Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko: Don't believe the hype, this is much harder to call than you think

Martin Hines
The Independent
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko meet at Wembley on Saturday: Getty
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko meet at Wembley on Saturday: Getty

Just like when you’re trying to put up a shelf evenly, boxing is all about levels. Away from the money, the fans and even the event itself, a boxing match is theoretically based on educated perception. A is more powerful than B, but B is faster than A. C has more experience than D, but D is riding on a wave of momentum. Judging attributes, characteristics and mentality is vital when analysing a boxing match, and is usually a rewarding thing to do 99 per cent of time.

But not tonight. Because when Anthony Joshua steps into the ring at Wembley Stadium and faces Wladimir Klitschko, every single past result either man has ever experienced fades away into nothingness. This is not a regular fight, this is a moment and everyone knows the facts. 27-year-old Joshua was once an aspiring roadman who became world heavyweight champion; a phenom who had a barely felt a boxing glove while watching the 2008 Olympic Games, before winning gold in London four years later.

Joshua turned professional with a great deal of intrigue, and his hype quickly grew. He looked great. He talked well. He appeared on the right shows. And most importantly, he destroyed all that came before him. 18 fights, 18 wins, 18 stoppages. Victory in a heavily-publicised grudge match with a domestic rival before a world title triumph in fight number 16. All of this in under four years and across just 44 professional rounds.

And what about Wladimir Klitschko? At 41-years-old the cynicism is growing regarding his future in this sport, but what a career it has been. After winning gold at the 1996 Olympic Games, Klitschko followed his older brother Vitali into the professional ranks where he dominated the heavyweight division for over a decade. 64 wins against just four losses. 53 stoppages, countless world title defences, a Hollywood fiancee, and one of the healthiest bank accounts in boxing.

For all the success both Joshua and Klitschko have achieved, each man is currently defined by a fighter who isn’t legally allowed to box at the moment. When Tyson Fury outclassed and outpointed Wladimir in November 2015, the entire landscape of the heavyweight division changed. Fury picked up three world title belts, but was quickly forced to give up the IBF strap which Joshua picked up months later. His other titles have been shared around like an average bottle of gin, but in a division which contains undefeated monsters and up-and-coming contenders, the true heavyweight king is still yet to be decided.

Many people tipping Anthony Joshua to win at Wembley reference Fury’s victory over Klitschko as proof that the Ukrainian is done at the top level. 18 months on from that harrowing loss, for some the feeling is that Klitschko is ripe for a beating, that instead of 12 frustrating rounds he will instead be facing a far more clinical loss this time out. But for all his skills, and he has many, Anthony Joshua is not Tyson Fury. He’s not blessed with the switch-hitting, the speed of hand and foot or the movement that Fury enjoyed at his pomp.

Yes Joshua hits hard, yes he exudes intensity and yes he has dominated every opponent he has faced, but despite the reputation and the everyman appeal, he has weaknesses. Forget his world title victory over Charles Martin and subsequent average defences, in the biggest fight of Anthony Joshua’s life against Dillian Whyte, it took him seven rounds to deal with a game, but effectively one-armed opponent.

Against Dominic Breazeale last June, it again took Joshua seven rounds to finally get rid of his opponent. As the level of competition rises, Joshua is still looking strong, but beating injured and average fighters is one thing. Fighting a man who in most instances has always found a way to win is quite another.

All of this is why the fight is so hard to call. Because if this was pre Tyson Fury, you’d have Wladmir Klitschko a huge favourite despite Joshua’s dominance. The jab, the clinching, the power in both hands, but more than that, the aura of a man who understands his limitations and does everything possible to eliminate them. In his prime, and even as he approached his forties, Klitschko could mask his flaws and accentuate the positives, but at his age, and after so long out of the ring, can he deal with the much younger beast, or will he prove that he is still the best?

The bookmakers have Joshua a significant 1/2 favourite, with Klitschko available at over 2/1, while the 11/4 for the fight to go the distance may interest those who think we’ll be in for a long night.

For so long in his career Wladimir Klitschko was a real life Ivan Drago. An Eastern European battering ram with a clinical eye and a superhero physique. The worry is whether instead of the cyborg, he’s turned into latter-day Apollo Creed, a man who couldn’t separate his pride from the fall.

Levels are important because they reflect consistency, but like everything in life, they’re as susceptible to change as anything else.

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