It goes without saying that 2017 was a vintage year for Anthony Joshua, and while his achievements weren’t recognised by the BBC Sports Personality of the Year panel it’s fair to say that AJ is one of the finest British athletes currently going about their business.
It’s a shame for the humble Londoner that his profile in the mainstream will never match that of, say, Frank Bruno, Lennox Lewis or even the likes of Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, and that’s almost solely because his fights are hidden behind a paywall but evil dictator Eddie Hearn over on Sky Box Office. Joshua may look back on his career one day and rue the fact….he may even dry his eyes on the millions of ten pound notes he has/will earn.
All joking aside, AJ is a fantastic fighter and one who stands to make punters a lot of money in 2018. He simply looks untouchable, barring the odd mishap against Wladimir Klitschko, and many of the opponents he is rumoured to be facing this year simply aren’t on his level.
So how does AJ’s schedule look set to shape up in 2018?
The first cab off the rank looks set to be WBO champion Joseph Parker, with a March meeting tentatively pencilled in.
It’s a fight that makes sense for Joshua: he would earn another strap – a step closer to his aim of unifying the heavyweight division, and in truth Parker does not pose the sort of threat you would expect at elite level.
The New Zealander is quick, technically gifted and has a great engine, but he would give away a significant reach and weight advantage to AJ that could prove so important. Let’s face it: the Brit may be a big lad, but he moves very well.
Parker has only fought a handful of times outside of his homeland, and his CV is not all that convincing: the biggest names being the talented but out-of-shape Andy Ruiz, the durable Carlos Takam and the cousin of Tyson Fury, Hughie. Perhaps Parker is an elite-level fighter in the making, but there is little in his little black book that suggests as such.
The Kiwi lacks punch power too, with four of his last six wins coming courtesy of the judges, and it is almost inconceivable that he would outpoint AJ on English soil.
In their ante post markets, the bookmakers have AJ as short as 1/25 in places to defeat Parker, with 1/16 the best price. Those sorts of prices are unbackable, of course, but anything around the 1/8 mark is indicative of Joshua’s likely dominance.
From Russia With Love
After beating Christian Hammer back in December, Alexander Povetkin has established himself as the mandatory challenger to AJ according to the WBA.
It’s one of those frustrating fights for Joshua; one that simply does not capture the public’s imagination. They want to see AJ fight big names in his prime, but all those best-laid plans are often put paid to by these mandatory defences.
As a fighter, it is hard to take Povetkin seriously. He has been in with some decent names in the past – Klitschko, Takam, Charr to name but three – but this is a 34-fight veteran who has only once travelled outside of Germany and Russia for a bout; and that was to Finland, of all places. A trip to Wembley Stadium, or similar, would be a rather rude awakening for the Russian.
He has also failed drugs test too, on more than one occasions. Like we say, it’s not a juices-flowing sort of fight for AJ, but one he may have to face this year.
Fists of Fury
It was hard to escape the news just before Christmas that Tyson Fury has had his ban lifted and his licence renewed; vindication after a legal battle that lasted the best part of years.
That is the worst thing that could happen to a fighter – especially at a time when his career was set to go stratospheric. Fury achieved something countless others had failed in: fighting Klitschko in his adopted German homeland and winning; and not just getting the W, but winning on points in a country that is, erm, ‘generous’ towards their home fighters.
— BoxingScene.com (@boxingscene) October 11, 2018
That should have been the start of truly special things for the 29-year-old, and yet he’s not been able to lace a glove since November 2015.
Since his comeback was confirmed Fury, a skilled social media Firestarter, has been calling out AJ left, right and centre, and after Joshua has dealt with his more pressing engagements you would expect AJ vs Fury to be made some time in the second half of 2018.
The bookies are offering odds on this prospective fight, with AJ the 4/6 favourite and the ‘Gypsy King’ available at around 11/8.
With respect to all of the above combatants, you suspect the one that Anthony Joshua really wants to get his hands on is Deontay Wilder.
The huge Alabaman is of a similar stature to AJ and boasts equally concussive punching power – almost certain grounds for a blockbuster bout, but the most important bargaining chip at his disposal is the WBC belt around his waist.
Joshua has made no secret of the fact he wants to become the unified heavyweight champion of the world, and Wilder is a sizeable obstacle standing in his path.
Question marks about AJ’s chin – he was dumped on the canvas by Klitschko remember – suggest that the American has a fighting chance in the proposed bout, but in purely technical terms you would fancy the Englishman to win comfortably.
There are so many unknowns about Wilder’s game, too. He’s never really fought anyone of repute, with Bermane Stiverne and Gerald Washington the best names on his resume. Let’s face it: neither of those guys is a world level fighter.
We will learn so much more about him in March when he takes on the dangerous Luis Ortiz in March. Who knows: he might not even own the WBC strap at the culmination of that encounter.