By Paul Mason (@KOBoxingSets)
This Saturday (29th April) sees a massive match up at heavyweight for the WBA (Super), IBF and IBO Heavyweight Championships of the World, as current IBF Champion Anthony Joshua takes on the Heavyweight legend and former WBA (Super), WBO, IBF and IBO champion, Wladimir Klitschko at the famous Wembley Stadium in London in front of an expected crowd of 90,000. Sky Sports Box Office televise in the UK, HBO and Showtime share the USA coverage. Here I preview the big fight and the rest of the card.
Anthony Joshua (18-0 KO18) v Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, KO53) For the WBA (Super), IBF & IBO Heavyweight World Titles
The Acid test is finally here for Watford’s 2012 Olympic Super Heavyweight Champion, and current IBF Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua. After being carefully managed and manufactured in his career so far, which has included British and Commonwealth crowns, as well as capturing the IBF World Title in just his sixteenth fight under the promotional guidance of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom.
After a stellar amateur career, culminating in the Gold Medal at the London 2012 Olympics, Anthony Joshua turned professional in October of 2013, and duly knocked out Emanuele Leo inside a round at the O2 Arena in London. Paul Butlin, Hrvoje Kisicek and Dorian Darch were all despatched in two rounds each from October 2013 to February 2014, as Joshua toured all parts of the UK, taking in England, Scotland and Wales. After knocking out Hector Alfredo Avila in Glasgow in the first round, Joshua met Matt Legg on the massive Carl Froch v George Groves rematch at the very venue where he boxes this Saturday. Another first round knockout was banked with a devastating uppercut. Former World Title challenger Matt Skelton followed in two rounds in Liverpool, before Konstantin Airich (TKO3) was vanquished in Manchester. This lead to a challenge for the WBC International Heavyweight Title against Denis Bakhtov back at the O2. Only two rounds were needed to lift the title. The experienced Michael Sprott was then stopped in a round at the back end of 2014, Jason Gavern was knocked out in three, and Raphael Zumbano Love was stopped in two in Birmingham in May 2015. Three weeks later Eddie Hearn then decided a step up was needed, and put “AJ” in with the experienced and never before stopped former World Title challenger Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson on the Kell Brook v Frankie Gavin bill. Joshua passed the test with flying colours, stopping the American within two rounds.
Next up was a challenge for the Commonwealth Heavyweight Title, against fellow unbeaten foe, Scotland’s Gary Cornish. Cornish had no answer to Joshua’s power and the bout was over within a round before it had even got going. This lead to a Sky Sports Box Office debut, and grudge match against his former amateur conqueror Dillian Whyte. The O2 was again the venue, with the British and Commonwealth titles on the line. Joshua was tested and even hurt for the first time, but eventually came through, stopping Whyte in the seventh of a bruising contest.
Joshua then became the beneficiary of the mess that occurred following Tyson Fury’s points win over Klitschko in Germany in November 2015. Fury was stripped of his IBF title for failing to agree to defend against the mandatory challenger, Vyacheslav Glazkov. As a result of this, Charles Martin, the next available challenger, won the vacant belt by beating Glazkov, when the Russian suffered a leg injury and the fight was stopped in the third round. Three months later Martin cashed in his belt for a large payday at the O2, defending his newly won crown against Joshua in his first defence. Martin was essentially a sacrificial lamb for the Joshua juggernaut to take off, and did exactly as expected in succumbing to defeat inside two one sided sessions. Joshua became IBF champion in just his sixteenth fight.
Joshua has made two defences since, firstly against Dominic Breazeale in June 2016. In a slightly subdued than normal performance, Breazeale was stopped in seven. In his last fight at the end of last year, Joshua effectively marked time on a mooted clash with Klitschko by knocking out Mexican American Eric Molina in three. “AJ” and Klitschko took to the ring after the fight to talk up the future clash and the stadium superfight was made for April this year.
The fight will be between the 2012 Olympic Champion, and the 1996 Champion in Atlanta, USA, in Ukraine’s heavily decorated Wladimir Klitschko. The second longest reigning Heavyweight Champion of all time, Klitschko has done it all in the sport. He turned pro in late 1996, and compiled 24 straight wins including 22 knockouts, before running into the American, Ross Puritty in his native Ukraine in December 1998. Puritty was reknowned as a tough, punishment taking journeyman, but he stunned Wladimir into an eleventh round corner retirement to hand him his first professional loss. Klitschko rebuilt and five fights later became the European Champion, stopping Axel Schultz in eight rounds. Klitschko made his American debut in April 2000, stopping David Bostice in two. Two fights later, in his 36th fight, he unanimously outpointed Chris Byrd to lift the WBO World Title. Five TKO defences followed against seasoned contenders in Francois Botha, Ray Mercer and Jameel McCline. Then, in what was meant to be a routine defence against Corrie Sanders in March 2003, Klitschko was shockingly knocked down four times in two rounds and was pummelled to defeat, losing his title in the Ring Magazine’s upset of the year for 2003.
