Two years ago, when Wladimir Klitschko suggested Anthony Joshua could one day be the final opponent of his career, he would have had little idea how ominously prescient those words potentially were, nor scarcely believed the circumstances in which their upcoming bout would be consummated.
Back then Klitschko was still on top, peerless at the pinnacle of heavyweight boxing and merely offering some benevolent soundbites to peckish British journalists.
That in such a short turnaround he would have lost his belts in ignominious fashion to Tyson Fury, been written off as a spent force, and now be heading to London to face Joshua in a title bout as both challenger and betting outsider, might all have been a little too fanciful even for the erudite and worldly mind of Dr Steelhammer.
Klitschko may have more knockout victories (53) than Joshua has boxed rounds as a professional (44) – but that is the scenario facing the Ukrainian.
Yet while a heavy defeat on Saturday would likely see him bludgeoned into retirement, he prefers to envisage how a victory and becoming a three-time heavyweight champion would elevate him to new levels of greatness.
And despite a growing army of naysayers confidently predicting his demise, literally nothing in Klitschko’s words or demeanour in the build-up has suggested he harbours any doubts in his own mind or fear in his heart. It’s absolutely clear that he fancies the job in front of him.
Whereas with most fighters you’d dismiss that as the extreme bravado of their default setting, it’s harder to do so with the 41-year-old Klitschko, whose thirst for knowledge extends beyond the realm of linguistics or his PhD in Sports Science and is always rigorously applied to his opponents.
In Joshua, with whom he sparred ahead of his 2014 annihilation of Kubrat Pulev, he sees a man he can beat. A man whose attributes he can nullify. A fight he can control. Klitschko and his team feel that Joshua’s aggressive seek and destroy style is tailor-made for him. The Ukrainian’s trainer, Jonathon Banks, has seen it up close, having worked Dillian Whyte’s corner the night he gave Joshua his biggest scare as a pro when he clipped him with a left hook – an underrated weapon in the Klitschko arsenal – in the second round of their British title fight in December 2015.
Of course, to suggest ‘AJ’ hasn’t matured since then would be foolish, but despite all the talk of mutual respect, the deep belief in the Klitschko camp is that they are catching Joshua before he’s ready for a challenge of this magnitude.
They are convinced his inexperience will be the crucial factor, that his chin is suspect and that the muscle-bound tyro will run out of gas if dragged into the championship rounds for the first time in his fledgling career.
The irony there is that in Dusseldorf 17 months ago, it was Klitschko who ran out of steam as he was stunningly dethroned by Fury. His dismal performance that night began the sequence of events which leads us to a 90,000 sellout at Wembley Stadium, but Klitschko is adamant it will be the version of him which ruled heavyweight boxing for a decade who will show up, not the muddled veteran so hopelessly duped by Fury’s chicanery.
He looked spooked that night, perhaps the logical conclusion to a madcap prelude where Fury lurched from praise to profanity, respect to ridicule, and then backed it all up with a display of beguiling feints and agile lateral movement which rendered the long-reigning champion gun-shy and impotent.
However, in Klitschko’s mind, it was an aberration, an off-night after he’d uncharacteristically allowed an opponent to get inside his head. Indeed, in spite of his formidable intellect, the ego simmers just below the surface and perhaps the notion of losing to the clownish Fury grew so abhorrent that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He has certainly appeared happier soaking up Joshua’s respectful platitudes, and far more comfortable with hatching a gameplan for an opponent he expects to come to him.
The doubters say his inability to pull the trigger against Fury, a laborious victory over Bryant Jennings six months earlier and a 17-month lay-off are compelling reasons to crown Joshua. Klitschko begs to differ, and is clearly in no mood to pass the torch just yet.
In one of the most anticipated heavyweight bouts in recent history, Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko go up against each other at London’s Wembley Stadium on April 29.
Debate rages over who will leave the ring with the IBF, WBA (super heavyweight) and IBO (heavyweight) titles and our offices are no different.
So, to settle things once and for all [sort of!], Sport360 reporters Alex Rea and Alam Khan look at who will emerge victorious.
ALEX REA (@AlexReaSport) – ANTHONY JOSHUA
The beginning of the end for Wladimir Klitschko was evident two years ago.
In April, 2015, Bryant Jennings made him look ordinary. Klitschko lost rounds for the first time in years, appeared gun-shy and ponderous with commentators wondering if decline was setting in.
A few months later, Tyson Fury pulled off the extraordinary and totally outclassed Klitschko to end his nine-year championship stranglehold.
He hasn’t fought since that defeat, is now on the wrong side of 40 and faces both the future and present of heavyweight boxing in Anthony Joshua.
All signs point to a victory for the Briton. Yes, Klitschko is superior from a technical standpoint and he does hold a distinct advantage when it comes to years in the ring. But youth and, crucially, timing, are on Joshua’s side.
