Anthony Joshua and Eddie Hearn were all smiles following AJ’s workmanlike win over the durable Carlos Takam Saturday evening. Joshua retains his undefeated record, his perfect knockout streak, his titles and his grip on the preeminent position as the biggest attraction in boxing!
Minor controversy was caused in the 10th round when referee Phil Edwards, a native of the UK stepped in “prematurely” to end Takam’s night with about one minute left in the round.
To be fair it was an early stoppage from a fan point of view who are used to seeing AJ’s opponents airlifted motionless out of the ring. However, the bloodlust of the average boxing fan is beside the point.
The takeaways from Joshua’s performance are of course far more interesting.
Carlos Takam #3 ranked boxer in the IBF was named as Joshua’s new mandatory opponent on 16 October after Kubrat Pulev was forced to pull out with a shoulder injury. Inside sources point to the injury existing since right at or slightly before the fight with AJ was announced however Pulev’s team believed the massive Bulgarian could rehab and recover in time, however, it was not to be.
Into the breach stepped Takam. He initially felt like a step down to many boxing fans but the many in the boxing media felt differently. Takam had only been stopped once before by a juiced up Alex Povetkin three years ago and made current WBO Heavyweight Champion Joseph Parker go the distance. Takam was assessed as more offensive minded than Pulev, cagey and at short notice presented an interesting test for AJ.
Adding to the speculation were the claims by promoter Eddie Hearn that Takam had actually been enlisted to enter a 10 week paid training camp when the fight with Pulev was announced just in case a situation like the one that unfolded arose.
Many didn’t believe it.
Many called Hearn a liar outright.
However, consider this; a pre-sold Principality arena in Cardiff - 78,000 spectators, investment for TV rights both foreign and domestic, is it any wonder that Hearn would devise a contingency plan to ensure his investment and that of Matchroom Boxing?
Second, and this is perhaps a bit more anecdotal; the performance of Takam was exemplary!
It didn’t look like a guy who rolled a bar stool and started shadow boxing in his living room two weeks before to me - did it to you? Takam was there, largely on Joshua’s chest from round 6-10, prior to that he used excellent head and upper body movement to confuse and disrupt AJ, that is all quite taxing on any fighter, but on a heavyweight - anything else but elite level conditioning can sustain that pace in a world championship prize fight.
Regardless, the first thing that strikes me and probably strikes any boxing fan is the aura surrounding the phenomenon that AJ has become - what he truly means to the British sports fan.
I watched the Showtime broadcast and for Mauro Ranallo to stay quiet for greater than 60 seconds so we could appreciate the exultant atmosphere within the Principality stadium as AJ strolled to the ring, touching hands with fans who lined the causeway was special indeed.
There is simply nothing comparable to an Anthony Joshua fight here in the states
So the bell rang to begin round one and it was a slow cagey start. Takam began his elusive head and upper body movement while AJ stalked. A cautious approach by the champion was unsurprising since they had planned for a more strategic fight with Pulev who can be quite negative at times and got Carlos Takam who is not afraid to wade in.
In round two Takam landed what became his most telling blow of the fight - a nasty headbutt to the face of AJ that likely broke the Champion’s nose. A comparison was made between Evander Holyfield’s borderline dirty tactics where he was known to come in with his head against opponents and what Takam had just done.
The third round was more posturing. AJ struggled most of the fight to cut the ring off against Takam, instead frequently following his Cameroonian challenger.
Both came alive in the 4th round and in the midst of an exchange AJ showed his ability to fight well on the inside for a big man and landed a right hook as he blocked a left hook from the challenger sending Takam down briefly, he sprang to his feet seemingly unphased. Also in that round, AJ landed an uppercut-left hook that opened a cut on the eyelid of Takam.
In the middle rounds, AJ pressed his advantage and clearly won the middle rounds. Though many fans believed AJ would get Takam out of there in three or fewer rounds AJ himself supposedly predicted a stoppage victory between rounds 10-12. Possibly because he believed it might take that long to figure Takam out given the short notice or possibly because AJ is still learning on the job as it were - that’s a funny thing for the unified Heavyweight Champion - but consider the fact that AJ has boxed only 66 rounds (this includes nearly 10 full rounds in Cardiff).
AJ’s punch output slowed, in the later rounds and you can make an argument that Takam just nicked a few - maybe round 8 for example.
However, I would point to a few key observations.
AJ is very coachable; head trainer Rob McCracken is a meticulous strategist. He knows what he has on his hands with Joshua. He would have likely pressed home that Joshua would need to take his time against Takam, avoid a gun show, avoid any pretence at having to take Takam out early because he is viewed as less than Pulev. He’s not just as dangerous - he’s a different kind of dangerous.
AJ was relaxed, he didn’t seek to blow Takam away - he abandoned his penchant for brawling and instead picked his shots with considerable accuracy, though his jab was almost nonexistent.
Yes, charm. Does not seem at first that charm would be an effective offensive weapon in a boxing fight but almost immediately after the fight was stopped a chorus of boos rained down from the Principality arena thanks to the premature stoppage, just as suddenly Sky Sports microphones were thrust into his face and Joshua brilliantly pivots.
He acknowledged that his fans want to see clean knockouts - bodies strewn all around the ring in heaps at his feet. He went on to say that officiating is not his job, his job is to fight and given the circumstances, he believed he gave the people their money's worth.
He celebrated his tremendous following in the UK and knows that it is the UK boxing establishment that made him, when he suggested locations for future fights - London, Scotland, back to Wales or Vegas, of course, the UK locals got the biggest cheers and why not - AJ knows that home of boxing - certainly Heavyweight Championship boxing is in the UK.
That presence of mind and cheerfulness with the media after the adrenaline dump of a championship fight - albeit one Joshua never had to get out of 2nd or 3rd gear to win can’t be taught and is the much of the reason AJ is in the position he’s in as the biggest draw in boxing.
Now looming in the shadows is the super heavyweight super fight between Anthony Joshua and WBC Champion Deontay Wilder. No doubt Wilder watched AJ’s fight last night.
Safe to assume AJ will watch Wilder defend his title in a week’s time against former foe Bermane Stiverne, he too stepping in as a late replacement for Luis Ortiz who disqualified himself as the result of a failed drug test.
On paper, it can be easily argued that AJ had the tougher test relatively speaking though Wilder should put Stiverne away quickly and with relative ease.
Hearn has buried Wilder on a number of occasions for refusing to fight Dillian Whyte for example. However, AJ has Hearn whispering in his ear and Wilder has mastermind Al Haymon whispering in his. Both promoters know good business and know how to make money and aside from Oscar de la Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions has shown a willingness to work with and make money with nearly everyone. Case in point was the surreal matchup this summer between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather - another fighter advised by Haymon.
The point is both Hearn and Haymon own blue-chip stock in heavyweight boxing.
It makes sense to raise the stakes over the next 12-18 months when both sides push those chips forward and cash in on the biggest fight in heavyweight boxing in a generation.
If you thought boxing in 2017 was wild, 2018 just might be Wilder.