After winning two minor bouts in Germany and enlisting the services of legendary boxing trainer Emanuel Steward Klitschko again fought for the vacated WBO title in April 2004, in Las Vegas, against Lamon Brewster. Klitschko sent Brewster to the canvas in the fourth round; however, things turned around in the fifth when Brewster’s punches began backing him up. Not defending himself and leaning into ropes for support, Klitschko took a standing eight count. On unsteady legs, Klitschko fell to the canvas after the bell and the referee stopped the fight, with Klitschko in no position to carry on. This left Klitschko’s career in tatters. He rebuilt steadily, but three fights later, he was knocked down three times by Samuel Peter, but managed to outbox Peter for the majority of the fight to gain a points win. This seemed to galvanize the Ukrainian, and in his next fight he won the IBF and IBO Titles by stopping Chris Byrd in the seventh round. This would lead to a golden eighteen fight run as a Heavyweight Champion. Klitschko overcame Brewster in a rematch (TKO6) before unifying the titles by winning the WBO version of the title by outpointing Sultan Ibragimov in a tame match at Madison Square Garden, New York. Tony Thompson (KO11), Hasim Rahman (TKO7) Ruslan Chagaev (RTD9) and Eddie Chambers (KO12) followed before he knocked out old foe Samuel Peter in ten. This set up an opportunity to acquire the WBA (Super) version of the title, by facing David Haye in a 2011 mega fight at the Imtech Arena, Hamburg. Klitschko, handily outpointed Haye in a fight that failed to live up to the hype, and brought us the now infamous “toe gate” where Haye blamed the defeat on an injured toe.
Klitschko then made several simple defences of the belts. Jean-Marc Mormeck (KO4), Tony Thompson (TKO6) Mariusz Wach (Unanimous) and Francesco Pianeta (TKO6) were all vanquished in 2012/13. He then met what was meant to be a live contender in Alexander Povetkin in Russia. The bout was marred with over 160 clinches, most initiated by Klitschko, followed by several repeated roughhouse tactics throughout .This included leaning on his opponent and pushing his head down and throwing Povetkin to the canvas, which resulted in the referee scoring some as knockdowns. Klitschko won by unanimous decision scoring a knockdown in round two from a flush jab, and three knockdowns in round seven including one prompted from a big right uppercut. He won a unanimous, wide decision.
Alex Leapai was stopped in five, and Kubrat Pulev was knocked out in the same session in 2014. He then travelled to New York again, and endured a difficult than expected points win against Bryant Jennings. This lead to Klitschko taking on his WBO mandatory at the end of 2015 against Tyson Fury. Klitschko started as favourite, but came undone against the young, hungry challenger in Germany. Fury won unanimously on the cards against a lacklustre Klitschko and handed Wladimir his first defeat for eleven years, and took all of the belts home to Manchester.
This is what makes this fight intriguing. If the same Klitschko turns up that fought Fury, I can only see a simple Joshua win, maybe even by half way. However, if the real Klitschko turns up, I can see this being a tight fight. Klitschko likes to keep things at range and protect his chin at all times. He also likes to tie up regularly, something that may frustrate Joshua if the fight goes deep and may lead to “AJ” becoming careless. I’m sitting on the fence with this one, because in my opinion it simply hinges on which Wladimir turns up on the night.
The undercard is underwhelming, however, with this being a sell out, minimal promotion has been needed. Hastily arranged additions take centre stage. Scott Quigg (32-1-2) competes in an eliminator for the IBF Featherweight title, currently held by Lee Selby. He faces former Selby victim Viorel Simion (21-1). Luke Campbell (16-1) gets a WBA Lightweight title eliminator against former Anthony Crolla foe, Darleys Perez (33-2-2). Katie Taylor (4-0) also has a WBA Lightweight Title eliminator, against Nina Meinke (5-0). Eddie Hearn prospects, Lawrence Okolie (2-0), Joe Cordina (1-0) and Josh Kelly (1-0) also feature.
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