Steve Bunce: Life is set to get exciting for Anthony Joshua as he puts away the sacrificial lambs

The next six months will be huge for the heavyweight hope

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The Independent Online

Nobody at the London Olympics had to work harder for their boxing gold medal than Anthony Joshua in the super-heavyweight division. Joshua was really little more than a novice when the first bell of the tournament sounded, a raw fighter with heart and size but lacking in the finer skills of the men that traditionally win the Olympic event. He had lost fights, been stopped on his feet during the previous year and he was not considered a genuine gold-medal threat.

In his opening fight he was given a slender decision over the Cuban Erislandy Savon by just one point with a score of 17-16. It was a tight, controversial decision in many ways, but more than that it was a shattering start to a tournament that still had nearly two weeks to go. It looked like big Josh had peaked far too early.

Joshua kept on winning and in the final was face-to-face with the reigning champion Roberto Cammarelle of Italy. Joshua knew the Italian darling well, he had beaten him in a shocker the November before at the World Championships in Baku; Cammarelle was still bleating about that loss and after nine minutes in London he was moaning once again when Joshua was given the slenderest of victories on the biggest of stages. The scores was 18-18 and Joshua won on countback to take the gold.

After the gold-medal fight, Joshua vanished, retreated in a puff of smoke from the clamour on both sides of the Atlantic to get his signature on a slip of paper, the currency used by boxing’s fixers to trade the men that get in the ring and fight. There were rumours, sightings and then Joshua signed a deal with Matchroom, who have an exclusive deal to promote boxing on Sky.

That was less than two years ago and Joshua made his debut in October 2013, it lasted less than a round and he ended the fight standing to attention like Frank Bruno had 30 years earlier. Joshua has continued to biff and bash his way to 12 wins, no defeats or punches taken and every single one of his 12 victims has failed to hear the last bell. On Saturday in Birmingham Joshua launched a right hand from his home in north London, which took a detour on the M6 but still somehow managed to find the chin of Raphael Zumbano Love, who collapsed in a sprawling heap after 81 seconds of round two.

Joshua, who is now 25, will be back in the ring on 30 May at the O2 Arena in Greenwich when he fights American Kevin Johnson in what has to be said is an inspired and stunning bit of matchmaking. Johnson has never been stopped and only suffers defeat on points to the best in the heavyweight business, including Vitali Klitschko, Manuel Charr and Tyson Fury.

However, Johnson has what is called a sparring partners’ mentality and that means he likes to get through fights, not get hurt and not try too hard to win; sparring partners always like to get asked back. Johnson has not fought since April 2014 and that is the longest break he has so far taken in his 13-year career. He has been in training camps during that break, spending time getting punched for pay in the Alps with Wladimir Klitschko and in Bolton with Fury, but he has not had to get ready for a fight in well over a year. He can give the best fighters rounds, and rounds are exactly what Joshua needs right now.

Johnson, by the way, is better than Mike Acey, who was the 13th man that Lennox Lewis met back in 1990. Lewis, who won the same gold medal as Joshua in 1988, had turned professional 13 months before knocking out Acey in two rounds at a nightclub in Kitchener, Ontario. 

Lewis, however, was never in a mismatch again, winning the European title in his next fight, then the British and then knocking out a former world champion as he left his steady diet of sacrificial lambs for the difficult road to the championship. Joshua, in theory, takes his first realistic steps down that path when he fights Johnson at the O2 in a fight that could brutally expose the hype and expectation surrounding him.

After Johnson there is a list of British fighters desperate to share the ring with him, including Dillian Whyte, who dropped and beat Joshua when they were amateurs, David Price, the bronze-medal winner from Beijing, and lurking somewhere tapping facts into the unique boxing calculator that adds up money, desire and reality is former world heavyweight champion David Haye. It will, thankfully, all start to get a bit exciting for Mr Joshua in the next six months and it is about time.