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Joshua ready to take step into the unknown

Anthony Joshua lifts the belt he won in such spectacular fashion against Wladimir Klitschko at a sell-out Wembley Stadium. (Reuters)
LONDON: It could have been worse for Anthony Joshua, a lot worse. When Kirk Johnson pulled out of a heavyweight fight with Lennox Lewis in 2003 because of a chest injury, Vitali Klitschko, Dr. Ironfist, stepped into the breach. He’d only lost one of his previous 33 fights.
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.