By: Sean Crose
The last time the world saw Anthony Joshua in the ring, the Englishman cruised to victory over New Zealand’s Joseph Parker. Throngs of people had gathered live and in person to watch the reputed best big man in boxing ply his trade that March evening in Wales. They were not disappointed. Although he didn’t score a knockout, Joshua let the tens upon tens of thousands gathered in Cardiff know that he was numero uno in boxing’s most historically esteemed division. It was most certainly a shining moment for the undefeated (now 21- 0) champion. Since that time not all that long ago, however, things have changed.
There’s a perception throughout much of the fight world that Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn have been, if not outright avoiding, then dragging their heels regarding a major unification bout with American knockout artist (and WBC champ) Deontay Wilder. Although many, if not most, feel a battle between the two men is inevitable, some of the shine of Joshua’s heretofore sterling reputation has clearly waned. The fact that Wilder appears ready, eager and willing to get it on with former undefeated heavyweight king Tyson Fury only serves to make team Joshua look more suspect. Eagerness on the parts of the two most highly regarded heavyweights not named Joshua to face off simply puts Joshua’s seeming standoffishness to face Wilder in stark relief.
Still, Joshua is certainly not taking on a cherry picked opponent when he faces Russia’s 34-1 Alexander Povetkin this Saturday night at London’s Wembley Stadium. Povetkin, whose only loss came to a younger Wladimir Klitschko than the one who almost bested Joshua in a classic not so long ago, is considered one of the top operators in the heavyweight division. He’s been popped for PED use several times, but Eddie Hearn has told the media Povetkin has been thoroughly tested in the lead up to this weekend’s bout. Povetkin last fought on the same Cardiff card Joshua did, smashing the well-known David Price in the fifth round of a title eliminator. In short, Povetkin is Joshua’s mandatory, not some tuneup opponent.
Now within days of the fight, Joshua makes it clear he knows the bloom is somewhat off the rose of his reputation – at least for the moment. “I can’t please everyone anymore,” the IBF, WBO, and WBA champ, ever the level head, told the BBC, “so I get that and so it’s my game now.” Joshua is widely regarded to have proved himself a true top level champion after getting up off the mat in his war with Klitschko in 2017. He doesn’t appear willing to let the shots of naysayers lay him out now. “Either I get stronger from it,” he said of his criticism, “or I get drained by it.” Say what one will about the 28-year-old, he’s not known to drain easily.