Anthony Joshua vs Alexander Povetkin: Why the Russian is tough, dangerous and far from the walkover many predict

Joshua is much the taller and heavier fighter but Povetkin always surrenders the physical edges and so far only Wladimir Klitschko has beaten him in 35 fights and that went the full 12 rounds

Anthony Joshua v Alexander Povetkin press conference

Make no mistake the Anthony Joshua carnival is the most entertaining in boxing right now with a caravan of friends, experts, hawkers, dreamers and one or two jesters bearing belts, promises and hope.

On Saturday night he will walk through the glittering lights at Wembley Stadium to fight a hardened, brutal boxer called Alexander Povetkin, who brings to the ring a jaw of rock, a gold medal from the Olympics in Athens and two drug smears from a bad time in Russian sport. Povetkin once also held the heavyweight title and is far from the inevitable scrap heap of washed-up fighters.

This will be Joshua’s seventh heavyweight championship fight, the second at Wembley and an anticipated crowd of 80,000 means that just under 400,000 people will have paid to watch Joshua live in title fights. Nobody in history at any weight and in any era can match the crazy numbers of the Joshua show and that is why he has so many lavish endorsements. He also knows how to smile, bow at the Palace and say the right thing between beating men senseless.

On Thursday he met Povetkin on the edges of the Wembley turf, they stared at each other, broke the face-off and shook hands; had they pushed each other, sworn and needed the embracing arms of the loitering and hefty security there would be 90,000 sold seats. Joshua is doing his very best to be the nice guy, the guy kissing the heads of offered babies and turning away from abusive behaviour, but there are a few tiny signs that the pressure is heavy on his shoulders. Also, Joshua knows very well how to be a nasty man and I’m not sure he likes that man.

“I can’t bear the burden of the heavyweight division on my own,” Joshua told me last week on Five Live. “The other men have to fight each other – I can’t fight them all in one night. Nobody has done what I’ve done in just 21 fights.”

There is this week a sharper edge to his voice and his deliberate process of choosing words with care vanished when he started to defend his credentials to me. “Fights fall through, it happens,” he said when I asked about the proposed fight with the WBC champion Deontay Wilder. “But, you know, in boxing it’s not what you are worth – it’s what you negotiate.” The original of that tidy axiom came from Don King and his version remains the greatest description of all that is cruel, direct, brilliant and frustrating about the boxing business: “In boxing,” King said. “You don’t get what you deserve – you get what you negotiate.” Both the big men are absolutely right.

In many ways Joshua has some unfinished business with the other names in the heavyweight world and they all want to do business with the Joshua brand, a brand shoulder-deep in glittering and enormously rewarding endorsements. On buildings lining Wembley Way, giant versions of Joshua’s smile, face, bicep, snarl and bright eyes flap gently in the breeze as he encourages people to have a recovery drink, stop smelling and wager a few quid. This is, trust me, not normal in my filthy old sport where the finest still have to often pay for the boxing boots they wear in proper world title fights. How can anybody in the serious boxing game begrudge the altered face of the sport that Joshua is gently painting with each new announcement? He was foolish when he was a kid, he had his brush with the law when he was a fiery young fool and right now he is out in front giving boxing a glowing image.

Povetkin and his people, who all look like they have a cathedral visit planned, are convinced Joshua has made a mistake, taken his eyes off their boxing jewels. I’m also convinced that Povetkin is a bad choice for Joshua and there is a real risk of tears on Saturday night. I have so far backed Joshua in his last 25 fights, which includes four at the London Olympics and 21 in a relatively easy run as professional, but the Povetkin clash is giving me real problems.

Joshua should win, should be too smart, big and careful for the Russian, who will be surrendering height and reach: Povetkin always surrenders the physical edges and so far only Wladimir Klitschko has beaten him in 35 fights and that went the full 12 rounds. Povetkin loves fights against the division’s big, strong and tall men. Joshua ticks a lot of the boxes of the men Povetkin has so far crushed, and the walkover I keep hearing about is very unlikely. Povetkin can beat Joshua, make no mistake, especially if Joshua neglects the careful approach and that happens when any boxer is hit and hurt.

The week will end the moment the fireworks start, the first fighter begins his long walk to the ring and the referee kicks everybody but the two boxers out. The bell will sound for what could be a difficult night for the idol and that is what champions have to overcome when they pitch their carnival tents on dangerous ground.

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