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Dr. Wu, Russian Hit Men and the Clean-up of AIBA

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JEJU, South Korea — There probably never will be a movie made about political turmoil within the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the global governing body for Olympic-style boxing. But there ought to be, because there was genuine behind-the-scenes drama within the organization in the late 1990s and into the first few years of the 21st century. It’s a compelling tale of corruption, coercion, bribery and violence, with Russian thugs even lurking in the background.

And if Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu, since 2006 the reform-minded president of AIBA, is to be believed, the continued existence of boxing as part of the huge quadrennial Olympic festival hung in the balance. Yes, there was boxing in the 2012 London Olympics, and there will be boxing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but rumblings about the long-term health of the one of the sports under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been heard for the better part of 20 years. One more confidence-eroding scandal, one more verifiable incident of fixed fights, of bought-and-paid for officials, of charlatans in high places and … well, who knows? Dynasties have been toppled for far less.

“I’ve been hearing for the last three Olympics that we (boxing) might be on the chopping block,” Mike Martino, interim executive director of USA Boxing, said here at the 2014 AIBA Congress, a gathering of 50 national federations (oops, make that 47; representatives of three West African countries were advised not to come because of fears the Ebola virus might have tagged along with them) that is notable if only for the fact that this is the first such event in which members of the worldwide media were invited to attend. For AIBA, which for 25 years under the late Dr. Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan regarded reporters as enemies, this new era of relative transparency is akin to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Those of us who have caught a glimpse of what is behind the formerly closed curtains are seeing is the implementation of many policy changes, not the least of which is a transition into professional boxing. The tinkering is still not universally welcomed or accepted, but if change is coming, at least let it be above-board and made with the purest of intentions.

“Any reform is not easy,” said Dr. Wu, 68, a soft-spoken and conservatively dressed individual who seems an unlikely candidate for the role of crusading firebrand. “But you have to show your determination in the face of any threat. When you are strong, they become weak.

“I insist on change. I say (to supporters of Chowdhry, who was voted out of office in 2006), `If you do not agree, you can leave. If you break the rules, you will face disciplinary action.’”

Chowdhry loyalists who didn’t agree with the new president depicted him as something more dangerous than his deposed predecessor, who had come to regard AIBA as his personal fiefdom and ATM. The most hard-line faction of the opposition filed multiple lawsuits against Dr. Wu in Lausanne, Switzerland, headquarters of the IOC, in the hopes of killing or at least stalling his initiatives.

“They went to the courts, accusing AIBA, accusing me,” he said. “I went to see the judge in the Swiss court. He said I did not need to come back. All of the complaints against me were dismissed.”

So Dr. Wu – sort of sounds like a character from a James Bond movie, doesn’t it? – triumphs in the closing reel of that movie that probably never will get made. But along the way there was intrigue, turmoil and even a corpse, which are plot elements with which the late Ian Fleming, creator of superspy 007, would have had a field day.

That the new-look AIBA is meeting on this resort island, a few hundred miles from the South Korean capital of Seoul, site of the 1988 Summer Olympics, is somewhat curious. It was in Seoul that America’s Roy Jones Jr. was involved in the most blatant ripoff in the history of Olympic boxing. But the “loss” by Jones – by a 3-2 margin, after he had thoroughly outclassed South Korea’s Park Si-Hu – was hardly an aberration. Lousy decisions have been endemic in Olympic boxing, although steps are being taken to reduce and, hopefully, even eliminate outright thievery.

“I have been a member of the IOC since 1988,” said Dr. Wu, who is familiar with the stench emanating from the Jones shafting. “I gave my commitment to the sports of the Olympic movement. That is my mission. I have to do everything I can to make sure the Olympic spirit and values are maintained.

“I also have been a member of the AIBA executive committee since 1982. There was so much manipulation of the competition under m predecessor, with the cheating, the selling of gold medals. That is totally against my principles. In 1998, I said to my predecessor, `I’m sorry, but I have to challenge you. I am going to run for president.’ He was shocked. Many people were shocked. They said my getting elected would be nearly impossible. But I wanted them to know I at least offered the possibility for change.

“Chowdhry said, `C.K. Wu, you will not get more than 12 votes.’ I got 39 (to Chowdhry’s 79). It totally surprised him because he paid many national federations that did not vote for him. It was driving him crazy. He said, `They take my money and don’t vote for me? What is that?’ But from that moment, I know there is a possibility for change.

“After I lost the election, I give my speech to the delegates and thanked them for their support. And I said, `I will return.’”

Dr. Wu did not run for the AIBA presidency in 2002, since he was advised he did not yet have enough backing to oust Chowdhry. But he tossed his hat into the ring again in 2006, and this time he emerged victorious by a vote of 83-79. His election apparently came none too soon, either.

“I was told,” Dr. Wu said, “that if I did not win when I did, boxing would be out of the Olympic movement. “Some of the delegates were reluctant to even talk to me because they are afraid of revenge from (Chowdhry).”

A pro-Chowdhry Russian delegate is said to have brought in outsiders who were members of the “Russian Mafia” to intimidate other delegates into voting for the incumbent. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but one pro-change delegate was found murdered. If that didn’t scare the bejeezus out of the electorate, nothing could.

