With every frustrated punch that Anthony Joshua bounced off Carlos Takam, his rugged challenger who just refused to quit, a fellow world heavyweight champion will have nodded understandingly, writes James Dielhenn.
Deontay Wilder, the Transatlantic title-holder whose green and gold WBC belt is the ultimate jewel for Joshua to add to his own treasure chest, has experienced nights like that. The only difference was slight yet, on paper, crucial; Joshua maintained his record of stopping every opponent while Bermane Stiverne, two-and-a-half years ago, became the sole blemish on Wilder’s streak of knockouts.
The time has come to address that. Seven nights after Joshua kept up his side of the bargain by eventually ending Takam’s resistance, Wilder is afforded the opportunity to right the wrongs of his first fight against Stiverne. Their rematch in the early hours of Sunday, live on Sky Sports Action from 1am, is the final obstacle before unbeaten champions Wilder and Joshua can explode into 2018 where the possibilities ought to be endless.
The crowing from both sides of the pond has already started. Kings don’t chase other kings, Wilder said last week. I got a kingdom and I brought all my king’s men and all the king’s horses and now I’m knocking on your kingdom doors.
I declare war. I am declaring war upon AJ. I will not chase him. We are going to lure you in, you can only run for so long and so far.
Wilder knows his bold talk will only hold value if he impresses against Stiverne, his only rival in 38 fights that has survived 12 rounds. That result, when he won the vacant WBC belt, was blamed on an injury to his right hand which inflicts the majority of his damage.
Alabama’s Wilder, who won a bronze medal at the Olympics four years before Joshua took gold, is also battling critics who complain that his progress has been too slow. By way of contrast, Jason Gavern was Wilder’s 32nd victory but Joshua beat the same opponent in just his 11th fight. Another mutual opponent, Eric Molina, tagged Wilder and lasted nine rounds but was pounded out inside three by Joshua.
The other side of the coin is that Wilder has tried to address his progress, and fallen foul of his opponents’ misdemeanours. He planned to defend his belt in the hostility of Russia against former world title challenger Alexander Povetkin a year before Joshua took on Klitschko, but the fight was cancelled when the challenger failed a drug test. This weekend Wilder was due to face Luis Ortiz, perhaps the most awkward task in the heavyweight division, but another challenger failed another drug test. This has led to Wilder’s second consecutive late call-up opponent, something that Joshua may sympathise with after fighting Takam on 12 days’ notice.
Yet finally the pendulum might be swinging in Wilder’s direction. With Joshua still recuperating from the wounds of boxing for 10 rounds, a more explosive performance from his world title-holding peer would re-establish Wilder’s value.
The stakes could scarcely be higher, especially when you throw Dillian Whyte, a potential high-profile challenger, into the mix. Wilder’s fight in Brooklyn, New York, is a territory that remains a possibility for Joshua’s US debut, should he opt to head abroad. The last time that Wilder fought in New York he produced a trademark one-punch KO to finish Artur Szpilka before being confronted in the ring by Tyson Fury.
Fury’s exile remains the elephant in the room but the seed has been planted for a rivalry that would produce fireworks with Wilder. That feud has been reopened this week via social media by Fury. The next step to making these dream fights less farfetched is for Wilder to do the business this weekend. So, your move, champ.
Deontay Wilder defends his version of the world heavyweight title against Bermane Stiverne, live on Sky Sports, in the early hours of Sunday morning at 1am. Before that, on Saturday night, Dmitry Bivol, Jamie McDonnell and Scott Quigg box in Monte Carlo, live on Sky Sports from 7pm.