It was all about the finish, the pain, the power and then at midnight the sodden faithful switched their hazy attention to the next fight, the next man in the ring with Anthony Joshua, the most lucrative brand in global boxing.
Joshua fought with caution and care for six truly enthralling rounds against Alexander Povetkin at Wembley late on Saturday night, and then in round seven put together a series of sickening punches to ruin the Russian. Povetkin was separated violently from his senses, dropped once and then sent tumbling again in the arms of the referee, Steve Gray, as the fight was being stopped, and the pair became tangled as Joshua kept punching. There is, at that moment when men freeze, no pity in Joshua and he is barely recognisable as the smiling, hand-shaking nice guy with the growing temple of rich endorsements and fan club that starts with innocent five-year olds.
It was an end from the tiny textbook of perfect finishes, the type of accurate, brutal punches that only the best heavyweights find in a flash instant and the type of punches that nobody can recover from. Povetkin lost for the second time in 36 fights and was stopped for the very first time; the thick-necked and thick-skinned Russian was understandably still dazed ten minutes later as he listened to one of his many handlers explain what had happened in the 20 seconds before the fight ended.
It was Joshua’s 22nd win, 21 have ended early and it was his seventh consecutive world title fight. Joshua’s raw facts, combined with the money he has amassed and his unique live audiences, mean that people are now having to ask just how good he is? His wins so far as champion compare favourably with just about every champion in history, which is something that a lot of people in the old boxing game are struggling with.
Nobody is saying he is better than Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis, but he is taking care of men similar to the early victims sent tumbling from the fists of the ancient quartet. “I’m still learning, I’m getting there, I’m not making claims but I deserve some credit,” said a weary Joshua at about 1:30 am on Sunday, long after the drenched fans at Wembley had departed safely for bed or bar. Ali, Holmes, Tyson and Lewis fought several men in their early reigns with none of the dangers and skills that Povetkin delivered in the fight and it is just possible that Joshua will indeed have his day to show his big gummy smile in the limelight of greats.
However, the greatest fighters in the heavyweight division all have a real nemesis, an opponent both feared, hated and often ridiculed; the greatest of their era must fight their equals and those fights must be peak against peak. Joshua has so far thrilled in quality wins over golden old boys, former champions Wladimir Klitschko and Povetkin - two fights and a combined live audience 160,000 fanatics - and now he needs his Joe Frazier, his Evander Holyfield to move his career to the rarified air where the heavyweight giants and ghosts stroll.
Joshua has a date back at Wembley on 13 April and he wants to fight Deontay Wilder, the unbeaten WBC champion, in a fight that will break every record in the boxing books. However, Wilder’s Team and Joshua’s people have been in many fruitless, ugly skirmishes for months and an imminent agreement, which both Eddie Hearn and Joshua want, is unlikely in the coming weeks.
Wilder has just agreed final terms for a defence against Tyson Fury for December 1 in either Las Vegas or Los Angeles. “I look forward to both of them fighting and good luck to Wilder,” said Joshua. Then Hearn dismissed Fury, insisting that “he is never in good fights.” Fury is certainly not in classic slugfests, but he has the purity in his fighting style to render men lame through the subtle application of craft, the careful pursuit of the lost noble art of self-defence.
“We need to know now and not in December,” warned Hearn. “I talked to Wilder’s people last week - we need to get this agreed and then hope he wins, hope he beats Fury and I believe he will.” Fury will not be in the opposite corner next April and that includes the win, lose or draw option in his risky fight with Wilder. If Fury does win then there will be a rematch and that will eliminate Wilder from the fight next April. “Wilder’s people were talking about 50 million dollars for the fight back in the summer and now that figure looks like peanuts,” added Hearn. It only looks like peanuts if Wilder wins in style.
Another potential opponent for Joshua next April is Dillian Whyte, who should have met Wilder by now, in what would be their third meeting. Whyte won the amateur meeting, Joshua won the professional brawl and a third fight is perfectly legitimate, but against the seemingly endless promise of a Wilder showdown, or even a grudge fight with Fury, it lacks old-fashioned sex appeal. It is clear Joshua only has eyes for Wilder.
Late on Saturday night in the chill, Joshua pulled his hooded, white full-length robe up over his head, danced off to celebrate and dressed in the old-school satin gown he resembled the dozens of men he seriously wants to emulate. That was a brief vision, a smiling champion shuffling away and one day he wants a place next to the men he adores, not a fleeting apparition, a glimpsed pastiche of a Seventies slugger, but a very real fighter in the company he deserves. He might just get what he wants.
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