The War Report: Nowhere to run (Week 43, 2017)
“I remember meeting a little kid who was on his way to Vietnam. He was frightened. Oh God, he must have been about 19. His friends asked if I would throw a party for him at my house before he was shipped out. We had the party but he was very solemn, just sitting with his girlfriend. He had a premonition that he wouldn’t be coming back. I told him to be positive but he was adamant. I found myself thinking about how he was feeling trapped – nowhere to run. Sure enough, two months later, they shipped his body back. I think he stepped on a land mine. Nineteen years old.”
Words from the man himself in a 2015 interview with The Guardian, singer/songwriter Lamont Rozier reflected on what inspired him to help write the 1965 Motown single “Nowhere to Run,” which was performed by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Saturday night in Cardiff, Wales, that song played before IBF/WBA heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua first revealed himself to the estimated 70,000 fans packed into Principality Stadium. The tune accompanied an elaborate light show that culminated with a flaming “A” and “J” and Joshua stood between the scorched letters, as it concluded. He proceeded to take his long walk to the ring – but there was no soundtrack for that, just the reverberating buzz from the U.K. crowd as their next big thing was about to perform.
The stage was set and the scene resonated across the pond in the United States, as the fight was broadcast live on Showtime. Much like the last time America saw Joshua in April, when, before 90,000 at Wembley Stadium, he fought and beat Wladimir Klitschko in what will probably end up being 2017’s “Fight of the Year.” In Joshua’s follow-up act, all this – the promotion, the capacity, the excitement, the exposure – for Joshua to face a replacement opponent on two week’s notice.
It didn’t really matter, however, as Carlos Takam turned out to be as game as one could’ve hoped Kubrat Pulev would’ve been, had he not injured his shoulder in training camp. Fighting as the undersized man, Takam, 36, had a game plan and executed it well enough to make the fight competitive in the middle rounds, after being knocked down in the fourth, and suffering two big cuts over his eyes from punches. Joshua was never out of control, despite dropping a couple rounds, at the very least, but the 28-year-old was composed all they way through, even after an accidental headbutt left his nose bleeding from the second round on. Call it a fundamental performance by Joshua, who showed a strong, consistent jab and counter right uppercuts that eventually slowed the busy-bodied Takam to a fight in close quarters. That’s when the few tense exchanges started to happen and offer the fight’s best moments, until an abrupt ending that had the crowd booing in the end.
Referee Phil Edwards’ 10th round stoppage was as early and underwhelming as they come. Takam hesitated a bit after eating a right hand midway through the round and, with Joshua at full steam ahead, Edwards stepped in while Takam was consciously trying to bob and weave his way out of trouble. It was so ill-timed, Takam basically found himself in a headlock by Edwards before popping his torso back up and seeing Edwards waving his arms. Takam, 35-4-1 (27), was clearly bothered by Edwards’ decision, having gone so far and acquitting himself well until that point. Perhaps that’s why the crowd was also displeased with the stoppage and, in a moment of great damage control by Joshua in the post-fight interview, he told them what they wanted to hear.
“I think people want to see Takam unconscious on the floor – am I right?” Joshua posited over the PA system to roars of approval.
So often in boxing, even likable fighters can get the round of boos, if the sport’s incompetent officiating gets in the way. A little more than a month ago, that happened in the immediate aftermath of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, thanks to one bad scorecard (and that was the biggest fight the sport could make). While Joshua had the benefit of everyone there, in Cardiff, just to see him, he sweet-talked the crowd into his back pocket and probably left them wanting more upon his exit. Before he did, of course, his immediate future was asked and Joshua kept the infection with the crowd thriving.
“To continue to grow in the sport of boxing. Everyone knows where we’re headed. What do the people want?…That’s what I’m interested in,” he said.
Deontay Wilder, the undefeated WBC heavyweight titleholder from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was the only viable name brought up to Joshua in the post-fight interview.
“It has to happen. It has to happen, for sure,” proclaimed Joshua about the potential unification.”Now that there’s belts on the line, there’s obligations, as a champion. Once I fulfill these obligations, my door is open to any champion, provided it’s Wilder or provided it’s X, X or X.”
