The good news for Anthony Joshua is that he won, and for the first time in nearly three years, he won by knockout. That’s something to celebrate.
Joshua, the former unified heavyweight champion, hasn’t looked like the killer he once was for several years. He didn’t remind anyone of, oh, Lennox Lewis on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, but he won without much difficulty.
Joshua seemed cautious and nervous, and took few risks against Robert Helenius, a last-minute replacement who took the fight when Dillian Whyte failed an anti-doping test and was pulled from the bout.
Helenius had fought a week earlier in Finland and was in shape, so he got the nod.
It was a win, but he did nothing to show he’s ready for Deontay Wilder.
At one point, when both men were unbeaten with heavyweight titles around their waist, it was a 50-50 bout at worst, and maybe one that slightly favored Joshua. Now, though, Wilder is two cuts above Joshua and would undoubtedly destroy the version of Joshua we saw Saturday.
It’s not fair to compare fights, but Wilder faced Helenius last year and finished him with one massive shot late in the first round. Joshua made Helenius look like a legitimate contender instead of the B-side he plainly was.
“Helenius, I told him there ‘Please come again [because] in modern day boxing, a loss is like suicide,’ but the guy has got talent so I had to figure him out,” Joshua said. “He was a late replacement but I think he could cause a of people some problems, in my humble opinion.”
Helenius could cause some problems for some fighters, but none with the last names of Fury, Joshua, Wilder, Usyk or Ruiz. He is slow, doesn’t have much movement and isn’t a particularly heavy puncher.
Wilder is the opposite. He’s quick with extremely fast hands and while he’ll never remind anyone of Floyd Mayweather with his footwork, he jumps into punching position quickly and is one of the hardest hitters in the division’s history.
Trainer Derrick James is trying to rebuild Joshua’s confidence and his fundamentals. While it’s wise never to bet against James, one of boxing’s elite trainers, Joshua is in the early stages of his development and he has holes that Wilder will easily exploit.
Promoter Eddie Hearn praised Joshua after the fight, but it was almost like he was trying to pat his star heavyweight on the back and rebuild his confidence. He said Joshua and his team entered the bout with a three-point plan: Helenius on Saturday, Wilder next and then WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
The first point was accomplished, but even getting to a Fury fight, let alone winning it, will be extraordinarily difficult.
Joshua, though, was as confident as we’ve seen him in a while, at least after the fight. He was stiff and cautious in the ring, particularly in the early going, and he never looked like the 2016-17 version of himself.
After the bout ended, he took a victory lap, and was fed a beer by UFC star Conor McGregor. And while he wasn’t too eager to spend much time on the mic being interviewed, he did joke around.
He asked for a doctor and it made many of his ringside fans blanch. But he was showing his confidence, or trying to, in a Wilder match.
“My back! My back!” Joshua said, feigning pain. “Is there a doctor in here? “My back’s gone from carrying this heavyweight division to the top.”
The heavyweight division is in a great place now, and it will be much better if Joshua can reclaim his past form. He’s only 33 and still hits like a truck and is athletic.
At this stage of his career, however, the whole is nowhere near the sum of his parts. He seems robotic and needs to think and against quick, fast-twitch punchers like Wilder, that can be deadly.
Hearn laid out Joshua’s plan in detail, and it seemed a bit as if he were trying to cash out rather than to see Joshua regain his confidence and his talents.
“Whether you back Josh, whether you think he can do, whether he can’t, things have changed,” Hearn said. “He’s now a mature heavyweight. And I know everyone wants to see first-, second-, and third-round KOs, but against Helenius, he took his time and delivered one of the knockouts of the year. We believe he can go on and beat Deontay Wilder. … We will look to try and close that deal in the next couple days. Josh is ready for that fight. He’s given everything to this sport. He’s given everything to British boxing. He’s ready now for some big marquee fights.”
The good news for boxing fans is he’s likely to get it. Joshua-Wilder is a huge worldwide bout.
The bad news for Anthony Joshua is he’s likely to get it.
At this point of his career, Anthony Joshua isn’t ready for the likes of Deontay Wilder.