Joshua ready to take step into the unknown
Joshua ready to take step into the unknown
And how about when Steve Collins had to withdraw from a WBO World Super Middleweight title bout with Joe Calzaghe in 1997. Who should be the replacement? The warrior that is Chris Eubank.
The reality remains that even if Carlos Takam, who has been summoned to replace the injured Kubrat Pulev, is fit to face Joshua, as promoter Eddie Hearn insists he is, he’s not in the class Klitschko and Eubank were. He may be ranked No 3 by the IBF but he’s got his work cut out to trouble Joshua let alone beat him.
Takam is 36 years old, comfortably shorter than the defending IBF and WBA champion, and also fights with an orthodox stance. His reach may be greater than that of Pulev, but it remains smaller than Joshua’s and, unlike the Bulgarian whose only previous defeat came amid one of the finest performances of Wladimir Klitschko’s career, he cannot argue he has lost only to the best.
Hearn maintains that Takam had agreed to start his training camp at the same time as Pulev in an attempt to be ready for the 28th in the eventuality Pulev may be forced to withdraw. And even if he did, the likelihood of him investing the necessary resources and commitment required to give him his greatest chance against the world’s leading heavyweight is far more remote.
He fights ‘small’, which, as has repeatedly been demonstrated throughout Joshua’s 19-fight professional career, makes him a comfortable style of opponent, and while he may have improved since losing to the little-known Gregory Tony in 2009, his limitations have been exposed in defeats by Russia’s Alexander Povetkin and the unremarkable Joseph Parker since.
When in June 2003 and with a similar lack of notice, Vitali Klitscho replaced the injured Kirk Johnson in Lewis’ final fight, Britain’s last dominant heavyweight champion — and at a time when he had long lacked hunger — was confronted by a significantly bigger opponent whose fitness was not in doubt because of his place on that same bill’s undercard.The Ukrainian was leading on the judges’ scorecards when a significant cut by his eye forced referee Lou Mouret to controversially award the fight to Lewis at its half-way point, after which the Briton retired, but the notion of Takam even earning a lower form of glory in defeat would seem a stretch.
Eubank, 20 years ago last week, did not threaten Calzaghe to the same extent, but while at that point he gave the Welshman his toughest fight, he was a vastly-different fighter to Steve Collins — who withdrew at similarly late notice — and Calzaghe had never previously gone 12 rounds.
Joshua will likely never quite earn parity with Calzaghe, perhaps Britain’s finest ever fighter, but even if he has only ever fought 55 rounds as a professional, that he has long been groomed for greatness means he is relatively experienced, accustomed to, and generally composed under pressure. His April defeat of Wladimir Klitschko also means he will never have had such self-belief.
The biggest concern for both him and Hearn surrounds not the threat posed by Takam who, far from known for his elusiveness, can be expected to abandon his ambition when he feels the consistency of Joshua’s intimidating power, but the potential commercial success of their fight, especially ahead of plans to pursue higher-profile opponents like Parker, Deontay Wilder and potentially David Haye in 2018.
Therein, however, also lies his appeal and much of the reason Takam remains a willing opponent in such circumstances. Bulgaria’s Pulev was a similarly unenticing opponent to the many mainstream sports fans who will represent the vast majority of the world record indoor fight crowd expected under the roof in Cardiff.
That he has been replaced by a Frenchman born in Cameroon will matter little to those – and there will be 70,000 packed into Cardiff’s Principality Stadium – who simply want to see Joshua live.
Why even the #WengerOut brigade should lament Arsene Wenger's exit from Arsenal
- The Frenchman revolutionised the game in England across all leagues, not just the Premier League.
- After initial success he found the going tough in the second half of his reign, but will still go down as an all-time great.
Over the past few seasons it has been fashionable to view Arsene Wenger as some sort of figure of fun — a man living in the past, left behind by the modern game, but too stubborn to realize it.
In time, though, even the most ardent, frothing-at-the-mouth #Wenger Out believer would have to agree that the Frenchman will go down not just as one of the best managers Arsenal have had, but also among the greatest in English club football.
As with any caricature, there is a hint of truth in the picture created, crude as it sometimes is. Yes, Wenger’s past few years at the Emirates have been painful to watch. Yes, he was stubborn when it came to both activity in the transfer market and belief in his methods and tactics. Yes, it is fair to say he leaves the club, on the pitch at least, in a bit of a mess. And, yes, he should have left two or three years ago.
But if there is one thing that any sane fan should remember about Wenger’s 22 years as Arsenal boss, it is this: He was a game-changer, a manager who oversaw not only a revolution of the Gunners, but also of the English game.
As soon as Wenger landed in England in 1996, he banished Arsenal’s Tuesday drinking club and munching of Mars bars — in their place came stretching sessions and broccoli. Hardly profound or radical in today’s game, but this was the era when change in English football invariably meant no pies and pints on a Friday night.
The technical, passing, possession football that is now the norm for any side with ambitions to remain in the Premier League, let alone win it, and the idea that eating vegetables rather than a tub of lard would help player performance, were brought in by Wenger alone.
He won the double in his first full season in charge, signed unheralded foreign talent such as Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Viera — who went on to become world-class players — and created teams that were a joy to watch, culminating with “The Invincibles” of 2003-04, who won the Premier League without losing a match.
The irony is that the one-time revolutionary ended up being viewed as a throwback, a stuck-in-the-mud anachronism; a manager who harked back to a time when playing with the owner’s chequebook was not seen as the only path to success and when paragraphs were favored over 140 characters.
And that perhaps explains why so many Arsenal fans seemingly wanted him gone: Wenger is not of the Twitter generation, of instant opinions for the 24-hour news agenda and of hype over humility. The man who was once seen as the future stuck to principles that were deemed as belonging to the past.
It is clear there is a lot of bad blood at the club — a ridiculous Facebook post by an Arsenal fan claimed Wenger’s announcement he was leaving made it the “greatest day in Arsenal’s history.”
But for all the bluster and nonsense, Wenger’s legacy will be that of “The Invincibles” — one of the greatest club sides of modern times; of beautiful football played at pace and with artistry; of being a decent, yet flawed, man who was never anything but articulate and courteous.
Having been in charge of Arsenal for 22 years, he is undoubtedly the last of a kind, and in the era of trigger-happy owners, short-term fixes and sensationalism over stability, that is something everyone, even the #WengerOut brigade, should lament.