Anthony Joshua’s rags to riches tale has seen the London based fighter garner an astronomical and adoring fan base not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the world. The former Olympic Gold medalist currently sits atop a stacked heavyweight division, with three of the four World Heavyweight Championships available under his possession.
This Saturday he lays each of those titles on the line as he is set to go into battle with Kubrat Pulev, his mandatory challenger. This in my opinion marks the beginning of a pivotal chapter that will determine the fate and legacy of Joshua’s seven year professional career.
Ever since sealing Olympic Gold for Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics, AJ has seemingly captured the hearts of the nation, with many hailing him as a national treasure after his rapid rise to the apex of the Boxing industry. As a result his social media following and carefully crafted public image has seen him become one of the most marketable athletes in the world, as he holds an abundance of sponsorship deals with the likes of Lucozade, Under Armour, and Beats By Dre.
It is certainly an inspiring tale when you read upon the history of Joshua, who was destined for a life of crime before he saw the error of his ways and decided to pour his time and energy into the art form of professional Boxing.
His war with Wladimir Klitschko in 2017 where he won all the heavyweight titles available will go down in folklore. The hungry young lion engaged in a knock down, drag out brawl with the elder statesman of the division in Wladimir Klitschko, as many had questioned Joshua’s ability to hang with an elite fighter such as the 41 year old Ukrainian.
Joshua duly delivered on his budding reputation and recovered from an early thunderous knockdown to win via TKO in a classic encounter, roared by a jam packed 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium.
We seemingly had a new hero in the sport, AJ was a household name and for the first time since Frank Bruno it seemed as though an emotional bond had been created between us the fans and Joshua himself. It was hard not to root for the charismatic street kid made good, who was crowned the new World Heavyweight Champion after just 15 professional fights.
After the match up Joshua called out Tyson Fury for the battle that everyone wanted to see and yet three years later in 2020 it has failed to materialise, and this is where I believe you can trace AJ’s downturn in public perception back to in some quarters.
His Boxing ability has been questioned ever since that thrilling victory as consequently he has somehow failed to square off against any of the true players of the heavyweight division.
Following on from the victory over Klitschko, he faced off against Carlos Takam and despite winning via stoppage in the 10th round it was a shaky performance and a maybe a pre-cursor of the future.
Joseph Parker was Joshua’s next match up where a pedestrian win on points followed, and Shortly thereafter he would face Andy Ruiz Jr in Madison Square Garden, New York, where the world would be left stunned by what unfolded in the ring.
An overweight Andy Ruiz Jr was left with little to no chance against the hulking Anthony Joshua, who was expected to steam roll his opponent. What played out was quite the opposite as Ruiz Jr dropped AJ on his backside on multiple occasions leaving the referee no choice but to call for the bell, leaving Ruiz as the first ever Mexican World Heavyweight Champion and the Londoner comprehensively beaten, the Curtains had been drawn on the Antony Joshua show.
Much to his credit he promptly regained those belts in the return bout with Ruiz Jr and is now a two time World Heavyweight Champion, but many now suggest that this has exposed a soft under belly beneath the Joshua foundations.
He has himself admitted that complacency had wormed its way into his fight camps and would no longer let that happen, the loss had bred a new focus according to the man himself.
He stands accused by his naysayers as being just a bodybuilder who can throw a decent punch, a man who doesn’t hone and test his craft against the finest that the fight game has to offer.
It seems that Tyson Fury has overtaken AJ in the publics and boxing purists affection as his willing to take on the elite fighters in their prime has earned the general public’s upmost respect. He also holds the prestigious WBC version of the World Heavyweight Title which is a glaring omission from the Anthony Joshua trophy cabinet.
At a glance it seems that his lucrative media commitments often overshadow what truly matters to fans of the sport and in my view this is where he continues to flounder.
It is time to ditch the building of the brand and for AJ to step up to the mark and face off against the likes of the bronzed bomber Deontay Wilder and the gypsy king Tyson Fury rather than various journeyman fighters across the division, if he wishes to be considered as one of the all time great fighters of this generation.
I am hard pressed to ignore the comparison to Frank Bruno who I briefly mentioned earlier, his tale certainly echoes that of AJ’s, the troubled teenager who turned his life around by virtue of Boxing.
Never the most technically gifted fighter he went to war with the likes of Lennox Lewis and Iron Mike Tyson on numerous occasions, warrior’s of the highest caliber.
Bruno would typically bow out on his shield, losing to the baddest man on the planet Mike Tyson on his maiden defence of the World Heavyweight Championship he had only just captured in the fight previous against Oliver Mcall.
It was a gut wrenching loss yet he was suitably adored none the less for his courage and fighting spirit.
In stark contrast I cant escape the notion that AJ’s signature victory came over an ageing Wladimir Klitschko who was past his prime, and his subsequent match ups have been against the lesser likes of the heavyweight division.
With the showdown against Kubrat Pulev fast approaching it is paramount that he disposes of the 39 year old Bulgarian if he is to seal a fight with the new people’s champion Tyson Fury, a showdown that would surely shatter all box office records.
I am in no position to question the skill of an Olympic Boxing gold medalist and World Heavyweight Champion, but a step up to the professional ranks poses a brand new set of questions for any talented amateur, and the whispers continue to circle around him in regards to his heart and desire for the big time showdowns that will solidify his legacy and standing in the sport.
We as fight fans like to see the elite go toe to toe and if it comes to pass that AJ faces Tyson Fury in 2021 it will be a blockbusting event that we can all look forward to with great anticipation.
Therefore, it is the here and now that marks Anthony Joshua’s opportunity to land a body shot to his detractors by no longer shirking his responsibilities as World Heavyweight Champion, and making the match up’s that we are all eager and deserve to see as paying patrons of the sport.
Thus, If the Watford born slugger should emerge from that proposed encounter with the Gypsy King as the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion, he would undeniably land the knockout blow to even his harshest of critics.
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