Fans deserve a better candidate for “Fight of the Century” than the vegan feast that was Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao
TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
BETWEEN them they’ve stepped through the ropes as professionals 61 times and gone the distance only twice. Neither has yet lost.
One stands 1.98 metres tall and calls Watford in Hertfordshire home. The other tops out at 2.01 metres and hails from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
They own an Olympic medal each, having won gold in London in 2012 and bronze in Beijing in 2008.
“AJ” is the unimaginative nickname of one. The other calls himself “The Bronze Bomber” with reference to his Olympic gong. And Joe Louis, of course.
One is the best active heavyweight in the world according to The Ring magazine, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and Boxrec.com. The other is No. 2 on the same lists.
They are Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua and Deontay Leshun Wilder, and they are the closest thing heavyweight boxing has to the glory days when giants like Louis — “The Brown Bomber” — Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes roamed the ring.
So fight fans have something special to savour in the shape of Joshua vs Wilder, coming soonish to a sold-out, pay-per-viewed to the hilt arena not near you, fellow South Africans.
It’s early days yet in what will become a soap opera of bluff and bluster long before a glove is laced, but on April 10 Joshua said he would make Wilder “a very good offer” that included the option of a rematch. Yank or not, Joshua favoured Wembley or Cardiff as the venue for the initial clash.
Boxing needs this fight like a vampire needs blood. For one thing, it’s high time the heavyweight division stopped being a sad, slobbish joke. For another, the fans deserve a better candidate for “Fight of the Century” than the vegan feast that was Floyd “Unhittable, Unlikeable, Uncredible” Mayweather vs Manny “Overrated, Overblown, Over the Hill” Pacquiao in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015. For still another, when last has a high-profile boxer enthusiastically wanted to mix it with someone who could actually beat him? Michael Buffer is getting ready to rumble as we speak.
Joshua first became what is these days unseriously called a world champion by knocking out the previously unbeaten Charles Martin in the second round in London on April 9, 2016 to earn the International Boxing Federation title.
He has since added to his mantlepiece the versions of the same party hat — let’s not call it a crown — proffered by the International Boxing Organisation, the World Boxing Association and the World Boxing Organisation.
After laying out Martin, Joshua has reeled off five victories — four of them inside the distance, and one of those easily 2017’s fight of the year. And for every year since 1989 and Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns.
Wembley Stadium was crammed with 90 000 fans on April 29 last year, and Joshua’s opponent was the man whose presence in the ring proved how pathetic heavyweight boxing had become: Wladimir Klitschko, a fighter so robotically boring he spat not blood but 3-In-One oil between rounds, who knew he was too dull to live up to his sexier given name of Volodymyr Volodymyrovych Klychko, who at 41 was and had been a “world champ” of one flavour or other since 2000.
His brother, Vitali and equally indistinguishable as a fighter from a bowl of cold porridge, had won his first so-called “world title” the year before. He sullied a ring with his lack of presence for the last time in Moscow on September 8, 2012, when his ninth WBC title defence was stopped in the fourth because too much of the red stuff was leaking from Manuel Charr’s slashed eyebrow.
About the only interesting thing the Klitschko klutzes could have done was fight each other. They didn’t.
So the bad dream that was the Klitschko years seemed to be over on November 28, 2015 in Dusseldorf, where Tyson Fury — now there’s a sexy name — won a unanimous decision over the unloved and unlovable Ukrainian in a miserable drunk wedding dance of a fight.
Still, there was hope that Klitschko had, not a decade too soon, been knocked the hell out of boxing.
Except that Tyson agreed to a rematch before announcing, on October 3, 2016, a week after ESPN reported that he had tested positive for cocaine, “Boxing is the saddest thing I ever took part in, all a pile of shit, I’m the greatest, champ; I’m also retired …” This he said, like all the classy guys do, on Twitter.
But, unhappily, Tyson was right and we weren’t rid of Klitschko after all. There he was, reinstated as a champion and having his batteries checked and his nuts and bolts tightened and being hoisted by an invisible forklift into the ring at Wembley on April 29 to face Joshua, who had reeled off 18 straight KOs or TKOs, most of them against people who would have been fired on day one if boxing was a proper job.
Then a wonderful thing happened: Joshua flattened the robot with a furious flurry in the fifth. Only for the machine to come whirring back to life and deck Joshua in the sixth. But, in the 11th, Joshua flicked Klitschko’s off switch twice, putting him on the canvas both times. He was flailing away at this parked 4×4 on the ropes when the referee, David Fields, the gods bless him, intervened to end one of boxing’s most forgettable eras.
At 32 Wilder is four years older than Joshua and has had 40 fights, almost twice as many as the younger man’s 21.
He doesn’t have a Klitschko in his kitbag, but he does have a hard-fought 10th-round TKO win over Luis Ortiz in Brooklyn last month.
Ortiz, 12.5 kilogrammes heavier, seven years older and with — he says — 369 amateur fights behind him in his native Cuba to add to his 30 pro bouts, went down in the fifth.
But he rose to rock Wilder with a wicked left in the seventh, which he was lucky to escape on his feet what with the referee — that man Fields again — looking keen to call a halt.
Cunningly, Wilder used the eighth and ninth to recuperate, tagging Ortiz with a stinging right towards the end of the latter.
That set up the finalé, and Ortiz was floored twice in the 10th. The second time Fields jumped in and cried mercy.
We have, then, in Joshua and Wilder men who don’t just come to fight but come to fight watchable fights. Given that they are high calibre fighters besides, that makes them precious.
There is a suspicion among boxing’s denizens that Wilder may be the tougher of the two, and maybe only because he has gone 123 rounds to Joshua’s 77. And because Joshua has done more flashy talking than Wilder, who tends to shut up and fight. Or sound like he should when he doesn’t.
They are living different versions of what might be called the boxing life.
Joshua, a former bricklayer, has had brushes with the law for speeding, possession of marijuana and for what he called “fighting and other crazy stuff”.
Wilder has three children with his former wife, Jessica Scales-Wilder and is expecting a fourth with his fiancé, Telli Swift, a star of “WAGS Atlanta”.
That said, Joshua is a keen chess player and a part owner of an upmarket gym in larney Chiltern Street in Marylebone, London.
Wilder was all set to be a gridiron or basketball star at the University of Alabama when his daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida. Instead he went to a less prestigious but nearby community college, where sport was nowhere near as important.
Maybe boxing and boxers are changing: these days Vitali Klitschko is the mayor of Kiev.