by Johnny Walker
In the United States at least, the boxing public has largely forgotten about the heavyweight division, not because the division is not worth watching, but because that which has traditionally been the domain ruled by American fighters has become instead foreign territory.
First Canadian/Brit Lennox Lewis, then the Ukrainian Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, giant heavyweights all, took over the division and remade it in their own image(s), all three men being skilled behemoths with whom talented but smaller men like American Eddie Chambers, to name only one of many, could not compete. Put the eras of Lewis and the Klitschkos together, and it’s been a long time since an American was dominant as heavyweight champion of the world.
While America has some heavyweight prospects currently–the most visible and voluble being Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs), himself a giant heavyweight at nearly 6’7″ tall–there remains a good deal of cynicism about an American actually taking back the division: after all, the previously hyped heavyweight preceding Wilder, Seth Mitchell, fell apart like Humpty Dumpty when his chin was tested and found wanting.
If anything, it seems like the United Kingdom and not America has the most ready supply of heavyweights with a chance to establish, if not a Klitschko-like reign, a period of dominance when current champion Wladimir either hangs ’em up or gets old in the ring. Tyson Fury, David Price, David Haye, and Dereck Chisora all have designs on the heavyweight championship, and have been skewering each other, more in the media than in the ring, for some time already.
This past weekend, however, perhaps saw the start of something even more exciting in the UK for the heavyweight divison, as Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua took a step up in competition and completely dismantled a rugged veteran in Denis Bakhtov.
Joshua (9-0, 9 KOs) walked through the historically hard-to-stop Bakhtov like he wasn’t even there, putting together punches in a way seldom seen from big (6’6″) heavyweights, taking the veteran apart with a wicked grin on his face. By half-way through round one, Bakhtov was in big trouble, his face rapidly reddening, a cut opening by his left eye. Bakhtov seemed hurt by just about every punch the Briton threw, and by 1:00 of round two, with Bakhtov under heavy fire from a barrage of Joshua punches, referee Ian John-Lewis took mercy on the veteran and called the fight off, giving Anthony Joshua his first title, the WBC International heavyweight belt.
No wonder promoter Eddie Hearn was babbling about Joshua taking over the heavyweight world immediately after the fight, though the modest fighter is very careful not to get ahead of himself, always respecting his opponents and looking only toward his next fight. Perhaps Joshua saw what happened when countryman David Price, himself an Olympic bronze medallist and a giant at 6’8″ tall, began believing in his own hype. Price was giving interviews reflecting on his future reign as heavyweight champion when American veteran Tony Thompson brought his world crashing down, beating Price in two successive fights via stoppage.
Joshua is not about to fall into that same trap. But Hearn’s excitement about his charge’s prospects are shared by this writer. Joshua seems to be a cut above the competition already–Wladimir Klitschko himself touts Joshua as a future champ–and his take-it-slow approach should mean that there won’t be any nasty surprises of the Tony Thompson variety around the corner.
Joshua, who turns 25 this week, is due to take on British veteran Michael Sprott on November 22, completing what he calls “the first phase” of his pro career.
““That fight will complete a phase in my mind,” Joshua explains.
“People have been saying since my second fight ‘he needs to stop fighting tin cans’ and all that, it takes time though and if I keep beating people then I am going to move up, so if I beat Michael then I am sure we’ll be stepping up in 2015. We’ve done Bakhtov and got the WBC International belt and now we’re looking at Sprott, so by the end of 2015 it will be interesting to see where we are.”
What may lie ahead for the rising heavyweight is the aforementioned David Price, who was at ringside for the Joshua-Bakhtov massacre in the role of TV analyst.
Price, while impressed with Joshua to this point, also feels that he brings the kind of firepower that could derail the Joshua Express to the top.
The normally reserved Scouse heavyweight even went so far as to suggest a decapitation could be in store for Joshua should they meet in the ring.
“I’m not this durable fighter, who comes in to get rounds in,” Price warns.
“I’ll be going in to take his head off his shoulders type of thing, without sounding too manic. I’ll be going out with the same intentions as Anthony Joshua. It will be an explosive fight.”
“Explosive” should indeed continue to be the word to describe Anthony Joshua’s career.
And America may have to wait another decade for a return to heavyweight dominance should Joshua live up to his very great potential. Right now, the sky is the limit.