Pressure. It’s something we all deal with throughout our lives, a never ending tapping on the shoulder to succeed in life, so that we can prove our worth before our story ends. Though you doubt many humans, let alone sportsmen and women (outside the obvious examples) have to deal with the amount of pressure that Anthony Joshua has had to deal with in the past week. Endless questions about his next fight before he has even won the one in front of him. Having a hugely lucrative date booked at a major stadium next spring before you’re victorious in your upcoming fight. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people watching to scrutinise your performance and see if this is the night that the stream train flies off the tracks. All this while apparently nursing the flu.
This would be enough to make most go insane however much money they are making to endure all of the above. Imagine then sitting on your corner stool after just being rocked by a vicious right uppercut and left hand combination trying to soak in your trainers’ instructions as eighty thousand plus people in attendance wonder if the worst really is about to happen. Three or so minutes later there you are again after your nose continues to bleed after it has been busted open by a stray elbow from an opponent who seems intent on spoiling the party at any cost. A few minutes later, after being on the end of a booming overhand right, it’s a similar story. Thick waves of nervousness from the crowd might well begin to engulf your bones. Many might not get up for a fourth round, many might panic and end up tarnishing everything they have fought for in the past ten years. Anthony Joshua on Saturday night proved once more that he isn’t like many people, he’s carving himself into something quite different.
Twelve or so minutes later he had the referee’s arm across his chest informing him that he didn’t need to throw anymore punches tonight, no doubt sparking a wave of relief tinged euphoria around Wembley Stadium and beyond. For Joshua, it simply buys him some time before he has to do it all again, only with the stakes even higher. He will enjoy it though as this was a victory that was nearly as hard earned as his historic stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko in the same setting eighteen months previous.
His opponent on Saturday night, Alexander Povetkin, touted by many as the third best heavyweight in the world, tested Joshua far more than Joseph Parker did in April and produced a performance that would have finished off most fighters in the division. For the first two and a half rounds at least, hearts were firmly in mouths around Wembley as Joshua was repeatedly hit flush by a devastating Russian arsenal of blows. The shorter fighter, much like Carlos Takam, proved awkward for Joshua to get a handle on the in the early rounds and by the end of the first he was rocked by a right uppercut to left hook combination that sent shock waves around a rainy London night. Joshua was showcasing one of the reasons he why is so popular, the fact that he has evident flaws to his game.
Rounds two and three were almost as tense for British fans as ‘AJ’ was caught with a huge overhand right and forced to hold on in the second. It wasn’t quite crisis mode but it wasn’t far from it as nothing significant seemed to be coming back Povetkin’s way, Joshua was simply having to damage control the situation and to his huge credit he managed to do so. By the end of the third he began to establish his firm jab to both the head and body as his game opponent continually looked to land power punches.
During rounds four to six, much like he did versus Joseph Parker, AJ began to box rather than brawl, delivering hurting jabs up and downstairs while still being reluctant to throw his jackhammer of a right hand. Though looking back now at how the fight finished, what looked at the time like a tentative approach is now surely better described as a patient one. The twenty-two rounds traveled versus tricky opponents in his two last fights clearly helped Joshua to gradually break his opponent down. Povetkin, though now clearly tiring, was still trying to wind up and land a KO punch whenever he could. Meaning that there was still a real danger in the air as both men returned to their corners at the halfway point of the contest.
By now though Joshua, with arguably the last three rounds under his belt, had weathered the early storm and soon would it be his thunder that his opponent would have to deal with. After more jostling for superiority by both men, a now trademark right hand rocked Povetkin before an all out assault from Joshua culminating in a big left hook knocked Povetkin to the floor sending Wembley into delirium. Ridiculously brave and tough as ever, the Russian beat the ten count but, much like versus Klitschko, Joshua made sure he didn’t let his dangerous opponent off the hook and the fight was stopped amidst more vicious blows being delivered to Povetkin as he was trapped against the ropes.
Familiar scenes of huge smiles, fist bumps and iconic shots of Joshua with his belts followed and you assume a palpable sense of relief swept across his immediate team, knowing how important a test this was to overcome. As usual in his post fight interview AJ was peppered with questions of ‘who’s next?’ and regardless of what he said to the adoring crowd, in truth at this moment he can’t really know who he will face off against next spring. Tyson Fury’s temporary hijacking of a fight with Deontay Wilder means that various things are still up in the air in terms of who Joshua will face on April 13th. A short list of Wilder, Dillian Whyte, Tyson Fury and possibly Jarrel Miller has emerged. Joshua and fight fans alike hope that it’s the first name on that list who Joshua will finally face off with after a long period of frustrating negotiations. For that to happen for sure though AJ’s promoter Eddie Hearn must try to repair fraught relations with Wilder’s team and put together one of the biggest fights in heavyweight boxing history and this is all if Wilder beats Fury in December 1st.
So Joshua’s next opponent remains unclear yet what it is apparent is that with every fight he wins, the bigger he gets and the subsequently the more he has to lose. Saturday night’s fight and under card if anything, showed once more how outrageously huge the draw of Anthony Joshua now is in the sporting world. His shows have sold over three hundred thousand tickets for his last four fights before he hasn’t thought about bothering to break America. The fireworks, the crowd, the drama the show brings, it’s all phenomenal. However, so is the pressure set on a fighter who is still learning both his craft and from his mistakes despite now surely being the sports’ biggest name. Now that the crowd has emptied and the hype will die down for a few weeks ,let’s hope that some take the time to remember that. Yet when you look at the scenes from Saturday night and think about is likely to come, you can only see the Anthony Joshua’s journey getting wilder and wilder.
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