Thursday, June 08, 2023  |

By Gareth A Davies | 

Across The Pond

The Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko Fight Will Have A Profound Impact On The Heavyweight Division

Anthony Joshua’s April 29 fight against Wladimir Klitschko has that rare quality: two Olympic gold medalists who consider themselves gentleman boxers and insist their talking will be done inside the squared circle. It’s certainly the antithesis to the sound and fury that surrounded the much-hyped David Haye-Tony Bellew grudge fight. In fact, the antithesis in every conceivable way. Joshua-Klitschko means something, for starters. There are two heavyweight straps on the line. Better than that, it is a fascinating collision of old and new, master and apprentice. And it will take place at a football stadium, Wembley Stadium, in front of 90,000 fans. It’s the heavyweight matchup of the year. It will tell us a lot about the future of the division. It will tell us even more about Anthony Joshua.

It’s for all these reasons that Joshua and Klitschko feel no need to act up or manufacture some kind of storyline or animosity in order to sell their product. I’m not sure either would be capable of doing so even if it was required of them, but, still, it’s a mark of the fight’s quality that neither have resorted to the tired, well-thumbed script of others. It’s refreshing. It feels like the palate cleanser we all need.

Klitschko says he is “obsessed” with getting his belts back, while Joshua, an advocate of the “stay humble, stay hungry” mentality, hopes to capitalize on Klitschko’s 41 years and send him into retirement. It’s all about timing. Either Joshua and his team have got it spot-on and will feast on a great champion’s carcass or Klitschko will delve into his memory banks, roll back the clock, get that jab pumping again, drain Joshua in clinches and re-emerge as The Man having taken a raw novice to school.

For the future of the division, a Joshua win is important. He has so far done everything asked of him as a professional – winning all 18 of his bouts by knockout – and fights the way heavyweights used to fight, which is to say with aggression and purpose and violent intent. There is no more watchable, marketable or important heavyweight in the world right now.

But, that said, his best win is still a toss-up between Dominic Breazeale and Dillian Whyte, two men with whom Klitschko would have toyed in his prime. And it’s that little issue, more than anything, that makes this fight between Joshua and Klitschko so fascinating, so hard to call. Has the jump in class been carefully measured and timed to perfection? Or will the difference in levels be Joshua’s undoing?

Tyson Fury, the undisputed noise in the division, fully expects Klitschko to expose Joshua on April 29. He has made this clear on countless occasions. But Fury has also ambitiously claimed he will be making a comeback of his own in May, which immediately calls into question anything the unbeaten heavyweight spouts from his various social media platforms. It’s hard to believe these claims because Fury’s U.K. Anti- Doping (UKAD) hearing is now scheduled for May 8 and he reportedly weighs somewhere around 25 stone (350 pounds). The odds, therefore, aren’t great that he’ll make a return this year, much less in May.

Let’s hope this mess does resolve itself. The heavyweight division is a quieter place without Fury, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. His return, whether this May or next May, would be dynamite.

Given what was essentially an event sold on hate and hyperbole and threats and forecasts, the heavyweight non-title fight between Tony Bellew and David Haye on March 4 still managed to surprise us all.

Bellew, according to Haye, was to be put to the sword in a round or two, succumbing to a devastating, highlight-reel knockout, and would likely spend his night in a hospital. The underdog was deemed out of his depth, a chubby cruiserweight titleholder who had no right campaigning at heavyweight. Meanwhile, according to Bellew, Haye was liable to fold when the going got tough. He was considered a bully, a frontrunner, a faded 36-year-old with only a good round or two left in a battered and broken-down body that is only one ill-timed move away from collapsing altogether.

That was the talk beforehand. The narrative. The plan. Yet, in actuality, Haye, despite the acid-tongued boasts, came nowhere near knocking Bellew out. Barely landed a clean shot, in fact. Nor did Bellew necessarily outlast Haye or expose him as someone who quits when the going gets tough. Instead, both came away proving themselves in certain areas while simultaneously showing flaws in others. Haye, in soldiering through for 4½ rounds with a torn Achilles, displayed a bravery and thirst for fighting many believed he lacked, whereas Bellew, in taking Haye’s best shots and making him appear cumbersome in the early going, proved both his toughness and his credentials as a world-class fighter capable of performing on the big stage.

On the flip side, Haye’s injury and early sloppiness framed him as a jaded prizefighter whose best days are behind him, while Bellew’s inability to finish an ostensibly one-legged and supposedly “chinny” fighter didn’t say a lot for his punching power at heavyweight.

Funny how things turn out. In the end it was an injured Haye, not Bellew, who ended the night in a hospital. Worse still, the bizarre decision of his corner to ask him if he wanted to continue after Round 6 – a question to which he answered “yes,” of course – may well end up doing more harm than good. They let him out for Rounds 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 and 11.
More damage was done, both to his head and his Achilles, and the final image was one of Haye gallantly swinging, unable to keep his footing, and being punched and bundled through the ropes in Round 11. His courage and power should not have been enough to keep him in the fight. He couldn’t stand properly, couldn’t move at all, and his defense, once the Achilles snapped, was nonexistent.

