THE vast majority who watched heavyweight Anthony Joshua crunch to 9-0 (9) on Saturday night via brutal two-round demolition of Denis Bakhtov were impressed. Those familiar with boxing, and the paths that prospects walk, poured out compliments and voiced their excitement about the frightening demolition. The Russian was, on paper, a significant step-up for the 2012 Olympic champion.
However, there were also plenty of detractors, those who called the contest a “mismatch” due to the ease with which Joshua walked through the former fringe contender. One angry Tweeter wrote: “Another mismatch. Does someone have to die before the BBB [of] C act?” and then, after being told that Bakhtov came into the fight with a solid reputation, said: “Don’t give me that. It was painfully obvious that he was a hand-picked no-hoper.”
Certainly Joshua was expected to win. But the one-sided nature of his victory is a reflection on his growing prowess rather than Bakhtov being a “no-hoper”. Any quick victory can be labelled a mismatch after the event. For example, when Mike Tyson was on the way up he knocked out Marvis Frazier, who had suffered only one prior defeat and was highly ranked by all governing bodies, in a mere 30 seconds. Two years later, “Iron” Mike took 61 seconds longer to thrash Michael Spinks which, beforehand, was the most eagerly awaited heavyweight showdown of the decade. Should those fights be labelled mismatches because Tyson won so effortlessly?
Please don’t think I’m saying Bakhtov is the same level as Spinks, or Frazier, but consider exactly where Joshua is in his career and the comparison is valid. It was his ninth professional fight. And although he came into the paid ranks with an Olympic gold medal, his vested experience was limited. Legendary amateur Vasyl Lomachenko, who challenged for a world title in only his second contest, he is not. Bakhtov, 38-9 going in and never before stopped in such a fashion, was not expected to win but he was deemed more than capable of testing the young slayer.
But Bakhtov, like Matt Skelton and Konstantin Airich before him, could not provide that test. Not because he was not willing, nor because he was a poor opponent, but because Joshua is more formidable – at this level at least – than we originally thought. What cannot be denied, though, is that Joshua needs to be moved up another level before he challenges the world leaders. But the height of that step needs to be considered carefully. It was a predicament faced by Britain’s previous heavyweight destroyer, David Price, not so long ago.
Throughout history, question marks have surrounded young, unbeaten knockout artists. How will their muscled physique react when it is forced to go six, eight or 10 rounds? How will their jaw stand up when full-blown punches smash against it? Price encountered these concerns as he gleefully chewed up the likes of Sam Sexton and Audley Harrison. His promoters looked round for a durable exam, found Tony Thompson and the results – two career-shattering defeats – are history.
Throwing Joshua in with Thompson would be a brave but highly unlikely scenario. Perhaps, for now, someone like Kevin Johnson – who has been 12 rounds with Vitali Klitschko, Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora – would be a clever move by Matchroom. The American is almost certain to go rounds. Going back to Tyson, he was forced to go 10 sessions with the canny, but ultimately unambitious James Tillis and Mitch Green before any challenge for honours could be taken seriously.
Michael Sprott is to be Anthony’s next opponent but few expect him to still be standing after the first round. Unlike the Bakhtov bout, this has mismatch written all over it. Sprott’s punch resistance and reactions are casualties of a long and honourable career. This is not a positive matchup. Matchroom may argue that Sprott is the logical opponent because Joshua has eyes on the British title, but the veteran has not campaigned domestically – Prizefighter tournaments withstanding – for a long, long time.
Let’s give Joshua, and Matchroom, credit for what has been achieved in Anthony’s first year as a professional. The Bakhtov bashing highlighted how far he’s come and was, without question, a stirring success.
Smashing up the 39-year-old Sprott, who has been knocked out in the first round twice in the last 18 months, will not further that progress.