Anthony Joshua already shares some of the attributes that helped to make Muhammad Ali ‘The Greatest’, according to acclaimed sports writer Kevin Mitchell.
The Guardian’s boxing correspondent also believes that Joshua won’t be overly troubled when he defends his WBA IBO, IBF world heavyweight titles against WBO champion Joseph Parker at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on March 31st.
Like the majority of boxing experts and pundits, Mitchell backs the bigger stronger man, stating: “Parker doesn’t have the one-punch power to inconvenience Joshua.”
The Briton emulated Ali at amateur level by winning Olympic gold, and since turning pro has become the most accomplished fighter on the global heavyweight scene.
Only New Zealand’s Parker and American Deontay Wilder, who holds the WBO belt, stand between him unifying the division’s various world titles.
Joshua’s toughest fight so far came against Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017, when he survived a mid-fight knockdown to beat the formidable Ukrainian in 11 rounds.
Mitchell told Elephant Sport that Joshua shares a similar resilience to Ali, in the way that each man can bite down on his mouth-piece and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“Ali and Joshua have the same quality of wanting to keep going,” he said. “When Joshua got up [in the sixth round] against Klitschko, he was smiling… he was actually smiling.”
‘Joshua never made any excuses, and that says a lot to me… He’s a real fighter’ – Kevin Mitchell
He compared this to Ali’s 1970 victory over Oscar Bonavena by TKO in the 15th round, highlighting the ‘Desperation Factor’ that grants truly great champions the ability to gather their strength and summon a win from the brink of disaster.
Mitchell is a big admirer of Joshua, saying: “He’s got a good range of punches,” and that “he’s always in shape.” But his most striking comment of all was: “He’s got a ruthless streak, Joshua… he loves knocking people out.”
Joshua’s menacing trait is so often overlooked, as his humble and friendly demeanour outside of the ring can easily camouflage his vicious competitiveness.
Another admirable facet of Joshua is his attitude and refusal to make excuses when things don’t go so well.
Mitchell made this evident, when praising Joshua’s character, as the Brit has never spoken about the head-butt that broke his nose in the early rounds of his win over Carlos Takam last October.
“He never made any excuses, and that says a lot to me… He’s a real fighter.”
Mitchell’s analysis and breakdown of Anthony Joshua’s talents gave me a new-found admiration for the towering Adonis of heavyweight boxing, who over the past few years cemented himself as the man at 200lbs and over.
To have his qualities compared to the greatest heavyweight ever to set foot in the ring, in a career that has spanned just five years to date, is a testament to the potential of Joshua.
Should he emerge victorious in emphatic fashion on March 31st, he’ll be one step closer to fulfilling that potential, and one step closer to matching the achievements of ‘The Greatest’.
How far do boxers need to go in order to grab our attention when it comes to hyping up a big fight? And how far is too far?
These are questions that came to mind when Dereck Chisora threw a table at Dillian Whyte during a news conference to promote their recent contest in Manchester.
Are the months of sweat, pain and dedication that goes into preparing for a bout not enough to attract viewers? Does there have to be bad blood – or at least what appears to be real animosity between boxers?
“There was mutual respect shown in the end, but then we all know that they didn’t really hate each other’s guts in the first place”
That certainly seemed to be the case in 2002, when Mike Tyson sank his teeth into Lennox Lewis’s leg during a press conference brawl in New York.
A few years down the line, it was David Haye gatecrashing the media event after Vitali Klitschko had beaten Chisora (that man again).
A heated exchange of insults quickly descended into chaotic scenes in which Chisora was hit with a bottle and threatened to ‘shoot’ and ‘physically burn’ his fellow British heavyweight.
Ahead of their fight at West Ham’s Upton Park stadium, the two Londoners were kept apart by a fence and a battalion of security staff.
Back to Chisora v Whyte, and was that airborne item of furniture really necessary just to sell a few more satellite and cable TV pay-per-views?
