By Asif ‘Doc’ Mahmood
On November 2015, when the unconventional but exceptional boxing skills of Tyson Fury dethroned long time lineal and unified heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it supposedly opened up the division and made it interesting again. As a result 2016 pledged to be an exciting year for heavyweight boxing with the eagerly awaited rematch between Fury and Wladimir along with Deontay Wilder’s date with destiny against Alexander Povetkin. Sadly we got neither. The latter due to Povetkin controversial drug tests and Tyson Fury’s cowardly route to avoiding Wladimir through self-inflicted drug use and playing the victim card soon after.
The most exciting fight of the year thus far was the hate-filled war between Chisora and Whyte with the latter edging a close decision where the veteran Chisora gained a lot of respect. I don’t think anyone would argue against seeing a rematch. However, both fighters in reality are short of world level in my opinion and Whyte will likely get stopped by a more skilful boxer.
The biggest heavyweight news of 2016 was ultimately the announcement of the rising star in world boxing, Anthony Joshua, against future hall-of-famer Wladimir Klitschko. The fight will be a sell out at Wembley stadium and likely smash UK box office records in terms of buys in addition to gate revenue. It certainly puts into perspective Joshua’s pulling power given that the Fury vs. Wladimir rematch only sold around 11,000 before Fury bottled it.
The fight between the two former Olympic gold medallists will take place on the 29th of April when Klitschko will be 41 years old. In addition to his growing age, he will be 16th months out of the ring and 24 months since his last win (over the then undefeated Bryant Jennings). In his last victory Wladimir showed signs of ageing, with a reluctance to throw punches.
This fight has got fight fans talking which is great for the sport. There are many theories and opinions with regards to who is the favourite, how the fight will pan out, is AJ still green or is Wladimir too old now (despite being a great physical specimen)?
In this piece I will be devil’s advocate and have a look at the pros of cons of both fighters but I will be making a case why Wladimir can win this and should not be overlooked for many reasons.
One of the obvious disadvantages is the age of Klitschko and it doesn’t take a genius to know that the body declines if anything a few years before. We rarely see footballers, cricketers and rugby players in their 40s. Even golfers and snooker players decline at this stage of their careers too. So it’s not just a physical decline but a mental decline whereby the thought process and concentration levels are not as sharp.
In Klitschko’s defence about his age one can make a case he lives an athlete’s lifestyle and keeps himself in excellent shape. Over the years he has proven to be a prime example in living the life one would expect of a dominant champion, which cannot be seen in other boxers at a similar age like Tony Thompson and even those younger such as Chisora, Arreola, Sam Peter, etc. These fighters have ballooned up in weight between fights and the results has been shown in lacklustre performances. One boxer who Wladimir could be compared to is his iron chinned brother Vitali Klitschko whom at the age of 40 was still in excellent condition to defeat Chisora, Charr and stop Adamek whom at the time was top a five heavyweight based on performances.
Cringe-fest: The two fighters announce their fight after Molina gets blown away
The next obvious thing people have been tweeting about is the fact that Wladimir will have been 16 months out of the ring by the time the fight comes round and that ring rust will play a factor. In theory yes this is also true but once again Klitschko goes against the exception. Vitali was out for FOUR years before returning to crush WBC champion Sam Peter (who came off a crushing victory over Maskaev) and showed no ring rust. Bear in mind he was returning at the age of 38 and not like Floyd Mayweather who was in his early 30s each time he returned from his hiatus and dominated world class opponents. Wladimir has also been in two intense camps where he looked sharp and powerful in preparation for putting Fury on his arse, so I don’t see any problem with his conditioning.
The next thing is, which itself may not be a big factor but amplified by the previous two discussion, he is coming off a loss where he looked poor against Tyson Fury. Now coming off a loss of that magnitude is significant but many boxers like Froch (vs. ward) have thrown themselves in at the deep end after a loss after being deemed damaged goods and recorded sensational victories (Bute).
With all this in mind there are many reasons why Wladimir can win, without pointing the finger at his opponent. Wladimir is known for his excellent jab which he has used to control fights and a lot of the previous great heavyweights prolonged their career with use of their jab. He is very good at staying out of range and utilising with what is in my opinion his biggest weapon. Next, his power, where he has one punch knockout power in both hands as seen with Pulev and Calvin Brock as examples. His power has unlikely diminished in any way given the way he looks and no one would argue against this.
