Anthony Joshua's road to fighting Wladimir Klitschko: the build-up has been great, but he's not there yet

Alan Tyers
The Road: the Joshua-Klitschko fight was announced when Wladimir Klitschko entered the ring after Joshua beat Eric Mollina - Getty Images Sport

"More than a boxer, he transcends his sport,” begins the voiceover to this documentary about Anthony Joshua.

Ah, but not yet. Not yet. An enjoyable profile of the exciting and likeable boxer airs on BBC1 on Tuesday, a few days ahead of the big fight, and makes claims that are still as yet a few rounds away from being unarguable. He may. We hope. But nothing is certain yet.

The hour-long programme gives an insight into a charismatic, dedicated, gifted young man as he prepares for the biggest date in recent British heavyweight history.

But the intrigue of the fight at Wembley Stadium on Saturday is not about what Joshua has done so far, it is what he might do in the future. He might yet transcend his sport: he certainly has the looks, the intelligence, the appetite for work both in the gym and in the photographer’s studio. One mountain at a time, though.

And the next mountain, of course, measures 6ft 6in tall and is the preeminent heavyweight of the past 15 years. The Joshua fight against Wladimir Klitschko is a showcase for two of the classic sporting story archetypes: the up-and-comer with boundless potential, and the legend of the game who may have gone on too long in an obsession to polish a legacy tarnished by surprise defeat.

Jolly giant: AJ during a break from working out Credit: Getty

Klitschko says of Joshua in the film: “I totally feel the man. I have been there and done it. He is totally like a mirror of myself.” The Ukrainian is fighting both his own younger self, and his own older age, to say nothing of a man who looks like a Greek god who has been making sure he eats up all of his ambrosia.

The overall question of the fight is whether it has come too soon for Joshua, or too late for Klitschko. “In three years he is going to be too good, and I am going to be too old, maybe,” says the 41-year-old. Perhaps a much shorter time than that. 

One of the many intriguing unknowables about the fight is how much defeat by Tyson Fury in November 2015, and a long lay-off, have taken their toll. AJ and Wlad both will know, soon enough.

Mutual respect: Wladimir Klitschko says that Anthony Joshua is a "mirror" of himself Credit: AFP

This BBC documentary forms another cog in the hype machine, although of course you will need more than a mere television licence to actually watch the contest.

As Joshua delivers the standard “came from humble origins” bit of the tale, an establishing shot of his childhood neighbourhood lingers on old-fashioned TV aerials, the sort that you can get the BBC on, but not Sky pay-per-view.

It is shocking that such deprivation exists in Eddie Hearn’s Britain, but there you are.

Salesman: Eddie Hearn has taken build-up to a new level Credit: Reuters

Eddie and his team have become so very good at the build-up to these big fights that there is a danger the pre-match hoopla, the dramatic press conferences, become the story rather than the ring action. 

Whatever the faults of, say, football or rugby, the punter knows that he or she is getting 90 or 80 minutes of sporting product. We might wish that Middlesbrough v Sunderland lasted only as long as a first-round KO, but no.

Perhaps AJ will answer all the questions in the first few minutes of Saturday night’s fight, which will be exciting in one way, and certainly handy for the promotion of his next contest. Pay-per-view boxing, though, is unique in that total, explosive dominance is not as enjoyable for the fan as a slug-a-thon.

None of that, of course, is Joshua’s current problem. He stands on the cusp. Wlad first, transcendence later.

  • Anthony Joshua: The Road To Klitschko (Tuesday 10.45 pm, BBC1)

Anthony Joshua's professional wins in pictures: Is Wladimir Klitschko next?

 

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