It resulted in their bout being stripped of its British title status, and could have resulted in someone – a journalist, photographer or passing PR person – getting seriously injured. All in the name of selling a fight.
As it turned out, that fight was a bona fide thriller, with Whyte winning by a split decision and the general consensus being it was one of the year’s best contests.
There was mutual respect shown between the two fighters in the end, but then we all know that they didn’t really hate each other’s guts in the first place.
Isn’t it fascinating how we lap up the pre-fight narrative of boxers being sworn enemies, only to commend them for sharing a warm embrace at the end of the fight.
Boxing is particularly prone to opponents trash-talking each other, and has a long tradition of fighters ‘calling out’ rivals and threatening to do all sorts to them once they step into the ring.
“There is a serious side of ‘the noble art’ that is being completely being ignored in favour of the gimmicky, the soundbite and the video clip that goes viral”
Surely what makes a fight is the match-up, the clash of style and tactics, the test of character and one’s chin inside the ropes, not at a press conference or weigh-in.
True, nobody was better at winding up opponents that Muhammad Ali, but this was a form of verbal showmanship – you never saw ‘The Greatest’ throwing tables at George Foreman or Joe Frazier.
Their fight build-ups involved no flying furniture, or any need for an army of heavies to keep two adults apart in case they couldn’t possibly resist the temptation to knock each other’s blocks off there and then, with no cheque, title or win-loss record at stake.
Perhaps ‘the show’ is losing its credibility as a result of too much window dressing. Instead of magnifying meaningless spats that happened years ago, why don’t promoters focus more on the human stories of these boxers and their backgrounds?
Okay, so when Whyte fought Anthony Joshua in yet another ‘grudge’ bout, they were indeed former amateur opponents, with Whyte the winner over three rounds.
But when it came to Whyte v Chisora, we were told their feud was all down to a few sparring sessions in the gym a while back.
What about the struggle that each boxer has had to face throughout their careers? Why do they fight? Why do choose to risk their health every time they enter the ring?
There is a serious side of ‘the noble art’ that is being completely being ignored in favour of the gimmicky, the soundbite and the video clip that goes viral.
Nick Blackwell had to be placed in a medically induced coma for a week after his fight with Chris Eubank Jr earlier this year.
Eduard Gutknecht underwent surgery after his fight with George Groves, and Mike Towell died after his fight with Dale Evans as a result of severe bleeding and swelling to the brain.
Whyte and Chisora are both family men. Is there not a better story to be told here in light of recent events?
Chisora’s £30,000 fine and his suspended two-year ban isn’t going to do much in the way of deterring this sort behaviour in the name of selling a fight.
The irony is, when the hour of reckoning came, their fight proved to be truly memorable one.
But while actual tickets to a fight night are limited by the size of the arena, there are always more PPVs to be sold, so the hype and the press conference antics will continue.
A day with Amar Kayani is a day like no other. A morning of ‘light’ training, with pad and bag work supplemented by skipping and hundreds of press-ups, is a distinct reminder of how boxing is steeped in hard work and dedication.
Sweat flies from the rising star in the middleweight division as he prepares for his upcoming bout in the national quarter-finals.
After three hours, Kayani peels off his drenched shirt and squeezes a pool of perspiration into a grubby bucket at his gym in High Wycombe.
Born in Slough, Berkshire, and having had to work hard to become one of the most feared amateurs in the sport, Kayani says he has educated himself.
“Life wasn’t plain sailing when I was a youngster,” he admits while watching a dozen prospects being put through their paces in a sparring session.
“I was always getting in trouble at school and as a youngster I was fighting all the time. I was never scared of confrontation and I just loved fighting.
“It was obviously wrong, but punching someone or something was the easy way out during that time. It gave me an adrenaline rush so boxing seemed perfect for me to get into.”
Kayani grew up in a family passionate about boxing. In his understated way, the 21-year-old describes his journey to becoming one of the most destructive boxers in the amateur ranks, and says he is delighted to have a family that has a massive attachment to the sport.
