Will Anthony Joshua dazzle for DAZN?
Talk about going all-in the first time out! A great amount of the DAZN (a ESPN+-style sports subscription service that delivers 32 boxing events a year, including the fantastic World Boxing Super Series tourneys, for $9.99 a month) deal Matchroom Boxing Group Managing Director Eddie Hearn brokered relies on having the accepted heavyweight champion of the world competing on that platform. This means the most prominent boxing match of the weekend is not on HBO, Showtime, ESPN or FOX. Instead today’s heavyweight title fight featuring unified IBF, WBA and WBO champion Anthony Joshua, 21-0 (20), is exclusively on the just-launched DAZN streaming service in America. If Joshua suffers a defeat – and, given Alexander Povetkin’s, 34-1 (24), power and skill-set, that is not an impossibility – a lot fewer boxing fans have a reason to buy into DAZN.
Tension surrounding Joshua’s title defense have ratcheted up during fight week and performing in front of 80,000 fans at London’s famed Wembley Stadium does not take any of the burden off. Still, Joshua did not seem unnerved, addressing people’s expectations. A genial Joshua told Sky Sports, “It’s a lot of pressure. Ultimately as much as we think about winning, I think about losing. I can’t afford to lose. This fight, the key to victory with me is relaxation, belief, having your energy reserves intact. I need to be a bit more effective and sharp with my punches in this fight.”
The team around Joshua has analyzed everything, employing high-tech precautions such as specific eye exercises (even limiting Joshua’s cell-phone usage) and taken on advice from doctors and nutritionists to sleep more to aid recovery from strenuous workouts. This meant no more runs at the crack of dawn and other training methods “old-school” trainers swear by. Filmmakers and old-timers will be put off if this takes hold but Joshua insists he feels the benefits, “I tried it and feel much better. It looks lazy but you’re still getting the same amount of work done and in a better way.”
Always an upbeat interview, Joshua has shown himself more introspective this time out and focused more on himself than the opponent, “I used to concentrate on the opponent and always worried about what was next. Not anymore. It’s not, ‘Him, him, him,’ for me any more. I thought, ‘I don’t want to make any mistakes.’ I used to box within myself, stopped expressing myself and fulfilling my potential to become a great world champion. I have to look at the end goal. It is not just about Povetkin and (WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay) Wilder; it’s me and my legacy and what I can reach.”
The popular champion should be confident. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Joshua has a considerable size as well as reach advantage and enters the fight in his physical prime at 28. Povetkin, while still a force, is 11 years older and suffered an unexpected knockdown against limited David Price in his most recent outing. Povetkin possesses greater experience, nearly 150 more rounds, and plausibly ranks as the hardest one-punch fighter Joshua has faced. The bookies back Joshua to remain perfect, establishing the hometown favorite and Olympic gold medal hero a huge favorite at -1100, while throwing Povetkin fans considerable incentive at +650 odds.
Joshua dispatched superior opposition in Wladimir Klitschko but Povetkin comes with a different and equally dangerous arsenal, for which Joshua shows respect, “It’s a difficult fight, when you are fighting someone like Povetkin, because it’s like a game of chess. Violent chess because they are waiting for you to make a move, so they can counter you.” Despite that, Joshua promises to be more adventurous than in his title unification fight against former WBO beltholder Joseph Parker, “Go in there and have fun. Don’t be cautious because it’s ruining my aggressive style. I can keep it long or slug it out. It depends what I analyze from my opponent.”
In the recent past, Povetkin attempted to overcome his lack of outright size (6-foot-2 and in the 220-pound region) with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Povetin fell afoul of VADA controllers twice in 2016, testing positive for the banned substances ostarine and meldonium but only served a one-year ban. While an obvious concern, Team Joshua believes in the system and didn’t focus on Povetkin’s past. “He’s proven himself clean for this fight. Nothing’s come up yet; he’s clean for my fight and that’s what I’ve gotta focus on,” said Hearn, who said Joshua has passed eight or nine blood tests in the run-up for this fight.
At 39, Povetkin is desperate to make good on the early promise he showed as one of the last Russian boxers with an old-style Soviet amateur pedigree. Povetkin recorded a 125-7 record, avenging every loss, in the unpaid ranks and no opponent came within 12 points of defeating the juggernaut at the 2004 Olympics. Quickly proved himself at the pro level, showing an ample arsenal, defeating former champion Chris Byrd before his 15th pro bout. Joshua has due deference evaluating Povetkin, “In terms of talent, we’re dealing with an Olympic gold medalist and a world title challenger, with one loss to the all-time great Wladimir Klitschko. I look at his Marco Huck fight, his David Price fight. Povetkin fights differently in all of his fights.”
An expertly drilled Povetkin does some of his best work on the inside, using his top-heavy mass, husky shoulders and intelligent punch selection to wear on opponents. Despite a short 75-inch reach, Povetkin possesses the accuracy and sense of timing to fight on the outside. Cuts off the ring well to take the fight to opponents and force tempo. Stamina has not been an issue; if anything, is above average, given strong finishes in championship rounds but may have been PED-influenced. Only Hall-of-Fame bound Wladimir Klitschko has bested Povetkin.
Povetkin believes this version of Anthony Joshua may actually be superior to the best Wladimir Klitschko, “I would definitely say Joshua is a bigger challenge than Klitschko. Since the fight with Klitschko, a lot of time has passed and I can assure you that I’ve become stronger. I’ve become wiser; I’ve become smarter, so I will definitely treat this fight in a different manner and more professionally.”
Hearn is concerned that the general sports fan in the U.K. does not perceive Povetkin as the formidable challenge he is, “When you talk about Joshua-Povetkin, it’s a great fight. But that casual audience don’t really know about Alexander Povetkin. Povetkin doesn’t speak English, so he isn’t going to square up to Joshua at a press conference and start talking this and that. It’s a really tough fight and one of the downsides of this fight is that if everyone in Britain had the knowledge of people who are involved in boxing, this fight would be five times bigger.”
There is also the specter of Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, both of whom fans prefer as Joshua’s opponent. Joshua felt compelled to comment, “At the moment, it is like a power struggle in the heavyweight division. Good luck to Fury, Wilder and myself. Wembley Stadium is booked again for April. God willing, I beat Povetkin and hopefully me fighting (the winner of Fury-Wilder) is quite straightforward.” Povetkin remains job one, “How will I approach it? Maybe I will box and keep it simple. Maybe I might keep a tight guard and go pound-for-pound, trade-for-trade. The reason I say that is because I’m versatile. I can keep it long or slug it out. It depends what I analyze from my opponent. I analyze them punch by punch and I switch up my style as the rounds go on.”
It is a rarity for Olympic champions to face each other with a professional world title on the line. There were some great pairings and classic fights, such as the famous encounters between Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Another notable and high-dollar showdown but less remembered clash was contested between Oscar De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker. Those were all-American-centric clashes but more recently two-time gold medalists Vasiliy Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux reestablished this tradition in a surprisingly one-sided win for Lomachenko.
DAZN is banking on Joshua’s continued success and fan appeal, which will see him earn an estimated $28 million for this fight. They believe, as Joshua does, that the surface has barely been scratched on his potential. “I was watching a Wladimir Klitschko fight the other day and he had time to learn. I’ve been in at the deep end, time and again. If people aren’t satisfied with it now, they never will be. I am number one. Name me a fighter that has a better record than me after 22 fights. History will tell you. History is all that matters. I will prove myself.”