We went away calling him a warrior. But a warrior, someone who gives and takes, is not something David Haye ever wanted to be called.

Before the fight, Bellew’s coach, Dave Coldwell, implied that Shane McGuigan, Haye’s coach, might be in awe of his star pupil – well, certainly his most famous pupil. It was an accusation denied by the 28-year-old McGuigan, but his decision to let Haye keep fighting when clearly debilitated was one that, at best, shines a light on McGuigan’s lack of experience and, at worse, backs up Coldwell’s claim.

Haye will be back. It’s what he does now. It might take a while, as is his custom, but there are too many big fights out there, including a Bellew rematch, for him to do the right thing and call it a day. The more interesting takeaway from the March 4 fight is Bellew and his newfound presence as a heavyweight.

After all, if Haye was in line for a shot at a world heavyweight titleholder off the back of a Bellew win, surely Bellew now stands to take advantage of similar opportunities? We’re told Deontay Wilder has already made contact, which has appeal, as does a fight with Joseph Parker. Asked whether he’d fight fellow Brit Joshua, however, Bellew all of a sudden remembered he was a cruiserweight at heart. “No chance,” he said. “A.J.’s running the game right now.”

There is still a pining for Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s return to boxing and I can attest to his popularity, having interviewed him in March at the ICC in Birmingham for the events company Showfighter.

Mayweather held court in front of a crowd of paying punters and had them enraptured for over an hour. He opened up about the difficulties of his childhood and the secret to his success, revealed he regrets not fighting in the U.K. and, of course, discussed the possible “crossover” fight with mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor, one of the hottest properties in combat sports.

“McGregor has bosses. I don’t have a boss,” Mayweather said. “If Conor McGregor really wants to fight me, we can make it happen. But is he blowing smoke up everybody’s ass?

“In one fight I made more than Conor McGregor has made in his whole career. The difference between me and him is this: He has to fight. If I was him and I was smart, before I lose again in the UFC, I’d let Floyd Mayweather kick my ass for a lot of money. It makes business sense.”

Mayweather brought with him protege Gervonta “Tank” Davis, who will defend his IBF junior lightweight title against England’s Liam Walsh on May 20 in London.

Walsh has waited and waited for his opportunity to emerge from the shadows and fight for a world title but, to win a belt, he’ll have to somehow slow an express train in Davis, who has agreed to travel to England in exchange for a career-high payday.

Davis, plucked from obscurity by Mayweather after just 10 professional fights and now a world titleholder at the age of 22, was born and raised in Baltimore, “The Wire” territory, and has shown no aversion to doing things the hard way. He won his title in January with a stunning seventh-round knockout of Jose Pedraza and now, Mayweather says, is well on his way to becoming The (new) Best Ever.

“Gervonta Davis is very talented,” said Mayweather. “He has a very interesting story. This is a kid who stayed in different foster homes and the orphanage. As soon as I saw him walk in the room, I said he’s going to be world champion. I got him six fights and within 24 months he’s world champion. He has the potential to be the closest thing to Floyd Mayweather.”

Davis, it should be said, fights nothing like Mayweather. He is, in actual fact, far more aggressive and physical in his approach. He bullied Pedraza, beat him up the old-fashioned way and showcased his extensive repertoire of punches with a poise that belied his tender years. He’s a fighter, all right. That much is clear. It’s all he knows.

“I’ve always been a fighter, I had to fight,” he said. “We were in and out of group homes as a foster kid. Me and my older brother were taken from my mother at the same time, so we were pretty tight. We were even fighting the other kids in the group homes. My uncle saw me fight in front of my house and one day he wanted to turn something negative into a positive, so he took me to the gym and I’ve been there ever since.”

Davis, who has 16 knockouts in 17 fights, added: “Growing up in Baltimore, there were a lot of distractions. But I was so into boxing, it was like candy to me. The guys I looked up to as a kid are either dead or in jail. The guy who started me out was my coach’s son. He died. He got killed in New Jersey. There were a lot of other older guys who got killed or are in jail. Growing up seeing what those guys were going through, trying to get money to feed their families … that showed me.”

Thirty-year-old Walsh, meanwhile, unbeaten in 21 fights and one of three brothers who box professionally, is arguably Britain’s most underrated boxer. He hasn’t had the Gervonta shine; he hasn’t had the fanfare or the celebrity endorsement. But few fighters in Britain have Walsh’s boxing brain, arsenal of skills and composure.

Frank Warren, Walsh’s promoter, told me: “This matchup reminds me of Joe Calzaghe against Jeff Lacy. The Americans were saying that Lacy was ‘the next Mike Tyson,’ but Joe schooled him on a memorable night in Manchester. Liam is a very fine boxer, and I believe he can do the same as Calzaghe did 10 years ago.” That would be some feat. Cheers.