Joshua learns a jab is no inoculation to criticism

Like Joshua, I spent Saturday playing a role distinct from my usual casting; Joshua won largely favourable reviews for his portrayal of a cautious, pedestrian boxer loathed to engage whilst I stood against a post in the pub, nursing an almost empty pint glass, nervous at the prospect of committing to the queue between rounds. Neither of us, I suspect, gleaned the same satisfaction or contentment we would have from playing to type. He as the emotional, knockout artist and me as the thoughtful wannabe.

Though both proved prudent, these temporary alter-egos, it will be a temporary diversion for me at least, though the experience did provide several valuable and salutary lessons. I learnt much about Joshua and the perspective of those who do not need to contemplate the impact of sharing their opinions too. Certainly not in the way I do when committing them to the world beyond the pub door, however small the readership.

Joshua undoubtedly learned much from his 21st professional success too; notably the power of patience, discipline and employing a degree of pragmatism. Coincidently, a stark juxtaposition of my experience with the impatience, ill-discipline and blood lust of an evening as a ‘casual’.

‘Casual’ being that innocuous but entirely derogatory descriptive purists use to demean the interlopers who, supposedly, insult the sport by buying tickets to big shows, spending a fortune in the process, and singing a long to Sweet Caroline.

With the prospect of swivelling my head between the three televised British Boxing cards  at home, and my concern that I wouldn’t properly digest any of them in the process, I opted instead for the singularity of focus and the prevailing atmosphere and companionship provided by my local hostelry. Signed pictures of Ali, Bugner, Schmeling and Price adorn the walls, the latter looking much happier than he would later that evening, and all clinching tightly the reverence afforded the Four Kings. It’s a good place to watch boxing.

The choice of venue, away from the distraction of multi-tasking to the glow of three screens, was, I suspect, a decision forged across a compilation of other circumstantial prompts; firstly, that an afternoon removing loft insulation and the half century of dust it had accumulated demands the manly pursuit of a slaked thirst. Secondly, I’d sufficiently subscribed to the importance of the match to crave the fuller sensory experience of a crowded pub. This despite the paradox at the heart of the unification concept I was buying in to, so succinctly summarised in the Boxing News’ editorial last week. Whilst it was never likely to scale the heights of Nigel Benn’s seminal encounter with Gerald McClellan, there were sufficient ingredients to believe it may illicit a contest that unified and enthralled in the way their 1995 encounter did. That remains an evening against which most boxing shows are measured and one I spent in the revelry of a Saturday night pub, the smoke swirling and choking the air, my pint glass precarious on the covered pool table. I appreciate this is a demanding index.

In the heat of Saturday, there were few moments when those watching drew breath or felt their pulse quicken. The sign on the door, scrawled in biro and haste, which read ‘Closed. We’re full’ said much about the Joshua phenomenon but for many, and for the first time of course, he didn’t fulfil the unspoken agreement he has with fans.

A knockout.

The more balanced critique of Joshua’s performance, with the benefit of complete sobriety and the wisdom of the informed voices I more customarily interact with I’ve grown to consider it more favourably. After all, Joshua remains unbeaten, recognised as the primary force in the division and with the control he clearly seeks in any negotiation of future bouts. There remain curiosities within his strategy which were evident both in the pub and in the colder analysis of subsequent days too, namely his excessive caution with the right hand. It was hard to fathom why a fighter would not employ one of his greatest assets against a fighter who stepped to the left, and therefore toward Joshua’s right, all night.

In Joshua’s acknowledgement of this point he merely stressed that it wasn’t the night for that punch, providing, as it did, an opportunity for a Parker left hand counter. The discipline this represented for a fighter with modest professional experience who has fought too emotionally in the past, namely against Dillian Whyte, is evidence of growth and maturity. Frustrating as it might prove to a casual, thirsty for a show reel crescendo, it nevertheless adds another facet to his armoury and will make him ever harder to beat in the future.

Were Joshua to plateau, and I’ve read commentators who feel he may have done, as the crash bang behemoth of his first year as a champion then he would be hard to back in any future face off with the elusive Tyson Fury for example. Himself gaining evangelists for his increasingly exaggerated brilliance with every passing week of his absence. But I digress.

In the aftermath of the bout, as his flock fled the arena in to the perils of the Cardiff night, I’ve heard and read many draw comparisons with Lennox Lewis’ dull but emphatic victory over David Tua, Parker’s fellow Kiwi. There are parallels, cautious though I am to place Joshua and Lewis in the same sentence, let alone Parker and Tua. And whilst it overlooks the rib injury Tua took in to that fight or the fact the shock-haired Samoan had become ‘over-ripe’ in the wait as Lewis’ number one contender, it too was expected to validate Lewis’ ability to deal with a busy, fast and destructive puncher. Offering a potential facsimile of how the much requested, but unavailable match up with Mike Tyson may unfold. By making Tua wait and then nullifying his threat inside the ropes too, Lewis showed wisdom. But it was tedious and Kevin Barry was in the other corner. The echoes are hard to ignore and it certainly isn’t a comparison that will offend Joshua.

Hearn and Joshua sense of timing is apparent too. In post fight press commitments they  recognised the window of opportunity this ground breaking four-body unification bout with Wilder is subject to. For in triumph Joshua added not only Parker’s World Boxing Organisation’s belt but also the forthcoming imposition of a third, and likely entirely conflicting, mandatory request from the youngest of the three significant bodies of which he is now champion.

In similar circumstances Tyson Fury, just two months after his November 2015 win over Wladimir Klitschko, was stripped of one of the belts he gained in beating the veteran Ukrainian. And the merry-go-round on to which Anthony Joshua leapt in 2016, with his challenge to the apathetic Charles Martin, began.

And if a belt is relinquished, not only would a clash with Wilder carry an unfortunate asterisk, it may let a new participant in to the fray too.

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