Aftermath: On Anthony Joshua-Dominic Breazeale
Sent to the canvas, minus the daylights and determination required to alter his fate, Dominic Breazeale kept fighting. Exported to England to line a few pockets and polish an idol in a mismatch of typical main event proportions, Breazeale, another late-to-the-game heavyweight with buried gridiron dreams, was cut down in seven rounds, becoming the 17th knockout of Anthony Joshua’s 17-fight career.
That he lasted nearly 21 minutes with a man who looks very much like the future of the heavyweight division is hardly evidence that Breazeale provided any greater challenge than anticipated, however. Joshua was his superior in every way, except for the one that, until it is confirmed, could prevent the throb of excitement surrounding Joshua to reach bacchanalian levels. Joshua must first prove he can endure a heavyweight punch, either by shrugging it off or by steadying himself through the turbulence it causes to regain control of his body. (No, a harrowing moment or two against Dillian Whyte does not suffice) Breazeale has just such a chin; unfortunately, the rest of his skill set falls well short of his jaw’s standard.
But he kept fighting. On his hands and knees, face pulped, brains scrambled, Breazeale fought to regain some distance between himself and the canvas, to recoup the dignity that comes from that distance. In a show of compassion, referee Howard John Foster attempted to extract Breazeale’s mouthpiece and was sternly rebuked. Breazeale responded almost angrily to this gesture, a tiny moment lost in the jubilation of the surging 02 Arena but a moving one.
To watch Joshua in the aftermath of his victory was to see a man treated like a warlord: undressed of his weaponry and armor by doting attendants, redressed in the gold befitting his status, receiving this ritual with a mixture of disregard and pride. Because the victor feels power enough to allow others to help him, his strength makes him both deserving of worship and able to accept it.
There was no such ritual available for Breazeale, who, precisely because he was in need of help, was insulted so by it being offered. To allow Foster to help him pry loose his mouthpiece would only confirm the bitter truth: that Breazeale was wrong about himself, wrong about his opponent, maybe wrong about his future. But for that refusal, Breazeale is correct in thinking himself more than a former football player.
This is not to suggest his future in boxing will be improved by his comportment or that his constitution could ever overcome his litany of limitations but Breazeale, duly derided for the abyss between his ability and the reward his connections have provided him, is unlikely to ever give less than he has or come up short of his limited potential. No, he did not challenge Joshua, who used the rounds between when he was expected to dispatch Breazeale and when he finally did so to showcase his defense and confirm his fitness. However Breazeale never fought scared, never fought like anything but a man who expected to be reckoned with.
Powerless to avoid it, Breazeale treated the pounding he took as a means to the improbable. When Joshua punched, Breazeale punched back; when Joshua hurt him, Breazeale mustered an earnest response. It was barely two months ago when Al Haymon packaged Joshua a title in the form of Charles Martin. But Martin went quickly and quietly, relinquishing his belt on the seat of his pants. It is hard to imagine Breazeale ever an acquiescent cog. That does not make him particularly good or deserving or even very watchable, but it does make him a fighter.
Joshua too is a fighter, even if he has yet to show as much in crisis. That he has hasn’t yet is an indication of the quality of his opposition, yes, but also of his immense talent. To overlook how Joshua is winning because of who he is beating is to fall victim to an understandable but misleading cynicism – or is it skepticism? No, cynicism. It would make sense to be skeptical of Joshua if the heavyweight division was better. But to watch him fight is to know he is already competitive with, if not yet better than, most everyone who could help define him. Nor would a Joshua loss justify such skepticism. The last and only great undefeated heavyweight hung up his gloves in 1955. Do not be fooled by the rhetoric of a (hopefully) permanently retired fighter’s devotees: The undefeated record is no confirmation of greatness.
Years of heavyweight ineptitude and a sport that seems mired in a period of actively discouraging support may prompt a pruning of any potential shoots of genuine excitement. There are also those broken clocks who mistake being cynical as tantamount to being intelligent, who wait for failure so they can sneeringly trumpet the expertise they hedge on the inevitable. But there are better places to direct that haughty harrumph than at Joshua, the best candidate to become boxing’s next remontant rose. That does not make him flawless; it does not make him great. It does not even make him the best – there is not one name on his ledger to justify such praise, and no one name alone could. The list of 6-foot-6, 240-pound heavyweights who hook off the jab, throw to the body and roll punches as part of their offense, however, begins and ends with him. Soon enough, so too could the heavyweight division.
You can follow Jimmy Tobin on Twitter @jet79.