Anthony Joshua has plenty left to give to boxing
The fickle nature of the sport of boxing is on full display right now as everyone tries to guess Anthony Joshua's next opponent.
The two-time unified heavyweight champion has lost three from his last five fights, and everyone has something to say about it. Journalists are commenting on how far he has fallen, while many fight fans believe he is finished completely.
Even heavyweight rivals have something to add, such as IBF No.1 Filip Hrgovic, who claimed, “He was a beast. He was a knockout artist and then he started to learn too much about boxing and he started to box too much, overthinking.”
Where did it all go wrong?
His first ever humbling came at the hands of unheralded Andy Ruiz Jr in the summer of 2019, and it shocked the entire boxing world.
AJ's stateside debut seemed to be going well once he knocked Mexican-American Ruiz down in round three, but the tough Californian was straight back to his feet, unfazed, shrugging off the flash knockdown, his ego more bruised than anything else; he certainly wasn't stunned and proved it by returning the favour to put the champion on the seat of his pants just moments later. From then on, the Brit just couldn't find a way back and was knocked from pillar to post until time was called in the seventh stanza after he had suffered a fourth knockdown.
He has since lost his last two fights to former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. But as he plots his latest comeback, the man from Watford is falling subject to plenty of negative opinions on the names of his potential next opponent, which have included unbeaten Aussie, Demsey McKean; former Tyson Fury rival, Otto Wallin; and Dillian Whyte's last victim, Jermaine Franklin. The quality of opponents mentioned are drawing criticism from many that the former poster boy for boxing has fallen very far from his perch, and that it will be too far a climb to come back up again.
AJ is not done yet
Joshua began boxing late, so he had to learn on the job, and he's still learning now. The reason I believe he can come back from his recent slump is because of this. He still has the capacity to learn and to grow.
He lost for the first time in his career to Andy Ruiz Jr. then came back in the very next fight showing significant improvements equipped with a far better, sensible and disciplined game plan, which he followed to the letter to outpoint his only ever conqueror widely – one judge only gave a single round to the defending champion, Ruiz.
Then he lost for a second time in his career to Oleksandr Usyk, where he got his tactics completely wrong, sinfully opting to box against one of the world's most technically brilliant and masterful boxers.
Again, he went away, recruited a new trainer in Robert Garcia, and came back significantly improved to win 115-113 on one of the judge's scorecards. That sole scorecard didn't get him the overall decision sadly, and he had to accept a third professional career loss.
He didn't manage to avenge this loss like the was able to before, but he had made the rematch far closer than the first fight, improving from a clear unanimous decision defeat to a narrow split decision reversal instead.
Now, regardless of whether it's unanimous or a split, a loss is still a loss, and you also can argue that Ruiz Jr was a distracted, overweight, ill-disciplined shell of a boxer in their return fixture, but on both occasions where Joshua has lost fights, he has been vastly improved in the rematches.
This means we can expect to see even further improvements from the 33-year-old in his next fight too.
AJ has scouted out gyms and trainers in America and landed upon Derrick James' World Class Boxing Gym in Dallas.
Recently named WBC Trainer of the Year 2022, James trains unified welterweight champion, Errol Spence Jr., and undisputed super-welterweight champion, Jermell Charlo.
Under the guidance of James, Joshua is going to learn so many new and important things, plus he will be sharing training camps with two of the world's top-10 pound-for-pound fighters.
This new injection of life and knowledge is going to produce another improved version of Joshua, who still has plenty of years left in this sport.
A former pro himself, James boxed between 1992-2008, amassing a record of 21 wins, 7 defeats and 1 draw, with 12 knockouts, fighting at middle, super-middle and light-heavyweight. He mostly competed in his hometown of Dallas and challenged for three national titles.
A hard-working, disciplined trainer, he is expected to bring out the very best in Joshua, as they begin preparations fo his next fight, which Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has earmarked for the first quarter of 2023. Hearn revealed plans for AJ to fight against a top-15 opponent early in the year, followed by the Dillian Whyte rematch in the summer, culminating in either Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury towards the end of 2023.
No shame in defeat
Joshua's defeats have come against the world's best. The Ring Magazine currently rank Oleksandr Usyk as their No.1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Losing to the world's P4P No.1 via split decision is by no means shameful.
Ruiz Jr. was dismissed early in his announcement as a late replacement to disgraced drug cheat, Jarrell Miller, mostly due to his portly shape, significant height difference to Joshua, but also because he spent more time posing with AJ's belts like he was a boxing fan in awe of his hero, than actually talking about how he was confident of winning the fight.
'The Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. started boxing at the age of six and he won numerous national titles and came agonisingly close to qualifying for the Olympics. He admirably racked up an amateur record of 105-5, and almost won a world title 7,000 miles away from home in New Zealand. Against Joseph Parker for the WBO World heavyweight title, Ruiz Jr took his foot off the gas during the middle rounds and gave away too much for his late surge to change his fate.
I strongly believe that Joshua and Ruiz are so very closely matched in attributes that they could fight 10 times and the score could be 5-5. I am hoping to see a trilogy fight but with an improved Joshua facing a disciplined Ruiz Jr. A clash containing those two fighters would be one of the biggest fights to make.
Jermaine Franklin; Demsey McKean; Filip Hrgovic; Gerald Washington… there's been several names thrown around, but Hearn claims they are down to a shortlist of three or four opponents and also confirmed AJ had started training camp a few days into the New Year.
New York promoter Dmitry Salita was on record saying a fight between AJ and Gerald Washington was close to being sealed, but I don't believe that name would inspire boxing crowds.
Instead, I strongly believe Joshua should fight Otto Wallin. The Swedish southpaw is desperate to avenge his two amateur losses to AJ, so this would make for a trilogy fight with added spice. The pair have sparred together so it's always good when there's prior knowledge and respect. Plus, if AJ could do a better job against Wallin than Fury managed, who was badly cut by a punch early in their fight, then that will be the performance he needs to get his name right back on top.
However, once-beaten Jermaine Franklin appears to be emerging as the frontrunner to land the golden ticket against AJ.
Regardless of whether it's Wallin, Franklin or somebody else next, AJ will still draw a crowd, the media attention will still be high, the fans will continue to turn out in their masses, the viewing figures on fight night will be huge, and the interest will still be there as Anthony Joshua undoubtedly still has plenty left to offer.Things you didn’t know about Anthony Joshua