around. It can be argued people don’t take him serious because he’s always sold himself as a novelty act. But he also always backed that up with a belief he was the best. When he beat the presumed best, he was still cast aside.

Since winning the belts people have become masters of assumption, allowing doubts to be cast over his motives with frightening ease. The UK Anti-doping (UKAD) allegations have hung over his head and multiple cancellations have led to speculation increasing.

Many said he was scared of a rematch. That he wanted to get out of the game with an unchallenged legacy; the singular moment in time he dethroned a king, before heading into the sunset, avoiding the promising young talent holding one of his world titles that was never lost in the ring.

The time for assumption and speculation should have ended when it was revealed Tyson Fury’s latest battle is with depression. In any walk of life, facing up to this illness is always difficult. When in the public eye, even more. It’s exacerbated further in the world of the ultimate alpha males where heavyweight boxers reside.

Rather than look for reasons to expose weaknesses in Fury now, people should take a moment to examine the evidence he left for people to find. After winning the titles it was plain to see he was in a mental slump. Like so many that battle depression, the deepest of lows are matched with the highest of highs. The peak had been achieving a life-long dream, for a person with depression, a return to darker thoughts after this is inevitable.

Tyson talked of walking away from the sport, that nothing could match that high. Most saw that as a boxer wondering if he had the fire in his belly for another fight, the truth is, it was a man struggling to find his spark for life.

The recent positive test for cocaine is further proof he was lost in his mind, not in the ring. He’s not the first person faced with demons that finds sanctuary in substance abuse.

Yet still he finds little in the way of sympathy, instead people spend their time formulating a way to compile his demise and retirement. People with mental health issues can make full recoveries but some connected to the boxing world are trying to quickly move past their embarrassing heavyweight champion “blip.”

The main player so vocal this week has been Eddie Hearn. He represents Anthony Joshua. A man full of potential but without a name on his résumé. Now Hearn is manoeuvring to stake a claim at the soon to be revoked Fury belts. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s confident a fight with Klitschko can be made. He told Sky Sports the chances were currently better than 60%.

Hearn barely displayed any genuine concern for Fury’s wellbeing, choosing to point out boxing is a business and the authorities lose too much money if their titles are inactive. In doing so, revealing his genetic make-up is closer to that of a fifty-pound note than a human being.

It’s wrong of Eddie Hearn to display conjecture in a public forum. He’s not a medical professional or a close confidante. His remarks are highly insensitive and pure speculation. This will only have a detrimental effect to the well-being of the man he’s trying to announce the retirement of.

The danger is if the public believe it’s acceptable to write Fury off and overlook the real issue here: depression. It’s an uncomfortable subject and having Hearn gloss over it will sit easy with most. But that is wrong. Instead of running campaigns against Team Fury, the boxing community should be rallying around and help raise the awareness of such a silent killer.

Facing this illness so publicly is braver than stepping into the ring with a giant like Wladimir Klitschko. Beating it will be a bigger achievement than winning the world heavyweight titles; the reward, a continued spark that will be hard to diminish.

Heavyweight Boxing Reboot

Heavyweight Boxing Reboot

It is historically seen as the pinnacle of world boxing: The Heavyweight Division. Much of its splendour and glamour has been diminished after the tight and mundane grip of the Klitschko era. The unexpected victory of Tyson Fury over Wladimir has changed all this. Suddenly the division looks alive, led by the Brits with a good-talking American world champion in tow. Boxing at the top end just got a Hollywood style reboot.

It’s only right to start the reboot with the creator of its genesis: Tyson Fury. A man that’s easy to point derision at and still – even after his impressive upset – has questionable in-ring ability. He is very much a work in progress. The learning curve he’s set on may appear more like a straight line than a bend in trajectory, but evidence suggesting maturity has found its way into his mind-set was apparent during the second clash with Dereck Chisora.

Memories of being put on the canvas by Steve Cunningham (or giving himself an uppercut in the 2009 clash against Lee Swaby) gave genuine doubts over his ability to concentrate and stick to a game plan for an entire fight. In the November 2014 rematch with fellow Brit Chisora, he not only proved he can apply himself correctly for the entirety of a bout, he also put to bed claims that he was fortunate in the first meeting.

What made the second Chisora victory all the more impressive was how his opponent had come off the back of a credible performance against the older Klitschko, Vitali. In his prime, side-by-side with Wladimir, he was the better of the two brothers and the only man who truly beat him was the great Lennox Lewis.

Observers noted he was a Klitschko in decline but there was no way to quantify the drop-off, until we witnessed Chisora labour for ten rounds against Fury. It either meant Klitschko had been months past his best before date or Fury had come on by leaps and bounds. The truth was somewhere in the middle.

These two bouts (Klitschko/Chisora; Tyson/Chisora) did provide a handy snapshot heading into Fury’s world title bout with Wladimir. It showed us that a Klitschko doesn’t decline slowly, once they hit that wall the towel should be thrown in immediately. Dereck Chisora was the lucky man able to exploit this Achilles heel.

It gave Tyson Fury a tune-up fight against a boxer that had been savvy enough to go the distance with a Klitschko who was no longer at the top of his game. Their November clash was a chance for Fury to leave the theatrics at ringside and stick to a point-by-point plan. Having succeeded, he had a mental blueprint for how to conduct himself when in the ring with Wladimir.

