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.

Bellew was Haye’s Achilles’ Heel

Bellew was Haye’s Achilles’ Heel

On Saturday night, Tony Bellew shocked the boxing world. If he’s honest, he shocked himself. David Haye’s recovery was an unknown quantity since returning from injury. Two “fights” against men not fit for sparring told us very little. And the fitness question mark will always hang over Haye’s head. That being said, his explosive punching power was never in doubt. What transpired was something straight from fiction but Haye didn’t lose to Bellew in the eleventh round – that had happened months before and was confirmed in the build-up.

Imagine the scenario: a cruiserweight hounds and pesterers the perceived best heavyweight on the planet. The attacks are verbal and public. The heavyweight struggles to go about his daily business because the yapping cruiserweight will not go away.

So the man in the weight division above finally gives in and agrees to a bout he’s sees as nothing more than an inconvenience – a money spinner, maybe – but still a major unnecessary distraction.

The fight goes ahead and the outcome is what the heavyweight expected: he wins.

That heavyweight was Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye was the annoying cruiserweight. It’s why he hated Bellew so much in the build-up to their fight. The Liverpudlian had out-Hayed Haye. He’d been backed into a corner through persistence, his planned plot back to the top delayed.

Now the question becomes: was that outpouring of anger something deeper rooted than a mere dislike for changing his plan? Was he worried Bellew – a fighter looking like he’s still on the way to finding his prime – could expose his newfound flaws? There was a reason Haye hadn’t taken a proper bout since his shoulder injury.

This doesn’t mean anything should be taken away from either fighter. Both Haye and Bellew gave good accounts of themselves on Saturday. After the first round, Haye took control. It was when he decided to trade blows in the centre of the ring in the middle of the fight that his night unravelled. It looked like something from a Rocky movie at the time and was described that way by Haye afterwards.

Then the extent of the injury to Haye became obvious. He dragged his foot around the ring like he was auditioning for a role in The Walking Dead. But he was a zombie that hung on and kept coming back for more.

The damaged heel isn’t an excuse for his loss, but a reason to consider retiring. He can’t keep going to the well when it’s nearly running dry.

Naturally there will be calls for Haye’s corner to be examined. The criticism being they should have thrown in the towel earlier. The Reflective takes the opposing view. He wasn’t taking dangerous head shots and they can’t pull a proud man early when he still wants to go toe-to-toe.

Haye played the role of bad guy beforehand but he showed heart and spirit when many others would have taken the easy way out.

Eventually that pride had to give way to the inevitable fall. It was a physical descent and a metaphorical one from grace. Not that he’d ever shown much of that, but his royal standing was removed, humility served. A career that remains in intensive care.

About the distasteful side of Haye in the promotion of the bout: he needs to be cut some slack. He remembers when the benchmark for heavyweight trash talking was set by Tyson, saying he’d eat Lewis’s children. It’s panto. Brutal panto, but panto all the same.

The PC brigade have no place in softening boxing’s bravado. And before they jump on that one line: I’m not saying comments that marginalise or discriminate race, colour or sexual preference are acceptable. But nasty words between two men absorbed in their roles is okay. It’s expected. They do have tickets to sell.

And it’s now Bellew that holds a wad of offers, all resulting in more life-changing paydays. Make no mistake, this was always about winning the payday lottery for the Scouser. It follows a trend of boxers seeking bouts beyond their ability, in weight divisions above, for one highly publicised contest.

Except the result was within Bellew’s grasp and he snatched it.

Eddie Hearn won’t want a rematch – that alone could retire Haye if he’s unable to avenge the defeat – he’ll be eyeing the suspect pair that have box office seats, Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker.

Whatever Tony Bellew decides his legacy is already secure. As he continued to point out: he’s a current world champion. He’s also a legitimate heavyweight that deserves to, finally, be taken seriously.

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.