Timing is everything.
In the animal world, those seeking dominance have their fate decided according to timing’s judgment.
Individuals use a simple formula to decide when the time is right to challenge the dominant male: When desire to access resources outweighs certain factors – their age, intelligence, strength and fitness – they reach for the brass ring.
Boxing’s landscape, maneuverings and hierarchy is determined according to a similar doctrine.
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko and their management have made their own assessments. Their calculations have reached a similar conclusion: this Saturday is the right time to conquer the other.
Joshua hopes the once-great Ukrainian is merely trading on past glories. That his reflexes and intentions don’t collaborate anymore. His name value may remain, but the product is weary and tired. See Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate.
Klitschko’s reasoning seemed more elusive. His performances during fight week, however, have been revelatory.
As he stood on the apron during Joshua’s ‘fight week workout’ (a trite Matchroom promotional tool) and as he sagely waved the curious USB stick like a Hogwarts wizard during the final press conference, he told us all we need to know.
He thinks he can mentally unsettle a novice AJ.
He thinks he can make Joshua question himself. That his lack of familiarity with the harsh spotlight will cause him to freeze. That Klitschko’s experience, and AJ’s lack of it, will determine the winner.
He doesn’t wish to be confined to the boxing annuls yet. He has one final stamp to add to his collection. His hope is to define an era, and to overshadow the next.
Boxing, however, yearns for an AJ victory. Guiding the sport into a new frontier. Like species’ survival is dependent on a strong guiding light, boxing needs new personalities and awe-inspiring athletes to gather new support and revive its flag-bearing division that was once lost to the Eastern European wilderness.
Nights like this is what makes our sport so singular. One night can shape a career, or end it.
As the great Budd Schulberg once said, ‘What makes boxing so great is that it so often brings us that one night in which one fighter achieves immortality and the loser retreats into the shadows of oblivion.’
Before running the numbers I knew who the favorite would be. Wladimir Klitschko is far more experienced, has seen all styles, and was only overturned in recent years by an anomaly – a 6’9, mobile, switch-hitting enigma in Tyson Fury.
But, I fear a flaw.
Wladimir Klitschko is a complex being with a very uncomplicated style. As articulate out of the ring as he is inarticulate inside of it.
I shudder when Anthony Joshua dismissively states, ‘Its not complicated. It’s just a fight’, but in this context the statement has some credence.
The heavyweight game is different. Nuance is not so necessary when you carry the detonation switch in your fist.
Klitschko has three punches: the jab, the right cross and on occasion the left hook (which he can throw as a lead).
When an opponent navigates round the jab and into the hot-zone of the inside, he holds.
He has to. He has no inside game. Wladimir understood a long time ago, it would be difficult for a man of his size and length of arms to have success on the inside, so he circumvented the need for it.
His strategy is predicated on two things: i) Wladimir being the A-Side/home fighter; ii) a compliant referee.
He will have neither on Saturday night. Any sign of persistent holding will be greeted with protest from ringside and from the 90,000 on hand. The referee cannot be ignorant to the application of rules on this night.
This leaves him with no way to halt Joshua on the inside. So he must assert himself early and halt Joshua’s forward motion.
This is when another Klitschko flaw becomes an impediment: His unwillingness to throw the right hand without landing the jab with regularity first.
He’s a rhythm fighter, a confidence fighter. He doesn’t dive in until he knows the water is safe.
Wladimir takes the opponents jab away by using his reach and his hands to tap their gloves or arms. Asserting his size and interrupting their rhythm halts their inclination to throw, clearing the path for his own left-handed missile.
But Joshua is a similar size to Wladimir and is unlikely to allow such cynical tactics.
What does this leave Klitschko with?
But, AJ could, in theory offset all of this with aggression. Wladimir’s aversion to risk means he’s unwilling to counter-punch or throw off the back foot.
The winner – and I expect by knockout – will be determined by who harbours the greater desire to seize the lead.
History tells us this is Joshua’s modus operandi. But he’s a rookie and this is Sunday at the Masters and he’s in the final pairing with Tiger Woods.
Something has got to give.
I’m rolling with experience: Wladimir Klitschko 6u to win @ 9/4 (+225) and by KNOCKOUT 5u @ 5/1 (+500).