This brings me on to his speed which includes both hand and foot speed. I will be the first to admit his hand speed has shown decline especially when I observed him in the build up to the Tyson Fury fight. Yes he looked quicker in training in preparation for his rematch but that is not significant anymore. It is fair to say his jab will be quicker than the super slow motion effect shown by Joshua’s previous opponents, especially Breazeale.
I think Wladimir has great footspeed, not just for a heavyweight into his forties but for any heavyweight.
Using his last fight as a benchmark, people forget despite his miserable offensive work that day (due to Tyson Fury’s excellent feints, head movement and even superior footwork) his own foot speed was decent. He was not easy to hit or pin down even against shorter nippier opponents such as David Haye and Alexander Povetkin. Wladimir uses his foot speed for defensive rather than offensive purposes, using his right foot to back out of range after jabbing or pressing into the opponent for the effective clinch. Yes he has been punched in the face by everyone over the last 10 years (with the exception of Mormeck) but has never really been troubled or rocked which is to his credit.
Finally, the last time a heavyweight fight had this feel to it was Klitschko vs. Haye where the latter was seen by the British public as the saviour of the heavyweight division but stank out the joint in Hamburg which didn’t help the many Brits who were already soaking in the rain.
Now let’s move on to why Wladimir can win the fight by pointing the finger in Joshua’s direction. All boxers have weaknesses and strengths but focusing on the former here is what would play to Wladimir’s advantage.
I’m not too fussed about Joshua’s lack of experience as he has destroyed whatever has been put in front of him and Tyson Fury also had a lack of quality opponents going into a fight of identical stature. Fury did however overcome adversity in knockdowns to Pajkic and Cunningham before getting off the canvas to stop them in emphatic fashion. This caused Fury to change his style to a back foot approach with effective jabbing, stinking the joint out but doing the job in hand.
There have been questions about Joshua’s chin and response to being punched hard on the face. We know about the sparring rumours which are now factual that Price dropped him hard. He was also recently dropped by a GB amateur boxer in sparring prior to the Molina fight announcement (which was the reason David Price was removed from the forefront). Like many boxers, when caught, Joshua’s legs turn very stiff and appear to be stuck in concrete. When his chin was checked by Whyte for the remainder of the round he was swinging wildly, almost causing himself to fall forward as his shoes were glued to the canvas and he shuffled his way back to his stool after the bell rang.
Joshua is a front-foot fighter but has changed his game after the Whyte fight where he now uses his jab more and keeps his range. However coming forward or going toe-to-toe will only play into Wladimir’s hands as he pops his jab and if he has the courage will let his right hand shoot down the middle instead of having to chase his opponent in the ring. Wladimir has been in many fights where he has had to chase the opponent like Rocky Balboa chases chickens, leading to anticlimactic fights. Examples of which include: Ibragimov, Chambers, Haye and Fury.
Joshua hasn’t really faced anyone who has tried to walk him down and I doubt the cautious Klitschko will either. It will be like cat and mouse out there for the first couple of rounds which is where both fighters will try to set the theme of the fight. Wladimir will clinch and use his strength to frustrate Joshua who will struggle as the fight goes the distance in my opinion. Joshua has to try and end this fight inside six rounds is the common theme fans are echoing about this match-up. Klitschko has good stamina as seen against Jennings, Povetkin and Wach but I must admit he looked tired versus Tyson Fury and I think his age is the reason for this.
The stage is set for both fighters. In Joshua’s case, the prodigal son, a sports personality and already a boxing icon stepping up in the biggest stage in boxing in front of 80,000 proud British fans. In Wladimir’s case, a legend bidding to overcome adversity, to overcome the dimension of time, to overcome the cauldron of boos he will experience on April 29 and to overcome the so-called Hype that surrounded the David Haye fight (if not more).
As we end I’m sure people would want a prediction from me which is tough as I have openly been a Klitschko supporter over the years. I was confident over all his opponents except against Tyson Fury. I feel Joshua is an easier fight for Wladimir but at the same time Joshua is a more dangerous fight than Tyson Fury (in terms of being knocked out). I think the fight will be over inside 5 rounds and that is where I will sit on the fence……#warwlad
Follow the Doc on Twitter @Doc_Asif
Photo Credits: Mirror.co.uk and Sky Sports