First, make no mistake: heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua is one hell of a fighter. The guy’s not only defeated every one of his opponents inside the distance, he stopped Wladimir Klitschko himself in impressive fashion. While “Dr. Steelhammer” was no doubt years past his prime, and perhaps rather overrated career wise, he was still a formidable heavyweight who looked the best he had in years when he rumbled with Joshua last spring in London. The fact that England’s Joshua survived that trial by fire and won by TKO showed – and still shows – that the guy’s the real deal.
So why then have people been giving the heavyweight king some heat since he scored a TKO win over an extremely game Carlos Takam this past weekend? Sure, the bout was stopped early, but Joshua was clearly dominating the entire affair. Takam may have shown extraordinary heart, but it was Joshua’s extraordinary power that was the real story of the contest. Even if he couldn’t put his man on the canvas, the sheer strength of Joshua’s shots and combos kept Takam from ever mounting an effective attack.
And yet, now we hear the questions about Joshua’s abilities.
Why, for instance, was Joshua seemingly unable to cut the ring off against his French opponent? An unbiased observer could clearly see that he was chasing Takam around quite a bit, but letting his man slip away from that deadly power of his as he tried. Joshua showed world-class skill when he battled Klitschko, but the Ukrainian was never the kind of fighter one had to look for. To the contrary, Klitschko fought as if he were a kind of well-armed castle whose defenses were impossible to penetrate, staying in front of Joshua and looking to land his own big shots. After the Takam fight, one has to wonder how Joshua would manage against a slick or awkward boxer who chose to make himself elusive.
Imagine for a minute – and I know it’s getting very hard to do so at this point – the Tyson Fury who bested Klitschko working his way around the ring in herky-jerky fashion against Joshua, the same way he did when he won the title back in 2015. How would Joshua react? If he chased Fury around the way he chased Takam, it might make for a frustrating evening indeed, both for Joshua and for fight fans. Of course the chances of Fury looking that good again, or even getting around to facing Joshua at all, are now extremely slim (an odd word to employ when writing about Fury these days). Still, if one ponders that question after watching the Takam fight, one immediately sees the flaws in Joshua’s game.
Of course no boxer is perfect at everything. Right now it looks like Joshua may need to work on his footwork and developing the tactics necessary to battle opponents who are slippery or unorthodox, or who can keep him on the end of their punches. Sure, Joshua was able to find his mark with Takam who was giving up both height and reach, but what if he had been in against someone big enough to connect more consistently? Again, an awkward boxer like Fury with some movement and reach could pose serious problems. The bottom line is Anthony Joshua, as impressive as he’s been, is not invincible.
That said, as long as he keeps winning and can regularly stop opponents inside the distance, his popularity will continue to grow. Will he be truly great, though? This might sound like a ridiculous question at this stage, but Joshua has received such high praise to this point, it seems a legitimate one to ask.
And the truth is, there’s no reason why we can’t start learning the answer in the very near future. If Joshua wants to find out for sure if he needs to strengthen an aspect of his skill set, or determine exactly where he stands in regards to the other elite heavyweights fighting today, now is the perfect time to find out. Deontay Wilder may be an ocean away, but he’s on his way, no matter how nonchalant Joshua may come across regarding a potential fight between the two men.
And have no doubt, Wilder is chomping at the bit to face Joshua. It’s easy to tell that America’s top-rated heavyweight really wants a showdown with the Briton. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Wilder, contrary to what the naysayers may have us believe, is a true competitor. Or it may have to do with something else. As in the weakness we were just contemplating. Maybe, just maybe, Wider sees something in Joshua, a flaw, a deficiency, which he knows he’ll be able to exploit. Joshua may want to evaluate his entire repertoire before getting into the ring with “The Bronze Bomber,” or with any other big man who has some skill, reach and power.
The bottom line is this: Anthony Joshua is one hell of a fighter, but if you think he doesn’t have weaknesses which others can exploit, think again. It’s easy to have faith in Joshua, not just because of his strength, confidence and punching power, but also because he proved himself in the war with Klitschko; he showed he could overcome serious adversity and still triumph. But the Takam fight showed something too, not least of which was that Joshua has room to grow and, if he wants to reach his full potential, he has things he needs to work on in the gym. Here’s hoping he recognizes that, because if he doesn’t, the price he pays when he battles Deontay Wilder could be steep indeed. — Sean Crose