So this is it – are we looking at the new Lennox Lewis or the new Audley Harrison?
For someone who only spent 28 ½ minutes in the ring, Anthony Joshua generated quite some noise in his first year as a professional boxer.
Then again, the crunching sound of the Olympic gold medalist’s thunderous headshots landing in bunches of three and four – shortly followed by the crash of his opponents to the canvas – might have had something to do with that.
Eight from eight, all by way of devastating knockouts, the Watford-born heavyweight couldn’t have been enjoyed a more impressive 12 months since announcing himself with a ruthless one-round debut demolition of the previously unbeaten Italian, Emanuele Leo, at the O2 Arena last October.
Victim number four, Dorian Darch, described being punched by Joshua as feeling like he was ‘being hit by a train.’
Fortunate then, that no one has had to suffer more than seven minutes and 16 seconds in the 24-year-old’s company between the ropes so far in his fledgling pro career.
Promoter Eddie Hearn can hardly contain his excitement.
The moment his heavyweight prospect’s name crops up in conversation, British boxing’s chief impresario has the cocksure look of a cat that’s got a lifetime’s supply of the cream.
“He’s going to be a crossover superstar,” Hearn continues to predict with a knowing smile, and nobody’s disagreeing.
The 24-year-old fighter is talented, handsome, articulate, humble and preposterously exciting to watch.
Everyone seems to like him except potential opponents
Who are becoming harder and harder to find by the way…
Once Joshua gets past the ten-win mark a blaze of compelling match-ups lie in wait. Jungle celebrity (and former world champion) David Haye is a stadium fight that would get the juices flowing, as would domestic tear-ups against David Price, Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury.
I think he’s got the power and hand speed to beat all four tomorrow, but let’s take this one step at a time…
Beyond those local tasks, Hearn then expects his man to light up the world heavyweight scene – a playground that’s lost its spark since the machine-like Klitschko brothers first bullied their way to domination around a decade ago.
While brilliant in their own calculating way, neither Ukrainian has the X-Factor Joshua brings to the table, and the sport would welcome a charismatic world champion, in this it’s blue riband category.
Reigning champ Waldimir Klitschko thinks he’ll make it
The giant fighter invited Joshua to spar with him recently and is now tipping the former Team GB hero to reach the top within the next two or three years.
Astonishingly, Joshua hadn’t even worn a pair of boxing gloves until he was 18.
In less than three years he was English amateur champion, by 2011 he’d won silver at the World Championships, and a year on Olympic gold at the 2012 Games in London.
Throwing himself into the sport and proving to be a complete natural, the six foot six bruiser’s rise from rookie to ruler of the amateur scene was remarkable.
Now a professional, Joshua ticks all the right boxes
Trained by the excellent Tony Sims and managed by Hearn, he’s surrounding himself with the right people.
Regarded as a perfectionist, he’s a young man unlikely to rest on his laurels or have his head turned by distractions. Listen to him speak about his boxing, and you’ll instantly know that his drive is real, and focused in the right places.
And then there’s his physical weaponry
In a weight category that features more than it’s fair share of slow, flabby fighters (even at the highest level), Joshua’s tall, muscular and sculpted frame allows him to move around the ring with ease, and produce flurries of whirlwind punching that few heavyweights can compete or cope with.
Improving with every round, boasting the speed and potential ring craft of Lennox Lewis – plus the heavy hands of Frank Bruno – I think he’s the full package, the real deal, and I haven’t heard anyone disagree.
Until he gets hit hard on the chin, the odd doubt will remain over his credentials, and if there’s one minor flaw it’s that he doesn’t always move his head quickly enough. These though, are normal anxieties for any young fighter making their way.
On Saturday, a year on from his debut and inside the same O2 Arena, Joshua faces experienced Russian Denis Bakhtov in his first title fight as a professional, with the WBC International heavyweight belt up for grabs.
He’ll win it with ease
Connections are so confident in fact, that experienced Brit Michael Sprott has already been booked to face him on the stellar undercard of Nathan Cleverly v Tony Bellew 2 (Repeat or Revenge) http://www.matchroomboxing.com/fight-nights/cleverly-vs-bellew-2/ in Liverpool on November 22.
No one expects that fight to last too long either.
I vividly remember watching Josh ua’s pro debut on TV, and as the first bell sounded, hearing the commentator say: “So this is it – are we looking at the new Lennox Lewis or the new Audley Harrison? [both former Olympic champions] Or could it be something in between?”
Nothing I’ve seen in the last 12 months suggests he can’t usurp Lewis. He has the potential to become pound-for-pound the best British boxer of all-time.
Follow Joshua’s progress. It will continue to be noisy, and a lot of fun.