If this was the Klitschko of 2012, the one which didn’t just clear out the heavyweight division but dominated it, then there’d be no question he would beat 2017 Joshua.
But time is a fight no athlete can win and no amount of “obsessing” from Klitschko can reverse that. The only reason there’s even doubt about Joshua is because we haven’t seen him truly tested. He was briefly rocked by Dillian Whyte but ultimately that was down to sloppiness in wanting to get Whyte out of there, which in the end he did emphatically.
Joshua is simply too fast, too powerful, too hungry and is fighting a man who barely threw a punch last time out. And it’s not just physically that Joshua holds the upper-hand.
Question marks remain over whether Klitschko really wants it. He was unravelled by the unpredictable nature of Fury and mentally was outfoxed before he was outboxed. Although Joshua hasn’t reverted to the same mind games and ‘Dr Steelhammer’ has talked a good fight, the complexion will change when a 41-year-old who hasn’t fought in well over a year tastes the power of a 27-year-old with the world at his feet and in his hands.
Klitschko has achieved everything and more but this fight will be a passing of the torch to a fighter whose glory days are just beginning.
ALAM KHAN (@alamkhan08) – WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
Ever since he lost his WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO titles to Tyson Fury in November, 2015, Wladimir Klitschko has talked of hurt.
This was not how he wanted to finish his career, the loss a dark stain he was desperate to remove.
For two years he has been in pain, constantly questioning how he could be beaten by someone like Fury. And that’s what makes him such a dangerous opponent for Anthony Joshua this Saturday. He is wounded, but a warrior, a winner and knows what it takes to be king of the ring once again.
Of course, Joshua is favourite and should win against a 41-year-old, but he hasn’t fought anyone as good, experienced or determined, as Klitschko.
In boxing, the underdog can always have his day and Klitschko will know that personally from his last experience. Against Fury, he was a massive favourite, but struggled to deal with the Briton’s tactics and was embarrassed. He will surely have learned from that.
This time he does not have to be the aggressor, nor, crucially, have the pressure of being expected to win and excite the fans.
That will now be Joshua’s burden and question marks remain about how he will handle that mentally. This is only his 19th fight and the eyes of the world – not just the 90,000 at Wembley – will be on him to become heavyweight boxing’s saviour.
For perspective, when Joshua made his winning professional debut in October 2013, Klitschko was in Moscow, defending his titles for the 22nd time.
With 68 fights, 64 victories, 53 knockouts, Klitschko has been there, seen it, done it, won it. He might be older, slower, but is of the same size and similar reach to Joshua so can hold his own in terms of trying to dictate the pace with his jab.
He can also, crucially, still deliver a decisive blow and, after being wobbled by Dillian Whyte, Joshua’s chin is suspect.
Klitschko will have to frustrate; jabbing, fending, holding, grappling, and if he makes him swing wildly and miss, the Ukrainian still has the ability to floor him or take a tight points decision.
The former champion has nothing to lose, everything to gain.
Brave CF landed in Abu Dhabi for their fourth installment, crowning their first ever Featherweight champion. The French-Algerian Elias Boudegzdame submitted Mexico’s Masio Fullen via a first-round triangle.
After a wild first round with both fighters getting dropped, Boudegzdame was able to lock in the triangle choke off his back, submitting Fullen and becoming Brave CF’s first ever champion.
Elias Boudegzdame (Algeria/France) Taps Masio Fullen (Mexico) in 1R to became first Brave CF FW Champion pic.twitter.com/7JaBE7RIV5— Jolassanda (@Jolassanda) March 31, 2017
The stacked card also included some of the Middle East’s finest as “The Pride of Palestine” Abdul Kareem Al Selwady scored a second round stoppage over Michael Deiga-Scheck sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Jordan’s Jarrah Al Silawi rallied back to out-grit SBG’s Daniele Scattizi in a bout where Silawi was able to use his agility and pace to get the closely contested decision.
Morocco’s Ottman Azaitar lived up to his nickname the “Bulldozer” when he ran through Charlie Leary, scoring the first round KO. He continues to be one of Brave’s most impressive fighters, improving to 2-0 under the banner. He won both the knockout of the night and fight of the night bonuses, stealing the show.
Arguably the most popular fighter in the Middle East, Mohammed Fakhreddine picked up a TKO (doctor’s stoppage) win after opening up a cut on top of Vinicius Cruz’s head. The medical staff stopped the fight due to the nasty gash giving Fakhreddine the stoppage win.
The card also featured a hard fought battle between UFC veterans Alan Omer and Robbie Peralta. Omer was able to use his takedowns late to secure a third round rear naked choke.
Six Arab fighters notched up standout wins in a night where the fighters made their mark on the ever growing sport of MMA.
Brave CF will land in Mumbai, India April 22 for their fifth show. The main event pits a welterweight match up between Carl Booth and Tahar Hadbi and the co-headliner will feature two of India’s best fighters, Abdul Muneer and Gurdarshan Mangat.