“Boxing teaches discipline and you have to be disciplined in many more ways than just the boxing aspect in life in order to be a success”
“As a youngster, I looked up to my oldest brother,” says Kayani with a huge smile.
“He did taekwondo and used to show me clips of him competing, and I would get such a buzz watching him.
‘My dad [pictured, top, with Kayani] was a massive Muhammad Ali fan and all he ever spoke about was how good the heavyweight division was with the likes of Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner, and George Foreman.
“As as I got older, I started to Google these fighters and got drawn into the world of boxing – let’s just say the rest is history. I owe my family so much because without their love for boxing, I wouldn’t be doing this today.”
Kayani, 21, admits he learnt some of his biggest life lessons after experiencing confrontations triggered by a violent temper.
“The fight against Adewale was a good test but I was in complete control”
“I’ve learnt a lot since I started boxing. Before, I was arguing with individuals on the street, but now I know I’m a trained professional.
“Now if arguments ever occur, I will always walk away rather than fight.
“Boxing teaches discipline and you have to be disciplined in many more ways than just the boxing aspect in life in order to be a success.”
Laying down a marker
Kayani leans forward intently as he discusses his huge victory over Josh Adewale – the man who is supposedly one of the brightest middleweight’s in the country.
That bout at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, earlier this month for a place in the quarter-finals of the Nationals, was one Kayani was expected to lose.
However, a dominant performance saw him earn victory by a split decision.
“It was a special evening,” says Kayani, beaming at the recollection.
“I always knew I would overcome him. I was training so hard for this moment and most of the media doubted me, but that gave me more motivation to prove them wrong.
“The fight was a good test but I was in complete control.
“I did what I had to do but now that’s in the past and I look forward to the next fight and the next after that. This business does not stop for anyone.”
Reaching a new level of maturity in his life, the man nicknamed the ‘AK’ says his dedication to the sport is, in part, down to the support of his coaches.
“Stuart, John, Russ and Shane are the definition of a team,” says the 21-year-old fighter. “They all contribute so much and I learn different things from each of them.
“They all have their own way of doing things and I mix up everything to make myself the best that I can possibly be.
“They have helped me grow as a boxer, but most importantly as a person so I will forever be grateful for that.”
Kayani is also passing down lessons to aspiring young fighters by running twice-weekly sessions at a boxing gym in Slough.
The flamboyant star, who likens himself to pro fighters Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, admits that the aim of these sessions is helping young kids steer clear of trouble.
“A considerable amount of youngsters were getting into trouble in Slough, and I thought why not use my knowledge of the sport to teach them something productive and keep them off the streets.
“The sessions are tough so usually they will go home and shower and then rest instead of being out all night causing mischief like most of them normally would!”
Despite the tough training regimes implemented by his coaches, the amateur star, who has a record of 14 wins and two close losses, enjoys the lighter side of life through hobbies including PlayStation and watching his beloved Manchester United.
“I get pretty engulfed in most things but watching United play gets me pumped,” admits Kayani.
“Boxing takes up most of my schedule but when I have time to relax, it’s all about my friends and family and just enjoying the finer things in life, and that includes thrashing someone on FIFA 17!”
The youngster’s instinct is steering him in the right direction as he aims to become British boxing’s most exciting amateur.
“I will bring a flamboyancy to the middleweight division – for many years it’s lacked the cutting-edge excitement that professional boxing needs”
However, the calm and calculated character smiles and insists he has many aspirations to accomplish by the end of this season.
“Right now I’m focused on the here and now and by the end of this season, I want to achieve a lot,” insists Kayani.
“I have a solid goal in my head, and that is to turn professional within a year or two. I think I will bring a flamboyancy to the middleweight division – for many years it’s lacked the cutting-edge excitement that professional boxing needs.
“I think I will keep improving until I can win a world title, but at the moment I want to be national champion and then the ABA champion and anything else in between that.
“I have no doubt in my mind that it can be done and it is possible.”