• Steve Bunce

Joshua's a heavyweight baby - he must be treated like one

Steve Bunce October 8, 2013
Buncey's Boxing Podcast: Hearn, Gallagher, Joyce

Three Olympic super-heavyweight gold medallists were in action over the weekend, including Anthony Joshua's first fight.

And it had the perfect ending. He bludgeoned the guy in less than 180 seconds. Absolutely brilliant, that's what you're meant to do.

Now, though, it gets tricky, and Eddie Hearn discusses that in the podcast. Joshua's first fight was about raising his profile and getting him out there - and now Eddie has to plot a path. He knows it's not going to be easy because he has to make the right matches. It's harder now than it's ever been.

When Lennox Lewis turned professional it was under the radar; nobody cared. He was a gold medallist. When Frank Bruno turned professional it was under a bit of publicity but no one cared about the quality of his opponent. It was before the age of the smartphone when people could instantly check online the guy's credentials. And in fact we were told some of the guys were X when in fact they were Y - not just in Bruno's case, but in the case of a lot of fighters back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

Then Audley Harrison comes along and pushes it too far - something Barry Jones talks about at length in this week's podcast.

And now we've got this kid Joshua. It's his first fight, he's top of the bill, it's high profile. Hearn tells us, and I think it's sensible, that he will have more circumspect fights from now on. The opponents will increase and improve but they won't be as high profile. Maybe he will go on the road, fight in America, fight in Germany, fight on the undercards around Britain. That makes an awful lot of sense and takes the pressure off him.

The first four fights, he doesn't have to have a test. It's my opinion that he can go first round, first round, first round, first round.
However, it's still difficult to get this kid two years' worth of learning fights. The public is not as patient as it was five years ago. It is not as patient as it is in Germany, where they have mastered the art of developing fighters. Eddie Hearn talks about Kubrat Pulev's progression and I reckon Alexander Povetkin's progression is even better. The way Povetkin was handled when he first turned pro was brilliant. He fell short against Wladimir Klitschko at the weekend in their massive fight - and it was a massive fight - but still his preparation was enormous.

So of the three big heavyweights involved in two big heavyweight fights this weekend, we don't know where Klitschko is going because we don't know who is out there for him to fight. We don't know where Povetkin's going because he has to go back to the drawing board and reassess as he lost clearly and was dropped four times. And we still don't really know where Joshua is going.

All we know is we've got this big, young, dangerous kid who every promoter from Germany to America to Australia to Britain wanted a part of. It's heady days indeed for these super-heavyweights and it's hard, hard, hard work to get Joshua from one win to 15 wins. If you can get him to 15 wins, that's not a problem. But you've got to turn him into a heavyweight during that period. And that's the problem.

There are several things that need to be done with Joshua. First of all, they've got to keep him busy. The first four fights, he doesn't need to have a test. It's my opinion that he can go first round, first round, first round, first round. What he needs during that six-month period is to be tested in sparring. He needs to have lengthy sparring sessions.

We know that Pulev had hard sparring, we know that Wladimir and his brother Vitali had hard sparring, we know Lennox Lewis had hard sparring to make up for the massacres and mismatches in the ring. We also know that Povetkin had hard, secret, behind closed doors sparring. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they are looking at doing the same with Big Josh - getting him in and doing simulated six to eight round fights behind closed doors; paying guys a nice few quid to come and test him.

In the ring, the public want to see him standing to attention, nodding his head when his name is announced then knocking his opponent out inside a round. That's what the heavyweight public want. No one wants to see him run out of energy after four rounds and hold for two rounds - they want to see him knock people out. So they have to do the learning away from the ring, because what the ring does is get him ready for fighting in front of big crowds.

The big unanswered question, and Eddie Hearn acknowledged, no one really knows what's going to happen down the line when he steps up, when he gets hit on the chin, or when he's in the ninth or tenth round. So what you can do is make sure he stays focused - but with Joshua that's not a problem. He has even fewer distractions than Lennox Lewis - and Lewis had no distractions. Joshua is boring - and that is a fantastic bit of news. He is what you see: a fitness and boxing freak. He also knows how to hold his tongue.

They have got to make sure that he's always in good nick and they have to make sure they don't overreact to criticism. After five or six fights, if people are saying he's fighting "bums" or "no-hopers", sure he is because that's the way you learn, that's the way you develop, that's how a match-maker makes his money.

You start to push on when you're ready and we have to remember that Joshua has had 100 or more fights fewer than Klitschko, than Povetkin.

He's relatively inexperienced and a baby - and he needs to be handled that way. In 12 months we will have a better idea and in two years we will know.

Anthony Joshua floored Emanuele Leo in the first round on Saturday - his real tests need to come in sparring at this stage of his career © PA Photos
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.