By Robert Hough
Anthony Joshua was sure he’d finished Vladimir Klitschko after dropping him in the fifth round of their heavyweight title fight. A round later, the Englishman was scraping himself off the Wembley Stadium canvas. The 28-year-old Englishman (19-0, 19 KOs), who finished that fight with an 11th-round TKO, fights again on Saturday, facing Carlos Takam (35-3-1, 27 KOs), with an enlightened perspective that’s come from the battle for the crown. The fight in Cardiff, Wales, will be shown live on Showtime at 5 pm ET.
“When you watch a George Foreman and Ron Lyle kind of fight or an Ali and Foreman fight where a bit of their soul and spirit disappears, I always wondered how they were doing it and how they were taking those shots,” Joshua said recently during a conference call. “You always question how, why, and what makes people do what they do. Until I went through it, I would always watch boxing, but now I don’t just watch it, I understand it. I know the thing that you can’t be taught is how to survive in the trenches I just feel like my heart is very big and I wear it on my sleeve in this sport.”
The man described by longtime British boxing pundit Steve Bunce as a “boxing baby” and described by his promoter as a “global brand” acknowledged that his approach is marketable.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win, that’s one thing. I just realized as well what the division needs because I think the masses of people can relate to a boxer’s life. It’s labor, you’re up early, working, you’re resting and providing for your family. There’s also the glitz and glamor of getting money but that disconnects from so many people. The wealthy people are one percent of the world, so people just want to see you fight. They want to see you go to war. That’s another thing I’ve learned… what people want and desire for in this sport to kind of bring the attention back to boxing. I don’t just do it, I don’t just watch it. I really understand it. I know what to do to deliver.”
What’s he’s not known in recent months was who he’d fight. There was a serious prospect of a Klitschko rematch, before the Ukrainian fighter retired. The deal was done to face Kubrat Pulev, who withdrew with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Takam.
The Frenchman strikes Joshua as more of a straightforward battler than Pulev.
“He’s veteran who takes a lot to give a lot,” said Joshua, the 2012 Olympic super-heavyweight gold medalist. “It’s just switching up my mindset about the style of fight I’m going to engage in now.”
The challenge of the late change in opponents is lessened by the approach taken in training, Joshua said.
“There was no point in my mind where I thought that I’m not going to compete or didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “A real bonus is that I always work on myself in the gym so I haven’t had like 100 Pulev clones coming to the gym. I haven’t been working just solely on the style to defeat Pulev. I’ve been working on improving on my weaknesses and building on my strengths. So, when I heard I wasn’t going to be fighting him and that the next guy in line was Takam, it was like OK, cool, because I’ve still been developing myself anyways.”
The show going on makes sense for various reasons, he said.
“I’m just happy that I don’t have to wait because it probably would have been March or April. That would have been a year out of the ring. I don’t think now is the time to be taking that much time out so I’m really grateful that the show could still go on.”
A lot of other people are affected, too, Joshua pointed out.
“I don’t want to take the opportunity from a lot of my friends on the undercard because they’re not going to make their money. Then you’ve got to think of the fans as well because there’s so many people that book hotels, travel, time off work. Before I think of myself, I think of all these other people that have come out to have a good time and are dependent on me.”
The show people want to see, the IBF and WBA champ acknowledged, is a fight with undefeated WBC champ Deontay Wilder.
Sounds good, Joshua said.
“What else am I going to do in 2018, provided that I don’t have any mandatories? I’ll be a free agent. If dealt with right, with Eddie Hearn and the U.S., I think it could be built to be something just like the Klitschko fight. It should be better.”
Having that fight in the USA could make sense, he added.
“I could tell you a million things but the reason I’m saying that is because I do have some real professional people in the background advising me. I can see it happening in the U.S. If you came to Wembley on April 29, you saw what that was like. It was phenomenal. That was really good. So, do we want to create that again or should we go overseas and do something new? It’s good to have options.”