This Saturday night, Wembley Stadium in London, England will host one of the biggest heavyweight showdowns in years when rising superstar Anthony Joshua takes on former heavyweight ruler Wladimir Klitschko for Joshua’s IBF world championship. With a 13 year age gap along with Joshua being a former sparring partner for Klitschko, this is a classic master vs. student matchup and will likely decide the future of the heavyweight division for the foreseeable future.
Joshua comes into the bout as the clear favorite at -250 while Klitschko can be found at +230.
There’s no doubt that Anthony Joshua is the new poster boy for the heavyweight division and one of the most bankable stars in world sports. A well-spoken Londoner with an affable personality, Joshua is a marketer’s dream and his performances in the ring make him all the more sought after. With 18 knockouts in 18 fights Joshua looks like the next unified heavyweight champion elect and should he be victorious on Saturday night his reign as heavyweight number one will begin in dominating fashion.
However, the task standing in Joshua’s way is no trivial one. Wladimir Klitschko is one of the most successful heavyweight champions of all time, reigning for well over a decade and notching up an impressive 23 title defences along the way, second only to the great Joe Louis in all-time rankings.
The question on Saturday night however will be, is Klitschko still “Klitschko”?
Going by what we have seen in his most recent outings, the answer is probably a tentative “no”.
A lackluster effort against Bryant Jennings in New York two years ago showed Klitschko’s reflexes had slowed considerably as he was continually getting tagged by the much smaller American, and his following fight against Tyson Fury all but confirmed these suspicions. With Fury using feints and movement to outmaneuver the aging Klitschko, the Ukrainian champion looked befuddled as Fury went on to secure a wide points victory.
Joshua meanwhile has continued to improve under top British trainer Rob McCracken. From an initially gawkish display against Dillian Whyte a year ago, in which the Watford man was rocked hard in the 2nd round, the inexperienced Joshua has improved noticeably under his new trainer and he has looked cool and composed in his last three outings against Martin, Breazale and Molina respectively. Whether or not he can do that against a far more experienced veteran like Klitschko however remains to be seen.
As the old adage goes, this fight can go either one of two ways;
1. Joshua’s improvements as a fighter have coincided with Klitschko suddenly finding himself in the twilight of his career and a new era will dawn in the heavyweight division.
2. Anthony Joshua is about to step in against a contender he is ill-prepared to face and his vast inexperience will be the telling factor in a fight he could get badly exposed in.
As is always the case in these scenarios the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, Klitschko looked terrible against Tyson Fury in his last outing but that’s more of a testament to Tyson Fury’s skills as a boxer rather than Wlad simply failing to show up. The bigger man moved effortlessly around the stoic Klitschko and made the Ukrainian continually reset himself leading to an almost complete shutout on the cards.
But is Joshua as fluid? Is his footwork and ability to effortlessly switch between both southpaw and orthodox stance on a level like Tyson Fury’s? The answer is no, so the fight is unlikely to present the same stylistical problems to Wlad as Tyson Fury did. In fact Joshua fights a very similar style to Klitschko, jabbing his way in and unloading heavy straight rights and left hooks when he senses an opponent weakening. Joshua also fights out of a structered design, something which him and trainer McCracken have been honing over the past few months. This style will be much easier to prepare for than the unorthodox and unpredictable Fury.
This is a close fight and surmising the likely outcome is further hampered by all of the unknown factors heading into it. We don’t know for sure how much stamina problems Joshua may have or how good his chin is as he has simply never been tested before to any great degree. We don’t know how much Klitschko’s inactivity may have cost him at the athletically advanced age of 41 and what he has left in the tank, if anything at all.
Overall however, while the popular young Joshua may indeed have the goods to get this done in front of 90,000 screaming home fans in Wembley Arena, the proven Klitschko at +230 presents far greater value.
While I lean tentatively to Klitschko in terms of an overall straight pick on this fight, the additional huge odds being offered up on top of this is the real icing on the cake.
Take Wladimir Klitschko to get his title back in a late stoppage on Saturday night.
Pick: Wladimir Klitschko by late KO/TKO
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