292 seconds. That is the time it took for Anthony Joshua to dispatch of Charles Martin and become the new IBF Heavyweight Champion, winning one of the four main belts in heavyweight boxing. Joshua’s 16th knockout in as many fights comes as no surprise to his followers, not least to his promoter Eddie Hearn. Already the money-man is claiming that ‘Tyson Fury’s an easy fight for Joshua’. But then again, Hearn is paid to say these things. So what chance does Joshua stand in progressing from a heavyweight champion to the heavyweight champion of the world?
The Watford-born boxer has come a long way from the unruliness of his teenage years, which saw frequent street fights, with his behaviour culminating in a two week spell on remand in Reading. According to former European champion Spencer Oliver, the old cliché about ‘boxing as a saviour’ is apparent in Joshua’s case. Even as recently at 2010 he was arrested for cannabis possession with intent to supply, damningly caught wearing his Team GB tracksuit. Many predicted the end of his career at this point as he was suspended from Britain’s boxing squad and sentenced to a 12-month community order with 100 hours unpaid work. Joshua says “the arrest changed a lot. It forced me to grow up and to respect my responsibilities”. Two years later he proved this was more than just rhetoric as he became the super heavyweight champion at the 2012 London Olympics. Thus the work that would take him to the sell-out match at the O2 last Saturday had begun in earnest.
But what about his prospects going forward? So far Joshua has only had 16 professional bouts; all against lower-level boxers. This includes Charles Martin, who was widely regarded as a chancer after his 15 minutes of fame. Indeed despite such a convincing victory at the weekend, Lennox Lewis congratulated Joshua, but called him a ‘work in progress’ with ‘a lot to learn.’ Most doubts stem largely from last December, when Dillian Whyte forced Joshua to the seventh round, and some started to see a slight shake in Joshua’s legs. Whyte himself is not a highly reputable boxer, and yet he still managed to challenge Joshua more than might be expected given the hype surrounding the new IBF world heavyweight champion. The truth is that ‘AJ’ remains an untested prospect against more experienced fighters such as Dereck Chisora and Eric Molina, let alone the likes of Tyson Fury, Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder.
Whether Joshua reaches his potential will depend on the coming year, and how he builds upon what he has already achieved. There is a great deal of hype surrounding him and many have jumped on the Joshua bandwagon, already mentioning him alongside names like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Yet to rush into a fight with one of the world’s best heavyweights, however tempting for the fans, would be foolish, as Joshua knows. After his victory on Saturday he declared he will “keep grinding” and if he does he may reach the sort of dazzling heights that his promoters and fans believe he will.
the truth is that ‘aj’ remains an untested prospect against more experienced fighters
Already his website makes the bold claim that he is ‘the future people’s champion’ and there is the no denying that the Watford-born boxer is likeable. Immediately after the fight he said that when he wasn’t in the gym he’ll probably be found ‘in Asda or IKEA or somewhere’. He still shares a flat in Golders Green, north London, with his mother. This sort of humility is rare to find in a sport filled with testosterone-fuelled aggression and arrogance, which seems to manifest itself purely in the appropriately named Tyson Fury, the man Joshua must fight to become the champion. After Saturday’s bout Fury tweeted ‘AJ gets a belt, looked slow ponderous, & still looked like a bodybuilder’, contrary to all evidence from the fight. Yet Joshua must be careful – Fury’s mind games were seen as key to his surprising victory over Klitschko last November and the truth remains that humility cannot win a boxing match. The trajectory of Joshua’s career is bound to lead him to a clash with Fury, and Joshua will have to work hard in the meantime to prepare him for the big Mancunian’s excellent use of movement and unorthodox technique.
However, Joshua is more than capable of rising to the challenge. He is quick across the ring, efficient with his punches and seizes opportunities when they arise. As he proved in the Whyte fight, he can take punches, recompose himself and make adjustments to finish the bout with a knock-out. It is plain to see for both recent and seasoned fans of the sport that Anthony Joshua possesses talent, speed, ruthlessness and a drive that transcends the financially-obsessed sport that boxing is. His dedication to the sport that transformed his life is undeniable, and as he grows into a even better fighter we’ll see whether this determination transforms Joshua into one of the greatest boxers of his generation. But whatever the future holds for AJ, it will be fascinating to watch his steps as he traverses the canvas of boxing history.