After seven hard-fought rounds, both fighters oblivious to the torrential rain pouring onto Wembley, Anthony Joshua introduced the next phase of his boxing journey: “This is chapter two” he told the sodden yet ecstatic crowd. For many that’s exactly what Joshua’s duel with Povetkin was: an introduction to Joshua 2.0, an appetiser for the blockbuster fights between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. After yet another knockout victory, the speculation as to who’s next can resume.
However, this wasn’t a routine victory for Joshua. Coming into this fight, Povetkin had won 34 out of 35 professional fights and, like Joshua, taken Olympic gold at super-heavyweight. At 39 years, his age may have started to creep into his joints and dull his reflexes, but it has also given him formidable experience.
Povetkin began by scything into Joshua’s nose with a bulldozing uppercut. Povetkin then worked the ring, unnerving Joshua as his compact frame expertly weaved through Joshua’s jabs and crosses. Joshua’s jab proved ineffective at wearing Povetkin down, instead serving as a gauge of the distance between them and allowing Joshua to unload his power shots as Povetkin’s defence opened.
In the end though, Joshua’s mentality and power overcame the Russian. He came to life in round seven, refocusing after having fought the previous six rounds with the air of someone with one eye on the TV, punishing Povetkin with a searing right cross followed by a left hook to destroy Povetkin’s hopes of securing three championship belts and a monumental upset.
The sight of Povetkin collapsing into the ropes made the contest appear more comfortable for Joshua than it really was, but that’s what makes Joshua such a danger. His ability to hold out while being out-boxed and then explode as his opponent fades is as much to do with his mentality as his physical prowess. Which brings us to the big question: ‘Who’s next?’ 13 April has already been earmarked as the date for his next fight, but his opponent remains undecided.
The one name on everyone’s lips is Deontay Wilder, the big-hitting American, who if it weren’t for the merry-go-round that is boxing promotion would surely have been Joshua’s opponent instead of Povetkin. Wilder is due to fight Tyson Fury, another British challenger in December, with the winner in strong contention to go toe to toe with Joshua come spring.
Also in the picture is Dillian Whyte, who has improved immensely since Joshua knocked him out in 2015. However, this would feel anticlimactic. In Wilder and Fury, Joshua has the two greatest obstacles on his path to supremacy of the sport. Wilder is the only heavyweight who can match Joshua’s punching power and knockout knowhow. Although his technical ability is frequently called into question, his 40-0 record represents a formidable threat.
Even more intriguing is Tyson Fury, who lacks the bludgeoning force of Wilder but compensates with an intelligence and speed that could pose even more of a challenge. One of Fury’s sparring partners has compared being in the ring with him to ‘fighting an octopus’ as his speed and reach confound and damage simultaneously.
Of course, as with anything in boxing, much depends on the egos of the men (it’s still almost always men) who write the contracts. Barry Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, has said that the winner of Wilder v Fury will face Joshua “subject to terms, without a problem in the world” in April. Whether Fury’s or Wilder’s teams will agree to these terms is another fight in itself. The merry-go-round circles on.
Image: Kristin Wall via Flickr