Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Big Fight Preview: Anthony Joshua Vs. Wladimir Klitschko

By Peter Silkov

When Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18koes) clashes with Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53koes) this Saturday April 29th at Wembley Stadium, it will be a pivotal fight for both men, and also for the heavyweight division itself. This is a classic match between youth and experience. Can Klitschko derail the ascent of the young Joshua? In many ways Wladimir Klitschko has been one of the most unappreciated heavyweight champions of all time.

Despite his near decade long domination of the heavyweights, which was ended abruptly in November 2015 when he was out-boxed and out-psyched by Tyson Fury, Wladimir has never received the plaudits that his skills really deserve. Part of this is due to his early defeats, which have left a blemish upon his reputation, up until this very day. Forget that Wladimir has not lost a fight inside the distance for well over a decade now, he is still and will probably always be, viewed as a fighter with a weak chin and questionable heart. Many people regard these early blots on the Ukrainian’s record as proof that Joshua can take care of Wladimir in the same manner that he has dispatched his previous 18 professional opponents, yet Wladimir is in a different league to anyone whom Joshua has faced so far in his professional career.

Joshua’s severest test so far, was his December 2015 meeting with Dillian Whyte, in a fight that saw him stretched for the first, and only time, and visibly shaken on at least 3 occasions. Although Joshua finally won this clash in impressive fashion, it still left some lingering questions. Especially about the durability of his chin. Quite simply, during his professional career, Anthony Joshua has not been hit enough cleanly, thus far, for us to know whether he really has the durability to make it at the top level. Saturday might should reveal the answer.
Klitschko has had more world title fights than Joshua has had actual professional fights, and this edge in experience could well prove to be a crucial advantage for the Ukrainian. At the age of 41 years old, Klitschko may have lost the freshness of youth, but the wisdom of experience can often make up for this loss, especially in an athlete who is dedicated to looking after himself.

One line of thought is that Wladimir’s defeat to Tyson Fury in November 2015, was a sign that he was slipping as a fighter. Yet this is a risky assumption to make, due to the fact that in Tyson Fury, Wladimir met the most unorthodox opponent of his career, who was also a man inspired upon that night. Fury’s subsequent out of the ring problems could see him becoming one of the division's saddest stories of wasted talent.

The Tyson Fury of that night would always have gave Wladimir a headache, yet Anthony Joshua is a totally different fighter to Fury, and will not pose the problems for Klitschko that Tyson created.

Photo: Telegraph
Wladimir has often been derided as boring, but much of this is due to him winning so many of his fights in an one-sided manner, such has been his superiority over most of his challengers through the years. Wladimir is one of the most technically gifted heavyweights we have ever seen, but a lack of talented challengers has seen him deprived of the kind of defining fights that might have helped him gain the kind of recognition and popularity, which the heavyweight greats of the past enjoyed. Ironically, Saturday’s clash against Anthony Joshua may well gain, for Klitschko, the kind of plaudits that have always eluded him until now, should he emerge victorious.

This is a clash that will define the shape of the heavyweight division, according to who comes out victorious. Once the most magnetic division in boxing, the heavyweights have struggled over the past two decades to capture the imagination of the public. It could be argued that a Joshua win would be better for boxing than a Klitschko victory, but what the division needs now, above all else, is a definitive world number one. Taking into account the continued absence of Tyson Fury, the winner on Saturday night will have good reason to call himself the best active heavyweight in the world at the present time.

Already Saturday's fight has turned the clock back somewhat to the golden days of the past when the heavyweight championship commanded vast attention whenever it was fought over. The build up to the match between the two men has also been refreshingly polite and free from the kind of distasteful insults and controversies that have become so common in recent ‘big’ fights.

Many questions will be answered on Saturday, April 29. The biggest questions, being, how much has Wladimir got left, and how good is Anthony Joshua, should provide fascinating viewing. Not many of Wladimir Klitschko’s fights have been genuinely exciting, yet Saturday night may well prove to be different.

Perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over Wladimir is not so much his age, but the affect of him having 17 months out of the ring before this fight. No matter how fit you are, competitive inactivity can be a curse for an athlete, especially a boxer. Yet perversely, it can also be a benefit. The layoff may well have allowed Wladimir to recharge his batteries, rest his body, and renew his hunger. Certainly the indications in the fight's build-up have been that Wladimir comes across as a far happier and more relaxed man than the person who seemed tense and moody in the run up to the Tyson Fury match. Wladimir knows that it is Joshua who will enter the Wembley Stadium ring on Saturday with the expectations of 90,000 fans on his shoulders. All indications are that Joshua will be the favourite to win on Saturday night, despite the huge gulf in experience, and technical ability between the two men.

One aspect that has also been underplayed in the run up to this match is the fact that, despite his so called ‘boring’ fighting style, Wladimir Klitschko has still managed to score 53 knockouts in his 64 victories as a professional. While Joshua enters this match with the reputation as a dynamite punching knockout machine, Klitschko in reality can boast to have proven his own punching power at the highest level for well over a decade. Indeed, it may be the power of Klitschko which is the biggest danger to Joshua in this fight.

With most of his victories coming in the first three rounds, Anthony Joshua will be at his most dangerous in the early part of this contest. At the same time however, he will have to take risks in trying to achieve an early end to the fight. Klitschko’s fast and accurate hands have seen many of his previous opponents picked off and dispatched early, and there is the chance that if he is not careful that this will happen to Joshua. He cannot afford to be caught and hurt like he was by Dillion Whyte. If Wladimir catches him in the same way he is unlikely to be allowed the time to recover. Wladimir has proved himself time and again a cold and efficient finisher when he has an opponent hurt.

Wladimir’s main vulnerability in this fight will come from Joshua’s strength and power. Yet, Klitshcko has not been stopped by an opponent since 2004, when Lamon Brewster stopped him in 5 rounds. Thanks to the tutorledge of his late trainer, Emanuel Steward, Wladimir became a much smoother, and technically adept boxer, following the Brewster loss. He has built a 22-fight winning streak over the next 11 years, until he ran into the enigmatic talent, which is Tyson Fury.

The longer this fight goes on the more it should suit Wladimir. It is very unlikely that Joshua will be able to out-box Klitschko, especially over a long distance, and while his strength will make him dangerous early, will he be able to carry his power into the later rounds against a boxer like Wladimir.

In the event of the match going beyond the first 6 rounds, Wladimir’s experience will become increasingly important. Joshua is undoubtedly strong, with a big punch, but how will his stamina fare in a longer fight at this level?

Photo: RingNews24

This is a contest with a number of possible outcomes. Joshua will always have a puncher's chance, but Wladimir is not an easy target. Despite his age, there seems to be no reason to suppose that Klitschko has suddenly fallen apart as a boxer. The early rounds will be crucial for both men, and the end could come suddenly for either man in the first 3 rounds. What is more likely though, is that Wladimir negotiates the early rounds, and slowly takes over the contest, as his advantages in experience and technical ability make themselves count. It has been said in the build up to this showdown, that Joshua is getting Wladimir Klitschko at just the right time, but in the end, the opposite may be proved to be true. On Saturday night, Wladimir Klitschko will prove himself to be just a step too far for Anthony Joshua, and will either stop him somewhere between the 6th and 9th rounds, or emerge victorious with a clear point's decision.

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