Before making his exit, Joshua, 20-0 (20), along with his promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, made one thing abundantly clear: Wilder is on their radar for 2018 but the American will have to travel. The gregarious heavyweight even polled the crowd once again, asking where his next fight should be and when the only non-British locale was named – Las Vegas – the crowd roared their disapproval once again. Wilder acknowledged their response and even mockingly joined their disapproval of Hearn, once he was introduced.
“I don’t think we should go abroad – I think we should stay right here,” said Hearn in closing. “I think we should keep the British flag flying – that’s what Anthony Joshua has done but I promise you he will fight anyone. And Deontay Wilder will be relieved of that belt in 2018 by Anthony Joshua.”
Conveniently, Wilder, 38-0 (37), looks to defend his WBC heavyweight title a sixth time, this Saturday night, on Showtime (9:00 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT) in a rematch with Bermane Stiverne, and the timing couldn’t really be any better for them to build the fight. Coincidentally, Wilder is also facing a replacement opponent after Luis Ortiz failed a VADA drug test but, unlike Joshua’s unique case, his date on November 4 has lacked the luster it had, once first announced. Opponents failing drug tests, along with injuries of his own, have brought about a theme of bad luck, since Wilder first won the WBC belt from Stiverne in January 2015 and, in a conference call, last week, leading up to a needless rematch, “The Bronze Bomber” made his frustrations clear.
“Well my head is in a peaceful state of mind,” said Wilder, who was given the floor by his promoter Lou DiBella, and asked to speak his mind to kick off the call. “I still sit back now and still just analyze my career and I’ll just sit back and just think. I’m like, what have I done? What have I done so wrong to get the bad end of the stick with every fight that comes in?”
Along with Ortiz, Alexander Povetkin was popped on a VADA drug test that nixed a signed fight with Wilder to take place in Russia, last year, and, earlier this year, Andrzej Wawrzyk did the same thing, forcing another late-replacement for Wilder’s only fight so far in 2017, being a fifth round stoppage of Gerald Washington.
“It saddens me,” pondered Wilder. “I don’t want to feel this way about boxing because I was once in love with it and it’s starting to make me rethink my career. Am I better out of this sport than in this sport because of this stuff that’s going on? Am I that dangerous to other fighters’ careers, that they feel they have to do certain things, when it comes to Deontay Wilder? I just want to be proven wrong, man. I just want to be proven wrong.”
By his own accord, Wilder, 32, had plenty to say on the call, and the unfiltered ramblings of dissatisfaction had him saying some things.
“Boxing has changed my point of view. And the love of this sport, with the things that are going on. And like I said, if Bermane beats me, you all don’t have to hear about me no more. I’m gone. I’m out of here. I’m retiring. That’s it. I might move to MMA or some shit. I’m out of here. And that’s facts.”
Wilder even questioned how Stiverne maintained his No. 1 contender ranking with the WBC.
“How do you fight one fight in two years against a guy that knocked you down and subsequently gets knocked out, and barely do anything, and you’re still the WBC mandatory?”
When a reporter asked if he was scared of Stiverne, Wilder went on an existential soliloquy about the subject.
“’Scared’ is not in my definition,” Wilder said. “I ain’t even scared of death, so why would I be scared of a human being? Because death is something that is promised to us, that we cannot avoid. We can only hope and pray that God extends our life on this Earth but death shall come. The only way we can deal with death is to prepare for it. That’s it.”
As for the potential fight with Joshua – one that could shape up to be one of the biggest match-ups in the sport – Wilder made his intentions clear and, by the end of his thoughts on the subject, resorted to bring up the inevitable terms he’ll to which he’ll have to agree in order to get the fight.
“The ultimate goal is to get Joshua. Joshua say he need more time; he ain’t ready. He wants to put himself in a better position. But you already fought a guy that got way more experience than I. I don’t understand this sport, when it comes to me. It feels like I’m better off not being in this sport than being in it. I don’t understand it. I just want to prove to the world that I am the best. That’s all I want to do. That’s all I want to do. I don’t care about who’s the A-side, who’s the B-side, where the fight’s going to be. I don’t care about that stuff, just me in the ring.”