When Larry Holmes faced off against Mike Tyson in 1988, it was the moment where one era truly came to an end to give way to the new. A nearly decade long run at the top of the division during one of its darkest times, Holmes was as dominant as a Heavyweight champion as anybody ever had been in the division with 20 title defenses and running roughshod of a Heavyweight division devoid of the type of talent that could challenge him.
Holmes’ reign had ended two years prior in controversial fashion, twice losing to Michael Spinks in tremendous upsets, but those losses weren’t exactly the finishing touches for everything he represented in the division. It wasn’t until Holmes met Tyson, ending his retirement in the process, and was subsequently squashed in three rounds that it was over, and Tyson would continue a run that would ultimately contribute to the last true great age of Heavyweights.
That story could very well be the tale of Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua this weekend.
Klitschko has spent the better part of the last two years stewing over his loss to Tyson Fury and dealing with injuries and behind the scenes issues while Joshua has clearly emerged the new face of the Heavyweight division. The warning signs that Klitschko’s reign was nearing its end was on display well before Fury finally beat him and Joshua happens to be the most lucrative opponent he could fight, not the easiest, to regain his titles.
Of course, Klitschko’s years of experience and a simple technique that doesn’t rely on reflexes and speed makes him dangerous unless proven otherwise, and we know so little about how Joshua will do on such a grand stage. Klitschko’s power comes from grinding his opponents down with a thudding jab to eventually open a straight right down the middle with plenty of clinching to grind his opponent down to a crawl where such a shot is almost guaranteed to land. Problem is that Joshua not only matches Klitschko for size, but for reach as well.
That patient, methodical style worked because it came against endless opponents who came into the ring with a disadvantage in size and reach to begin with, but did not serve him well in times where opponents refused to give him that respect and threw caution to the wind. Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster did it and stopped him in the process whereas Fury beat him at his own game and shut him down. Joshua is athletic enough to not be pinned down in one place for Klitschko to get into a rhythm and hits hard and fast enough where he can catch him with a shot that could send him on the retreat.
A fast start is what Joshua needs to determine the pace of the fight. The longer the fight goes at Klitschko’s pace, it is almost certainly not going to end well for Joshua. Strafing Klitschko against the ropes, having a free hand to hit the body in clinches and using his own mobility to keep the giant off balance is all part of an offense-heavy game plan that will emphasize his own talents and impose his will on the ex-champ.
Despite the mutual respect from both men and Joshua’s affirmation that he’s going to measure himself carefully, the temptation must be there to see how much the inactive, 40-plus champion has in the early goings. Unless he gets too careless in his early offensive, Joshua is going to fluster Klitschko and deny him the chance to get into his hypnotic rhythm. Once Joshua gets Klitschko backing up, much like Fury did, he has shown in earlier parts of his career that he doesn’t have the ability to force himself forward.
Like Tyson/Holmes almost 30 years ago, we will see a vicious example of youth overcoming experience and an era left in shambles; the future disposing of the past in vicious fashion. A fast start and quick finish should be on deck as Anthony Joshua seals the deal on both his ascension to boxing stardom and ends the Hall of Fame career of Wladimir Klitschko in four rounds or less.