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.

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.