By: Ciaran O’Mahony
Boxing fans have been spoiled over the last month with many of the heavyweight division’s biggest names in action, including Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker, Luis Ortiz, Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte and Lucas Browne. All eyes were on Joshua and Wilder though as they faced major tests that could derail their highly anticipated unification bout.
Of all the heavyweights in action, Joshua was the biggest winner, adding another heavyweight belt to his collection with a solid but uninspiring victory over Joseph Parker at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff last week.
Boxing purists praised Joshua’s performance as he fought a safe and intelligent fight against a dangerous opponent. He kept Parker on the end of his jab, nullified his speed advantage and landed the cleaner, harder shots, while keeping himself out of harm’s way. Parker had his moments but he never really got going, struggling to close the distance or do any damage on the inside.
Joshua has been hailed as the future of the heavyweight division for some time and his latest victory will keep that hype and momentum going, but this was not the type of performance we expected.
He came into the fight with a reputation as a knockout artist, but it’s safe to say fans felt a little underwhelmed by the fight. Many predicted that it wouldn’t go the distance and Joshua’s perfect knockout record as well as his epic war with Waldimir Klitshcko, gave us reason to believe it would be a brutal, action-packed affair. Add in the animosity between both camps and you’d be forgiven for expecting Joshua and Parker to slug it out, toe-to-toe, until only one of them was left standing.
Nonetheless, Joshua got the job done, coming through unscathed and showing another dimension of his game. It turns out he’s not just a power-puncher, he’s one of the best pure boxers in the heavyweight division.
For all the positives though, the fight also suggested that Joshua may not be able to dominate the division’s truly elite fighters the same way he did lesser opponents.
Wilder claimed the most important victory of his career against the undefeated Cuban, Luis Ortiz, at the Barclays Center, New York, just a month ago. Many felt this would be a difficult test for the bronze bomber, who had been criticised for facing weak opposition in the past.
Ortiz was avoided by all of the big names in the division due to his excellent amateur pedigree, boxing ability and knockout power. All of these attributes were evident on the night as Wilder struggled to figure the Cuban out and found himself in trouble on a number of occasions. For the first five rounds he struggled to land anything of note on the Cuban, who controlled the pace of the fight and forced him backwards constantly.
Then in the seventh round, Wilder was rocked multiple times and found himself trapped on the ropes, desperately hanging on amid a flurry of brutal shots from Ortiz. Although he survived, he seemed headed for a loss on points until he stopped the Cuban in the 10th round.
Like all great champions do, Wilder overcame adversity, patiently waiting for the opening he needed, even as the 12th round drew nearer. He didn’t panic or let his frustrations get the better of him while he was being outboxed.
The American was clearly confident that the opening he was looking for would eventually come and when it did, he made Ortiz pay. In the end, the fight didn’t tell us anything new about Wilder’s strengths and weaknesses, which boxing experts have picked apart for some time. However, we saw how he responds under pressure against top-level opposition and he passed that test with flying colours.
Strengths and weaknesses of both fighters
Wilder is a gifted 6’7”athlete with good speed for his size, exceptional strength, solid cardio and proven knockout power. But many have criticised his technique, particularly the wild, windmill punches he throws when he is chasing a knockout. They are certainly not easy on the eye and Wilder often leaves his chin out when he throws them.
His defence is also poor, leaving him highly susceptible to good counter-punchers who can cope with his attacks.
Despite his length and reach, lesser fighters than Joshua have been able to close the distance against Wilder, which is a major concern.
His weaknesses are well-documented, but Wilder uses his power and athleticism extremely effectively and few fighters are able to survive when he starts swinging at them, wildly or not. The big question mark around him was always whether his power and ferocity could also overwhelm the division’s true elite. His victory over one of the most skilled and feared heavyweights in the world went a long way towards answering that question.
Joshua is 6’6” and has made a habit of demolishing his opponents early, knocking out all but five of his 21 opponents within three rounds.
The consensus among the experts is that Joshua has better fundamentals than Wilder and his ability to control the pace of the fight is one of his biggest strengths.
His string of knockouts are not just down to his power, but also his excellent positioning and tactical awareness. He puts fighters on the back foot and in awkward positions where they are forced to commit to risky shots that leave them open to a knockout blow. This could spell danger for Wilder as ring positioning is one of his biggest weaknesses.
He allows his opponents to walk him down far too easily for a fighter of his size and he gave up a lot of ground against Ortiz. He was backing up so much that he couldn’t land a significant counter and if he does the same against Joshua, he will be in all sorts of trouble.
Joshua certainly has defensive weaknesses too. He looked quicker and sharper against Parker after weighing in 12 pounds lighter than his previous fight against Carlos Takam, but his lack of head movement is a major weakness that could be exploited.
When you are fighting someone as outsized as Parker it’s not as much of an issue, but Wilder has the length and the awkward, loopy style to take advantage of it. Joshua’s poor head movement could also leave him susceptible to Wilder’s underrated jab, which he didn’t use very effectively against Ortiz, mainly because the Cuban is a southpaw, but Joshua is an orthodox fighter. If Joshua fails to avoid the jab, he will likely be vulnerable to a straight right-hand, which could prove fatal against someone with Wilder’s power.
It’s hard to say who will win this fight when it finally happens. Joshua is certainly the favourite, but not an overwhelming one. It’s not quite a 50-50 fight, but it’s pretty damn close.
One thing’s for sure, boxing fans are eager to see these two battle it out for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world sooner rather than later.