British promoter Eddie Hearn thinks Anthony Joshua (8-0) is farther along in his career than Mike Tyson was at the same age. Joshua has only fought fourteen rounds as a professional, but Hearn believes—or rather, says, in an interview with ESPN’s UK affiliate—that his pedigree is superior to a twenty-five year old Iron Mike’s (who was 37-1 at the same point, with nine title defenses and one life-altering loss to Buster Douglas). Not content to merely trivialize Tyson’s career, Hearn lumped in the Klitschko brothers and Lennox Lewis as examples of other heavyweights Joshua is currently “streets ahead” of. In advance of his bout tomorrow with Denis Bahktov (38-9), expectations are high for the towering Londoner.
Hearn’s hyperbole is understandable, since Joshua is his fighter and it’s in Eddie’s interest to call him boxing’s new Achilles. There is reason to be optimistic. While Joshua hasn’t beaten anyone good, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist has the physical talent to be a champion. But like American Deontay Wilder, we don’t know whether he can take a blow from a big puncher, and that, more than anything, determines one’s fate in the heavyweight division. Consider the case of Seth Mitchell, Al Haymon’s overhyped prospect who made an exciting transition from football to boxing, showed some power, and was ultimately done in by his ordinary skills and fragile jaw. Joshua has a better pedigree than Mitchell but we’ll only know his potential once his chin is tested.
Assuming Joshua gets by Bahktov tomorrow and Michael Sprott in late November, he will have some interesting options. Here’s where Eddie Hearn’s exaggerations meet reality. Hearn suggests a fight between Anthony and David Haye should occur in 2015, which seems ludicrous given the disparity in experience between them. Joshua has a clear size advantage since Haye is a blown-up cruiserweight, but the “Hayemaker” is a very good boxer with serious power. I suspect this is just electioneering by Hearn, who called this prospective match a “stadium event”. It’s also possible he’s still intoxicated from the smashing success of Froch-Groves at Wembley Stadium and desperately wants to stage another bonanza. Given Haye’s injury history, Joshua’s inexperience, and the fact Eddie Hearn is a promoter whose job is to tantalize the public with baseless hypotheticals, I suspect this fight isn’t going to happen soon, if ever.
Beyond Haye there are interesting and more realistic options in the UK for Joshua once he steps up in competition. I refuse to throw Dereck Chisora’s name into this mix, but bouts with either David Price or Tyson Fury would be highly entertaining. In either case Joshua would face a fairly young, exceedingly big heavyweight who could provide the stiffer test he needs. Being domestic fights, there would be huge interest in Britain, and the prospect of seeing big men throw down is always attractive. There are also great promotional angles. For the once-hyped Price, it would be a chance to prove he can hang with a quality big man after his successive losses to Tony Thompson. (Price has since won three straight but against poor competition). For Tyson Fury it would be another opportunity to swear and flip tables at press conferences.
Anthony Joshua appears to be a focused young man who deliberately avoids the trappings of fame. This will serve him well, because careers are influenced as much by lifestyle as they are by skill or matchmaking. In this sense, perhaps Joshua is already ahead of Mike Tyson. “Iron Mike” said that prior to fighting Buster Douglas he was living like ‘Caligula’ in Japan, so licentious had his life become. Joshua seems to have more discretion. In Bahktov he won’t meet a Buster Douglas or Praetorian Guardsman and he should get another knockout, but this will tell us little about what the future holds. Only time, and a showdown with a serious puncher, can reveal whether Joshua is good enough to become the division’s emperor.
— Eliott McCormick