Hindsight, often described as 20/20, in this case is still somewhat blurred. Nothing can be taken away from Fury’s performance against the champion. He went into his backyard and left with all the gold. What isn’t clear is if it was just a bad day at the office for Wladimir, a sign the Klitschko drop-off that afflicted his brother has found him, or if the Klitschkos have been feared for no reason for too long.

The answer to these propositions will only become apparent after their May rematch.

Regardless of the outcome, whether Fury was a one-fight wonder or a genuine world champion, the boxing landscape has now shifted. The Klitschko dominance – even if Wladimir regains the two belts that Fury still holds – is a thing of the past.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, Fury’s refusal to fight the IBF’s mandatory challenger meant he relinquished the belt. This was a pathetic piece of politicking from the IBF. It’s common for a big bout to have a rematch clause inserted. To expect Fury to skip this for a fight against Vyacheslav Glazkov is ludicrous.

It could be seen as the IBF’s way to ensure their world heavyweight title is free to circulate away from the Klitschkos once again. They set up a fight between the aforementioned Glazkov (who was the favorite) and Charles Martin. A bizarre knee injury meant the former mandatory challenger had to retire from the bout in round three, handing Martin the title.

This makes the IBF crown the main target for all fighters on the fringes of the world title scene. If those at the top close shop, those in the chase will use the backdoor.

The idea that it could be hard to secure a fight for gold comes from Fury’s recent comments. He said he’d drop the belts before giving David Haye a payday. This isn’t to say he’s running scared; he was willing to fight The Hayemaker twice (detractors say it was opportunistic) and was always overly confident. After reaching the summit he has every right to have unwavering belief now. It’s a matter of principle that makes him deny Haye.

Which brings us to the former two-weight world champion. Just as Fury has every right to feel aggrieved that Haye dropped out of two matches, Haye is justified to have done so. His injuries were clearly legitimate; doctors even advised he should retire. After working hard and undergoing a long rehabilitation, he deserves his place at the table.

Nothing should be read into his recent first round stoppage of Mark de Mori. It had the feel of the Monte Barrett affair, with less danger (and that was relatively danger free). But it was a smart choice. Had Ricky Hatton made a measured return to the ring rather than facing off against Vyacheslav Senchenko, his legacy would read much different now.

Like Hatton in his doomed comeback, Haye showed – in the few punches that were thrown – that the exact timing still needs some calibration. What he also showed, which was something Hatton failed to do, was a killer finish that is as lethal now as it was in his supposed prime.

It naturally leads to the question: Why did he fail against Wladimir when Fury walked it?

Toe injuries aside, it was clear that the night in question was a bad day at the office for David Haye. Only he knows if the occasion got to him or if the long shadow of the Klitschko legacy meant he afforded his opponent too much respect. Also, he faced a Wladimir still at something like his best, the jury’s still out on whether or not Fury did.

The other man holding gold – WBC World Heavyweight Champion, Deontay Wilder – is another unknown quantity in the grand scheme of things. Flashes of brilliance have failed to hide a flawed boxer. The irony is, this new phase of the heavyweight which is bringing much needed excitement, is centered around two champions that are perceived to be lacking boxing attributes.

A potential Fury/Wilder meeting is a script that writes itself, in spite of their individual in-ring failings. Both are prone to get caught; the advantage Wilder holds is how he has demonstrated his knock-out power. After his latest defense to Artur Szpilka, where he was far from convincing but gave a KO so devastating it left the Pole motionless for minutes after the fight, the comic book antics with Fury commenced.

In a scene reminiscent from a Rocky film, Fury stormed the ring, ripped off his jacket and began trash talking. Deontay Wilder signed off with the line: “You can run around like you’re a preacher all you want but when you step in the ring, I promise you, I will baptise you.” Eat your heart out, Clubber Lang.

On the periphery of all these shenanigans is the next great hope: Anthony Joshua. If potential was a tangible commodity, he would need a landmass the size of Texas to hold it all. But mere promise alone doesn’t guarantee success – ask Audley Harrison.

Just as it’s impossible to say now whether or not Wladimir has declined, no one knows for sure if Joshua is the real deal. After examining his fights side-by-side with Lennox Lewis’s early contests, he does appear to have more natural ability. The test will be converting that talent into wins against better opponents. More importantly – credible opponents.

AJ is the promising wonder-kid, the elephant in the room other names tried to forget. Haye was the first player that properly acknowledged his presence and he was right to do so. At this moment in time, while Joshua is undergoing development, the slick Haye could prove too much. Against Whyte we saw how open AJ really is. Haye would expose this and proved against Nikolai Valuev that avoidance is his specialty.

After Haye made his statement about wishing to face Joshua, Fury said something similar. Presumably it helps keep talk of ducking fights at bay. The truth is, he’s involved in a Klitschko rematch, that should he win, leads into a showdown with Wilder.

If AJ has the talent, then the IBF world title eliminator that’s he’s expected to be involved in against Carlos Takam will be the big reveal. If he comes through that unscathed then championship gold will be within sight. Perversely his rivals must be secretly hoping he’s on a collision course with someone like Haye before he faces Charles Martin and relives the paper champ of his title.

Whatever happens in the next eighteen months, one thing’s for sure: heavyweight boxing just got unpredictable and entertaining once again, and whoever is champion a few years from now will have no doubts surrounding their legitimacy.