Anthony Joshua is a fine heavyweight. He looks beautiful. Has an encyclopaedic knowledge of motivational couplets and more sponsors than a school skipping challenge. He has a redemption story of sorts. He’s connected. Made.
He also has a pinging jab, a thudding right hand that arrives smartly and with intent and a notable uppercut too. When moved to, when permitting his youthful vigour to prevail against the growing indoctrination of caution, he is brutal, aggressive and entertaining. Dangerous.
It is within the battle between those two ideologies; to fight or to box, to be street fighter or statesman, that the problems begin.
Against the proud Bulgarian veteran, Kubrat Pulev, he revealed sufficient of the former to crush the 39 year old challenger in the 9th and plenty of the latter to fiddle and faff his way through rounds four, five and six when he’d hurt and dropped Pulev in the third.
His opponent, for too long the moribund option among the clamour for Fury, Joshua and Wilder match ups, completed his own journey through the heavyweight landscape. Two title shots two knockout defeats. Here he let loose his inner madman too. Recovering from a near surrender in the third tto howl defiance to Joshua and the gathered Neil Diamond fans the most explicit example of a week long performance.
He presumably departs, in tact, and remunerated for the risks he has taken. Or, like every other heavyweight since time began, he continues, and is a mandatory again by this time next year. I’ll hope it’s the prudent path but I have my doubts.
Doubt still swirls around Joshua too. He emits some of it himself, a giant marble chimney funnelling the hot air of his own hackneyed philosophies in to the Sky. The certainty he craves betrayed by his actions. In the ring, he paused after the third with Pulev crumbling before him. It seemed inexcusable. Some viewed it as wisdom. Of learning. To this viewer it felt akin to having the perfect soufflé and putting it back in the oven to bake hard.
His confidence will grow from the victory but the suggestion there are ghosts from his spoiled fairytale of New York is hard to dismiss. Pulev scored with a solid right hand in the fifth, it added a bold type to the notion Joshua is still unnerved by the manner of his defeat to Ruiz and Joshua duly embraced caution and his opponent a little more.
Whether the pause in hostilities was powered by this doubt, or the maturity and experience of a fuller career or, alternatively, a simple loss of wind following the excess of Round 3 is hard to be certain of. But Pulev was allowed to regroup and establish himself once more. Joshua’s finish in the 9th was thunderous, precise and irrefutable. And, superficially, restored some of the fearsome reputation he had previously established.
But between the pause in the middle rounds of the bout and the awkwardness in the post fight interview when asked about Tyson Fury also did little to diminish the idea his defeat to Ruiz has stolen his self belief. Left him trapped between his nature and his nurture.
It feels a little ‘hipster’ to be critical of a dominant 9th round knockout win against a top 10 opponent. In attack, Joshua demonstrated his capability to knockout stationary targets. But such was the impervious nature of Fury’s demolition of Deontay Wilder, his British rival is an impossibly high benchmark to be measured against.
On the question of Joshua’s ability to beat the giant Gypsy King, to compete, he certainly won’t if he opts to box rather than fight. If he lets caution win the argument he appears to be having internally, he will be outboxed, out manoeuvred and very possibly knocked out.
We would all like to find out. I’m not convinced Joshua is quite so enamoured by the idea.