England is the cradle of modern boxing; “modern” being a term that in this instance dates back to James Figg three centuries ago. In the twentieth century, the United States was the world’s dominant fistic nation. Now Shakespeare’s sceptred isle is reasserting its role.
At the moment, there are more “world champions” from the United Kingdom (eleven) than from the United States (nine). Of particular interest, England is becoming the nexus for heavyweight championship boxing. Three of the four major sanctioning body belts are now in English hands. Tyson Fury (Wilmslow, Cheshire) will defend his WBA and WBO titles against Wladimir Klitschko in Manchester on 9 July. Anthony Joshua (Watford, Hertfordshire) separated Charles Martin from his senses in London on 9 April to claim the IBF crown.
Deontay Wilder of the United States will defend his WBC title against Russia’s Alexander Povetkln on 21 May in Moscow.
Sorting things out further; Fury deserves recognition as the true heavyweight champion by virtue of his triumph over Klitschko in their first confrontation last November. But Joshua is the man of the hour by virtue of his 9 April conquest of Martin.
Let’s put Joshua vs. Martin in perspective.
Martin, age 29, is the product of a venture undertaken by the late Michael King, an American media mogul who poured an enormous amount of money into taking a group of large, athletically-gifted young men with no boxing experience and training them to be fighters. Charles was maneuvered to a 16 January 2016 fight against Vyacheslav Glazkov for the vacant IBF heavyweight belt and emerged with the strap when Glazkov tore his anterior cruciate ligament in round three (most likely, as a result of the fighters’ feet being entangled) and was unable to continue. That raised Martin’s record to 23-0-1 (21 KOs). But given the mediocre nature of the competition he’d faced, virtually no one took him seriously as a “champion.”
Joshua, age 26, won a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division at the 2012 London Olympics and had been carefully matched en route to a 15-0 (15 KOs) record. Prior to fighting Martin, he’d competed for a mere 4,446 seconds as a professional fighter. That’s less than 25 rounds.
In the past, Joshua would have been considered a year or two away from a title opportunity. But in the past, Martin wouldn’t have been a champion. Charles was a good opponent for Anthony to test his skills against with the winner emerging as a credible heavyweight. Realistically speaking, Joshua had fought better opponents in the amateurs than Martin (with the exception of Glazkov) had fought in his entire pro career.
Joshua acknowledged as much during a pre-fight media conference call when he noted, “I think that, when the red carpet’s been laid out for you, you can only walk down it with the amount of experience that I have. At the end of the day, let’s strip away the heavyweight title and look at the opponent I’m facing.”
Martin, by contrast, seemed borderline delusional with regard to the task at hand. His pre-fight declarations included:
* “I’m not going to go in there respecting anybody’s power. I don’t care what he’s bringing to the table.”
* “I can’t be stopped. I’m like Lamon Brewster versus Wladimir Klitschko when he [Klitschko] unloaded all those shots until he couldn’t throw any more punches. And then what did Lamon Brewster do? Knock him the fuck out. Just that will to win, man. You can throw whatever you want, but I’ll walk through fire to get you.”
* “He doesn’t have any footwork. He can’t box. He can’t move. The only thing he’s relying on is his power, and I got more tools than that. If he thinks he’s going to be able to land hard punches on me and stuff like that, he’s got another think coming. I’m very elusive. I’m a technician.”
* “When I get in there and start doing the things that I do in there, he’s gone. Everybody thinks that he’s a superstar, and I know that he’s not ready.”
Martin weighed in at 245 pounds, Joshua at 244.
Joshua was a 9-to-2 betting favorite.
It didn’t last long.
Martin fights like a guy who has learned to box by the numbers. Very little about the sweet science is second nature to him. In round one, he seemed tentative to the point of being passive. He also stood straight up, rarely moved his head, and (as is his wont) brought his jab back slowly and low.
Joshua scored points in the first stanza with his jab and an occasional straight right hand. Then, a minute into round two, he countered Martin’s jab with a straight right that put the American on the canvas. Seconds later, that scenario repeated itself. This time, referee Jean-Pierre Van Imschoot counted Martin out, and Joshua had an IBF heavyweight championship belt to go with his Olympic gold medal.
The count might have been a trifle fast. But if the bout had gone on, Joshua would simply have knocked Martin down again.
As for the future; Joshua is a work in progress. Tyson Fury has yet to show signs of true dominance. Wladimir Klitschko, win or lose in his rematch against Fury, is on his way out the door. Deontay Wilder’s chin is suspect. Luis Ortiz (who has been knocking out the usual suspects) is 37 years old. And David Haye seems more smoke than fire.
Is Joshua the next great heavyweight? He now has a championship belt and a great deal of potential. But whether he’s ready to fight top-echelon heavyweights is an open issue.
We can only hope that, at some point, there will be clarity in the heavyweight division. A four-man tournament with the winner of Fury-Klitschko, the winner of Wilder-Povetkin, Ortiz, and Joshua would be rational and good for boxing. That means it probably won’t happen.
Meanwhile, Deontay Wilder vs Alexander Povetkin on 21 May and Tyson Fury vs. Wladimir Klitschko on 9 July will be televised by BoxNation. Those two fights should should answer some intriguing questions.
* * *
The heavyweight division lacks clarity. But the middleweight division is coming into focus. The best 160-pound fighter in the world right now is Gennady Golovkin.
Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs) was born and raised in Kazakhstan and lives in California with his wife and 7-year-old son. He has won sixteen consecutive middleweight championship fights; fifteen if one discounts his 2010, knockout of Milton Nunez to claim an “interim” belt. That puts him five defenses behind Bernard Hopkins’s record of twenty.
Gennady’s next title defense – against Dominic Wade (18-0, 12 KOs) – will be televised on 23 April by BoxNation.
Wade is the mandatory challenger for one of Golovkin’s belts by virtue of a split-decision triumph over 41-year-old Sam Soliman last June. At an 18 February press conference in New York, Dominic said all the right things: “All Golovkin has is his strength. It ain’t no style I’ve never seen . . . Willie Monroe had the style to beat him, but he didn’t have the power and he got tired . . . I’ll prepare for whatever I have to. That’s what training camp is for . . . I’ll adjust the way I have to when we get in the ring . . . You do what you gotta do when you get hit. When I get hit, I’ll do what I gotta do.”
The problem with that line of thinking is that Wade has never been in the ring with a world-class fighter. And Golovkin might be a great one.
Daniel Geale, who was knocked out by Golovkin in three rounds said of his conqueror, “He can do anything he wants in there.”
Matthew Macklin suffered a similar three-round demolition and told this writer, “In boxing, it’s easy to be relaxed when someone can’t hurt you. When they can, it’s a different story. With Golovkin, you burn up a lot more nervous energy and you’re panicked into making mistakes.”
How good is Golovkin? A 2015 poll of 24 matchmakers, trainers, historians, and media boxing experts listed Gennady ahead of Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, and Nino Benvenuti as the #6 middleweight of modern times. Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler, Roy Jones, Carlos Monzon, and Jake LaMotta were the only 160-pound fighters to rank above him.
Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, says of Gennady’s opponents, “They all think he’s overrated until they get in the ring with him.”
23 April . . . BoxNation . . . Judge for yourself whether we’re witnessing a great fighter in the making.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book - A Hurting Sport: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing - was published by the University of Arkansas Press.