Joshua’s Povetkin win closer than he would have liked
British fighter never truly established jab but wore Russian down with body shots
Anthony Joshua celebrates his latest win at Wembley. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty
Afterwards, when the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belts were once again strapped to his waist, Anthony Joshua insisted that he had had “fun” against Alexander Povetkin. It sure did not look that way. Indeed, for the first six rounds Wembley was gripped with something unmistakable and unusual for a Joshua fight: an eerie, apprehensive silence.
It started when their man had his nose bloodied by a brutal uppercut at the end of the first, and there were gasps every time Povetkin landed with a left hook. As the fight entered its second half, there seemed a growing possibility that the Russian – who has twice failed drugs tests – might just leave London with three of the four heavyweight belts, even though all three judges had Joshua up at halfway.
But Povetkin, who had boxed so valiantly, was starting to blow and slow. And suddenly from nowhere his senses were scrambled by a scudding straight right, before his legs were violently taken from him by right and left hooks. Somehow he got up at nine but the end was not long in coming.
“I got my knockout streak back after it went missing for a little while,” said a smiling Joshua, delighted at having a relatively early night after going 33 rounds in his last three fights. “There was a lot of pressure tonight. The whole country is rooting for me. I’m a heavyweight, I’m a world champion. The energy in here spurs you on, but I do feel the pressure, I’m not going to lie.”
He was also, as he revealed afterwards, not quite at his best. “I’ve suffered with a flu,” he said. “This camp has been difficult. I knew I just had to stay in there.”
The fight certainly gave the 75,000 in the crowd their money’s worth on a foul and fetid north London evening, in which weather determinedly stuck two fingers up at the glorious summer. Earlier even those in the £2,000 ringside seats had to wear plastic ponchos as the rain cascaded down during the undercard, although thankfully it stopped before the main event.
Beforehand Joshua insisted that he had come through the most intensive sparring sessions in his career to prepare for Povetkin, with people constantly trying to take his head off. It was to prove invaluable for what was to come.
But this was far from a perfect performance. Joshua had a four-inch height advantage and a seven-inch reach advantage over Povetkin but he never truly established his jab, although his frequent punches to the body did eventually wear his opponent down.
“Povetkin is a very tough challenger but I came in here to have fun,” insisted Joshua, who showed respect for the challenger by touching gloves after every round. “I realised he was strong to the head but weak to the body, and those body shots wore him down.”
Joshua will also be happy with how calm he was under fire. He never panicked when his nose was bloodied and when Povetkin was connecting with too many hooks for comfort.
It was not as if he was fighting a slouch either. After all Povetkin was a former Olympic super-heavyweight champion who had won 34 victories in 35 fights as a professional, with his only defeat coming on points against Wladimir Klitschko. Old school, Joshua called him. And well schooled too. But like so many others he found the champion’s power too hot to handle.
His fight with Joseph Parker showed he could go 12 rounds and box on the back foot when necessary. Here he again showed the size of his heart, just like he had when recovering from a heavy knockdown to defeat Klitschko.
The only tang of disappointment is that instead of facing WBC champion Deontay Wilder, he is more likely to retread old paths by facing Dillian Whyte again on April 13th.
“There is mutual respect with Dillian and I, but we are both lions in the jungle,” said Joshua.
Povetkin was a lion too, and after Joshua had illustrated the validity of boxing’s oldest and most indomitable law – that a good big fighter usually beats a good smaller one – the two talked over their fight with obvious respect. Povetkin had been booed in, but was rightly applauded out. Joshua had survived. But it was a little closer – and tougher – than he would have liked.