To the rescue: Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko preview
Today, boxing history will be made and, for the first time in quite a while, that isn’t a statement riddled in hyperbole. Before 90,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium, IBF heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko square off this evening. If that attendance number wasn’t already an indication of the event’s importance, the rights to air this heavyweight clash in the United States were haggled down to a dual broadcast between Showtime and HBO.
Showtime (4:15 p.m. ET/ 1:15 p.m. PT) will carry the live telecast, while HBO (11:00 p.m. ET/ 8 PT) will broadcast the tape-delay version later in the evening.
Historically, the heavyweight division as long been cultivated and celebrated stateside and both networks made sure they weren’t left in the dark for this occasion. Without an American involved in the fight, however, the mainstream media in the U.S. has grossly overlooked this event.
Perhaps the Klitschko name being attached to this fight has rendered the glancing American eye to pass it by without a thought. After all, Klitschko was the immovable force in the heavyweight division for the better part of the new millennium but he didn’t quite capture the imaginations of fans in the U.S. On the other hand, Joshua has a storyline that fits in with the classic American narrative, in which boxing was used to turn one’s life around. So far, his fights have been anything but lethargic.
“Even though this is such a great event, I always try to strip it down to what it really is and just focus that it’s just me and this man coming to blows and the best man will win,” said Joshua at Thursday’s final press conference. “I’m not only prepared physically but mentally as well for any battle.”
Once a drug-selling, beer-drinking, street-fighting behemoth of a British citizen from Watford, Joshua, 18-0 (18), took to boxing late in life and found quick success, once winning an Olympic gold medal in the 2012 London Games. In less than three years, since turning professional, rapid benefits have continued for the 27-year-old as he walloped Charles Martin for the IBF heavyweight title in his 16th fight, while still being considered a prospect to some.
“Carrying the belt hasn’t changed me as a person,” claimed Joshua, who looks to defend the title a third time. “I just want to represent myself the best way because I know behind me are a million people that walk the same path as me and come from the same background. I think I’m a representation of these people.”
A physical wonder of a human being, Joshua – who weighed in at a whopping 250-pounds yesterday – is a gentleman outside the ring and far from the goon who beat Klitschko to claim the lineal championship a year-and-a-half ago, Tyson Fury. The marketable look has already given him crossover appeal in the U.K. and his promoter Eddie Hearn, of Matchroom Boxing, has made sure to take advantage by making him a pay-per-view attraction so early on in his career. That alone has garnered plenty of discontent from the die-hard contingent in the U.K. but seemingly anyone who earns with Hearn is Public Enemy No. 1. Yet all that won’t really matter, should Joshua topple Klitschko, in undoubtedly his first step-up fight.
“The belts are very important,” said Klitschko at the same presser. In this bout, Joshua’s IBF strap will be unified with the vacant WBA heavyweight title. “I’ve been attached to these belts for a very long time. I had those belts in my past fight and I’m fighting for these belts in this fight. The only difference is, in my last fight, they went to the opposite corner. So my goal and obsession is for those belts to land in my corner, in my hands.”
Klitschko, 64-4 (53), looks to become a heavyweight champion for the third time in his decorated career – one that will surely end at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Preceded by his brother Vitali, the Ukrainian made an already shallow weight class look even more primitive during his dominant reign but the fashion in which he did so wasn’t breathtaking. From 2004 to 2015, Klitschko was unbeaten until he faced Fury and, although it was a significant occasion, in which the clear-cut heavyweight championship was relinquished, the fight itself was listless. Once their rematch was nixed due to injury, it didn’t help that Fury proceeded to lose all momentum by falling into a depression laden with gluttony and drugs but those ramifications helped spur tonight’s fight, considering all those belts he won from Klitschko (IBF/WBA/WBO) were ultimately vacated.
“Can you imagine my next opponent is going to fight a guy whose age is exactly the number of how long he has been in boxing – 27 years? Can you imagine that?” questioned Klitschko. “It’s a pretty amazing task. Is it a degradation that I’m actually a challenger and underdog in this fight after 27 years in the sport? I don’t think so. I think it’s great.”
Unlike other all-time greats who are still fighting today, Klitschko is giving a young buck the opportunity to catch the torch he’s willing to pass and, remarkably, this is the second time he’s doing it. Maybe the taste of defeat and the 17-month layoff for Klitschko was exactly what he needed to bounce back for this fight. At 240.5 pounds, the 41-year-old looked to be tremendous shape at the weigh-in on Friday morning and he claimed to be mentally sharper for this one. Oddsmakers may believe the same thing, as Klitschko is merely a 2-1 underdog against Joshua. In this day and age in boxing, those kinds of odds are usually saved for 50/50 fights. Still, this event hasn’t seen the light of day and, while it will grace the ESPN scroll at the bottom of U.S. television screens, it will be lucky to be the featured story of any news outlet.
It’s not to say the United States has no player in the heavyweight landscape either. Deontay Wilder, the current WBC heavyweight titleholder, is currently riding the longest reign above 200 pounds but he hasn’t come near the substance of what will go down tonight. That said, Wilder has been more successful when compared to other current American contemporaries. Four of his five title defenses have smartly been in his home state of Alabama and a growing crowd keeps returning. Since June of 2015, Wilder has attracted over 55,000 people to his fights but that stat is dwarfed into perspective by tonight’s events. While Wilder hasn’t had an opponent near the level of Klitschko, Joshua will have now dabbled in that pedigree in half the number of fights.
Coincidentally, Joshua-Klitschko lands on the weekend when some of the best American athletes get drafted into their new profession. The NFL Draft is a huge occasion in the U.S. and substantiating that on Thursday night was a crowd of up to 100,000 flocking to see these theorized heavyweights of yesteryear enter another sport. For now, there is no fight that can garner a crowd like that in the States and that can be blamed on the lack of a new superstar. If that day ever comes, the likelihood would be that superstar becoming a heavyweight. Whether that man is Wilder sounds far-fetched but remains to be seen; however, one thing is for sure: The U.K. is on the brink of boasting the biggest star of the sport and, given their consistent enthusiasm over the years, they deserve it.