BOXING is far from perfect but when it gets it right, when it makes a fight everyone wants to see, there is no greater spectacle in sport. That sense of anticipation before the opening bell, whether you’re ringside, in the stands, sitting in a pub or watching at home, is simply incomparable.
There’s a tell-tale sign that the fight approaching is a truly great fight when only the fighters involved are discussed in the build-up. Think about it. In pretty much every Floyd Mayweather event from 2010, Manny Pacquiao was the elephant in the room and vice-versa each time Pacquiao was in action during that period. Ahead of their belated showdown in 2015, all talk was purely on the upcoming contest.
Since arriving on the world stage, Anthony Joshua has rarely been in a fight where questions about future opponents haven’t blighted his preparation for his immediate rival. From the moment he signed to fight Charles Martin for the IBF title in 2016, he’s been asked by reporters and media what happens next: ‘Once you’ve knocked out Martin are you going to fight Tyson Fury?’
Fury of course disappeared. Wladimir Klitschko, Joseph Parker and Deontay Wilder took the Traveller’s place in discussions with Joshua. Though the Klitschko showdown was predominantly all about Klitschko, even the subsequent scrap with Parker, then the WBO champion, was overshadowed by Wilder.
Famously, ahead of Joshua’s fateful defence against Andy Ruiz Jnr in New York last year, American reporters struggled to muster a single enquiry about Ruiz and instead, two days before Joshua lost in a huge upset, he was fielding question after question about the then-WBC champion. After Joshua avenged Ruiz, Fury thrashed Wilder and Tyson was again the name on the media’s lips throughout the build-up and aftermath of AJ taking care of Kubrat Pulev.
Nothing is more frustrating for a fighter, when they’re trying to focus on the job at hand or when they want some time to enjoy their victory, to be expected to turn their attention to a completely different opponent. But what we shouldn’t doubt is that both Joshua and Fury are now only thinking about each other.
It will be five years since Joshua fought Martin that the questions about what happens next will hopefully stop, at least for a fight or two. Joshua vs Fury would appear to be all anyone is now interested in. The promoters are saying the right things: Bob Arum, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren are all united in their desire to make the fight. There isn’t any dissenting voices (aside from the WBO, perhaps) or any caveats to promises. Think back to Joshua-Wilder negotiations; though we were teased by Hearn and Shelly Finkel, they were never really in agreement about anything.
At BN, we’re careful not to get too carried away until the fighters are standing in the opposing corners and waiting for the first bell. But we sense the irresistible showdown is closer than ever before. The magnitude of this contest cannot be downplayed.
Even those esteemed writers that are currently penning misinformed nonsense that boxing has no place in society – Matt Dickinson of The Times, shame on you – will struggle to ignore the sheer size and appeal of it.
* SPARE a thought for Callum Smith this week. Ordinarily, his showdown with Canelo Alvarez would have been BN’s main cover image, he’d be surrounded by British press and his mission to conquer the Mexican superstar would be everywhere.
The worldwide pandemic has made travelling to San Antonio impossible for many but nobody in Team Smith should doubt that British fans will be at home rooting for him.
The razzmatazz of a big event can be distracting for fighters, particularly in fight week, so one wonders if the lack of British attention may work in Callum’s favour. It’s a huge ask but Smith arguably has the best chance of anyone in and around the super-middleweight division to beat Canelo. It’s far from a foregone conclusion.
And if he wins, his story will suddenly become the biggest of the year.