This Saturday at Wembley Stadium, Anthony Joshua meets Wladimir Klitschko in an battle to unify the IBF and WBA Heavyweight titles, but will youth or experience prevail?
‘Young lion syndrome’. The rising of a youthful presence, confident in its ability to overthrow the older leader of the pride. As observed in nature, sports and life itself however, that confidence is often misplaced. As Willie Nelson once sang, ‘old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill’. Willie might not have quite hit the nail on the head with that one, but it has occasionally proved to be true.
Nelson’s theory will be put to the test this Saturday of course, when rising heavyweight star Anthony Joshua faces up to the biggest challenge of his young career against veteran former world champion Wladimir Klitschko, in front of a crowd of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium. The 27-year-old Joshua is the current IBF heavyweight champion and will be making his second defence of the title, whilst also attempting to win the vacant WBA crown and the lightly-regarded IBO strap.
Joshua (18-0, 18 KO’s) has vanquished all-comers in explosive fashion since he turned over from the amateurs in 2013, on the back of reaching the pinnacle of the unpaid ranks by winning gold at the 2012 London Olympics. There have been many detractors and those who have slated the quality of the Watford native’s opposition, but in all reality, for an eighteen-fight knockout artist Joshua has been moved as quickly as you would like. Consider that the names on his record are comparable to most of those on WBC champion Deontay Wilder’s ledger, while 31-year-old Wilder turned pro in 2008 and has contested five world title fights en route to a padded 38-0.
Nonetheless, as a heavyweight world champion Wilder is hardly the gold standard and Joshua seems ripe for a step-up to contesting mega-fights. Given the stage they will be fighting on and the opponent in the opposite corner, they don’t come much bigger than this. But are we basing that more on what Klitschko was, rather than what he now has left?
Klitschko (64-4, 53 KO’s) turned forty-one in March and has been out of the ring for seventeen months since his humbling defeat to Tyson Fury in November 2015. Ring rust can be an issue for any fighter subjected to long periods of inactivity, but it becomes more of a factor with age and is not an ideal precursor to a bout with a dynamic young colossus like Joshua. Klitschko also looked laboured in losing to Fury and while a great deal of credit for his abject performance has to go to the awkwardness of the 6’9” traveller, the Ukrainian’s previous bout – an uninspiring points verdict over Bryant Jennings in New York a full two years ago – suggests that he may have already been on the slide.
It may well be the reason that Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn decided to roll the dice and opt for Klitschko as Joshua’s next opponent, given the name value and global recognition that the former champion brings despite the fact that, under the surface, he may well be a shot fighter. There remains the possibility however that the fights with Jennings did not display the true Klitschko. Eleven years of dominance over the field may have resulted in complacency and priorities may have shifted, particularly when you consider that Klitschko became a father for the first time before the Jennings bout. It’s possible that in losing his titles and having an extended break from the sport spent with his family, that Klitschko regained his hunger and motivation. If you believe the man himself, he has described his state of mind ahead of Saturday’s title bout as ‘obsessed’.
Speed no doubt wanes with age, but the last attribute to leave a fighter is power and Klitschko has over two decades of professional experience in how to use it to devastating effect. That presents a problem for a relative novice like Joshua, who came through his chin check with Dillian Whyte but has never faced anything like the armoury that he will on Saturday night. Joshua has also never been beyond the seventh round in his career and there’s a school of thought that his musclebound physique will count against him in the latter stages of the fight, where fatigue sets in and the wily veteran can take him into deep water.
In this encounter, the young lion is rightfully the favourite and is more than capable of taking the mantle as many expect him to do. Joshua needs to be wary of that young lion syndrome however, and not take for granted what many believe about Klitschko at forty-one. On the plains of Africa, not many male lions survive long into adulthood. In the boxing ring, many a prodigious talent has been taken apart by the old leader of the pride.