Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As Anthony Joshua prepares to defend his IBF heavyweight world title against American Dominic Breazeale on Saturday, we ask writers Mark Bailey and Matt Blake if the Olympic champion is Britain’s best-ever in the making…
YES! He’s Britain’s greatest in the making
“He’s not at Lewis’ level yet, but he’s only 26 and way ahead of schedule” – Mark Bailey, sports writer, Virgin Media
He’s already beaten Lennox Lewis (sort of)
When Anthony Joshua obliterated American beefcake Charles Martin in 272 seconds of blood-curdling fury to take the IBF World Heavyweight title in London in April, the Watford pugilist was appearing in only his 16th professional fight. To put that stat into perspective, Joshua won his first major world title faster than not only British legend Lennox Lewis (22 fights) but also the late, great Muhammad Ali (20 fights). Since turning pro in July 2013 – a year after winning super-heavyweight gold at the London 2012 Olympics – he needed just 34 rounds to go from pro debutant to world champ. No, of course he is not at Lewis’ level yet – we’re talking about the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world – but Joshua is only 26 years old and way ahead of schedule.
He has a 100% knockout record
Just like Lewis, Joshua wields a devastating combination of power and mobility that history has shown can produce greatness in the ring. He is a 6ft 6in, 17st 6lb mountain of muscle whose punches detonate with the force of anti-tank missiles, but he is surprisingly agile, too. Joshua has copied Lewis' habit of playing chess to develop his strategic thinking in the ring, but it’s his power that will shake up the boxing world. As promoter Barry Hearn has said: “Whenever Anthony hits you, you’re gone. Say goodnight and don’t leave the milk bottles on the step because you are going to be having a lie-in.”
He’s a marketing dream
To be a true superstar like Lennox Lewis a boxer needs the image to match. And Joshua’s raw power and refusal to engage in trash talk means he appeals to boxing purists and the wider public alike. While the Klitschko brothers send fans to sleep faster than a tactical chat with Louis van Gaal, and Tyson Fury irritates people with his obscene outbursts, Joshua has the looks and charisma to become a global icon.
He has the nasty streak a heavyweight needs
Joshua knows that a heavyweight is expected to whip up more carnage than a Box Set of The Walking Dead. We saw a vicious edge from Joshua against Dillian Whyte last December when he rained late blows after the bell had rung, and again when he grinned after knocking down Charles Martin. “People pay to see blood,” he said recently. “They pay to see war.”
Even Lennox Lewis thinks he’s awesome
When former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko sparred with Joshua in 2014 he described him as the most talented boxer he had seen for 25 years. Four-time super-middleweight champion Carl Froch reckons he has the same ring presence as Lennox Lewis. And even Lewis himself admires Joshua’s “strength, reach and stature” and insists he has “the determination to get to the top of the heavyweight division”. When the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world says Joshua is the real deal, it’s best to just nod and agree.
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NO! There’ll never be another Lennox
“Lewis was a giant of giants, a tree of a man made of solid oak and fire” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
Lennox Lewis was the greatest boxer of all time
I’m not saying Joshua is a bad fighter. He is unquestionably great. But to call him the next Lennox Lewis is to call him the next greatest boxer in European history. For the best part of a decade, Lewis made some of the world’s most terrifying man-giants collapse like thumb puppets at a toy fair. He was a giant of giants, a tree of a man made of solid oak and fire. His combination of size and athleticism ushered in a new era of the “super-heavyweight”. I mean, this was a man so fearsome he once literally made the fighter Oliver McCall cry during a fight, for goodness' sake.
His opponents have been unimpressive
Tyson Fury this week branded Joshua’s previous opponents “big old lumps who couldn’t make it in basketball so they turned to boxing”. Well, it took just two rounds in April for Charles Martin to fold into the canvas. And most of his other opponents have been similarly lo-fi – a string of bewildered understudies thrust blinking into the spotlight without a script. So let’s cool down until Joshua fights a truly world-class prizefighter.
Has he got the chin?
The Lennox Lewis “glass-jaw” theory is as fragile as the chin it purports to lampoon. The only two opponents who ever beat him did so with lucky single punches – and neither could do it at the second time of asking. He bludgeoned some of boxing’s biggest hitters, from Mike Tyson to Vitali Klitschko. Joshua, however, wobbled significantly against Dillian Whyte, clearly a lesser fighter, last December. He ground out a TKO in the seventh, but it raised eyebrows over his ability to take a punch. That was the only time he’s ever gone beyond three rounds. Against a tougher fighter, he might not seem so sturdy.
Nice guys never win
I really like Anthony Joshua: that winning smile, the choirboy manners, his unwillingness to be drawn into anything so uncouth as pre-fight trash talk. I, for one, would like to take him to the cinema, then for an ice-cream to chat about it afterwards. We could become mates and talk about our feelings. Trouble is, nice guys never win. They say he showed a killer instinct against Whyte, but it wasn’t enough to convince me he’s got the darkness to beat the best. I want to see him unleash the fury. I want to see Anthony Joshu-evil.
Boxing’s not what it used to be
Boxing’s changed. The gilded era of Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman – the ferocity, ringcraft and the sense each man was fighting for his life as much as his livelihood – is dead. The silver years of ear-biting and box office hate of Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis are gone. So we’re left with Tyson Fury. It’s hard to compare Joshua to the greats of yesteryear, when his most daunting prospect is a man who described himself as a “fat man” and a “disgrace” to athletes.
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