By: Ste Rowen
September has already given us the return of ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Superfly 3 and Canelo/GGG 2, so you could be forgiven for forgetting that this weekend sees the unified heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, return to the ring to face the under-the-radar threat of Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium.
It feels a long time since AJ added the WBO to his ever-expanding belt collection, which is now only missing Deontay Wilder’s WBC and the vacant Ring Magazine title, but it seems an age ago since Povetkin took on Wladimir Klitschko in 2013 for his first, and so far, only attempt at the full world championship belts.
By some, the Russian was hailed as the chosen one, the man who could end the Klitschko brother’s heavyweight duopoly. He entered the pro ranks riding a wave of hype having won gold medals at the 2003 world championship and the 2004 Athens Olympics. Fighting between Germany and Russia, Alexander steadily built his record with wins over gatekeepers and fringe contenders but when his breakout happened, it happened quickly.
In 2007, just 2 years as a professional, Povetkin, at 13-0, took on Chris Byrd, who 18 months previous, had been stopped in seven rounds by the now, IBF champion, Wladimir Klitschko. That night in Erfurt, Alex engaged in an entertaining back and forth with the American southpaw until ultimately forcing the stoppage in the 11th round. Just three months later, the Russian was back in the ring to take on 30-0, Eddie Chambers. This time in Berlin, the rising star from the East completely dominated Chambers. The only thing missing was the knockout.
It didn’t matter too much, from there it was all about biding his time, staying busy until he was finally given his shot at either Klitschko. By the time of the Moscow bout, ‘Sasha’ was 26-0, held the WBA ‘Regular’ title, and had added names to his growing record such as Ruslan Chagaev, Marco Huck, a faded Hasim Rahman and an unbeaten Andrzej Wawrzyk.
But in the end, Wladimir was a bridge too far. Dropped four times en route to a unanimous decision defeat, the Ukrainian was a level above. All of ‘Sasha’s’ best attributes were nullified; unable to land his looping overhand-right, rarely successful with left hooks to the body and what seemed most demoralising of all, Klitschko’s size eradicating the 2004 gold medallist’s attempts inside. It’s an issue Povetkin will no doubt have worked on in preparation for facing another bigger man in Joshua.
‘‘I need to work on my conditioning…Just a single punch could’ve turned it all upside-down…I lost the battle, but I’ll win the war.’’ Povetkin said post-fight that night, perhaps more hopeful than realistic. He never got the opportunity for revenge and ever since the Klitschko loss it’s felt as if the current WBA’s #2, has been in search of a big-name fighter to propel him into boxing’s mainstream and redeem himself for that defeat. It should have been Wilder, but the Russian has only himself to blame for those bouts falling through.
Whatever your views on Povetkin’s suspect history with PEDs, purely in terms of resume of opponents to earn another shot at a full world title; since 2014, ‘Sasha’ has those names, including stoppages over Carolos Takam, Manuel Charr, Mariusz Wach and most recently a chilling two-punch destruction of David Price on the Joshua-Parker undercard in March.
At today’s press conference, Alexander, like the rest of the build up to this bout, continued to be understated,
‘‘I’ve been concentrating on strength and endurance…There’s nothing else to add. The fight will show everything that we’ve got.’’
‘‘When I fought Klitschko I was much weaker and much worse shape than I am now…I never like to say what will happen ahead of time. You will see everything on Saturday night.’’
The Russian, currently 34-1 (24KOs), will step into the ring with what many view as no more than a puncher’s chance. Perhaps the lack of hype heading into his 2nd super fight will see the 39-year-old excel.
Joshua is already set for yet another Wembley stadium bout in April 2019, where the opponent is expected to be Dillian Whyte in a rematch of their 2015 domestic dustup. It’s up to ‘Sasha’ to scupper those plans and upset the masses.