“Very dramatic,” Dr. Wu said of most consequential election in AIBA history. “You could make a film of it, easily. But I won, by four votes. That changed everything. If I had lost, boxing is out of the 2012 Olympics, maybe even out of the 2008 Olympics.”

Chowdhry, who was 86 when he died on June 19, 2010, is not around to give his side of the story, but there no doubt are those who would say that if he were, his recollections would cast him in a more favorable light. In any case, in 2007, Chowdhry was barred for life from AIBA for mismanagement of federation funds. That fact alone would seem to substantiate Dr. Wu’s allegations.

As part of his program for nudging AIBA to a place where chicanery eventually becomes a hazy part of the past, Dr. Wu has initiated the World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing, in which elite fighters can maintain their Olympic eligibility and also get paid. It is a concept that is embraced by numerous nations, with the chief pocket of resistance predictably coming from powerhouse American promotional companies that object to certain restrictions of movement placed upon AIBA-signed boxers.

Where does the United States fit into the ever-shifting picture? Not as prominently as it once did, and that is something that greatly concerns Dr. Wu. The lion’s share of funding in any Olympiad comes from the sale of American television rights, and boxing has been relegated to also-ran status on the Olympic TV schedule as fewer and fewer U.S. Olympians advance deep, if at all, into the medal rounds. Although the U.S. has amassed 108 total boxing medals since the modern Olympics were introduced in 1896, the most of any nation, American men were shut out in London for the first time ever.

“We have become the little guys,” conceded Tom Virgets of the United States Naval Academy, who serves as the AIBA disciplinary commission chairman as well as a member of the APB executive board.

“Of this problem we are fully aware,” Dr. Wu said of USA Boxing’s transformation into a beggar at the Olympic banquet. “We are involved in trying to make things change. United States boxing is unlike other national federations. There are so many (state and regional subsets) and they are totally divided. There needs to be a strong central body to lead U.S. boxing movement. Kazakhstan, very strong boxing federation. China, very strong boxing federation. Japan, the same. But United States? Very loose organization. Unless there is complete change with strong leadership, there can be no (improvement).”

The crux of the problem is that other nations, hungry for Olympic medals, are financially supporting their centralized boxing federations in a substantial way. The U.S., by comparison, is like the Boy Scout troop whose moms are forever conducting bake sales so their kids can go on their next woodlands outing.

“(The USOC’s) allocation (to USA Boxing) is $300,000,” Dr. Wu said. “For such a big country, that is impossible. With so little money, it only goes to administration. No development. The structure is totally wrong.

“AIBA pay the money to support (the U.S. WSB) franchise, from our budget. But our support did not get USOC’s attention. I say, `You have to support your boxing, to bring back your glory.’ You used to get five gold medals (at the 1976 Montreal Olympics), nine gold medals (1984, Los Angeles). Now you have zero, except for women. Why? Because nobody pay attention. Nobody cares.

“If somebody really cares, then put money in. Bring in the best boxers. Bring in the best coaches. Centralize. USA is 50 states. Everyone independent. Boxing federation is only symbolic. What power they got? No money. Bad cycle. Worst of the worst.”

Maybe, if the next Sugar Ray Leonard or Oscar De La Hoya were to emerge in Rio in 2016, the bleak landscape might brighten for the U.S. Dr. Wu said the WSP and APB will create Olympic boxers with star power, at least for other countries, and America badly needs someone who can jab and hook his way into the spotlight and make it his own.

“You have no brilliant boxer. No star,” Dr. Wu told two visiting reporters from the Philadelphia area. “Difficult to get marketing, sponsorship. But (the U.S. has) many good boxers. Just need intensive training.

“Once you have one gold medal, two gold medals, everything change. That is my experience.”

And if anyone knows how to bring about change, as difficult as the process sometimes is, it is the guy who took a scrub brush to a soiled AIBA. Then again …

“In the end, the bureaucracy wins out. You can’t beat City Hall,” Teddy Atlas, who called the bouts for NBC-TV at the London Olympics, earlier this year said of his doubts that the situation has changed all that much. “The same old crap goes on and on and on. Olympic boxing has become a joke. It’s not even relevant any more. The scoring is ludicrous. You see a guy from Japan drop a guy from Azerbaijan seven times and he still loses the fight … I mean, come on.”

Dr. Wu hears the complaints and he acknowledges that much work still needs to be done. In the 2016 Olympics, three of the five assigned judges for any bout will be randomly selected by a computer and their only their scores will be tabulated. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than what had been in place. And judges and referees whose work is suspect can expect to be weeded out.

Virgets said there always will be controversial decisions in Olympic boxing, because opinions will differ on the outcome of any match that is subjectively scored. But he pointed out to the enthusiasm he witnessed during the first women’s boxing competition as proof that the sport remains alive and relatively well at the Olympic level.

“Every single session sold out, in a venue with 5,400 seats,” Virgets recalled. “it was one of the toughest tickets to get. During the finals, the decibel level was, like, 10 times that of a jet plane taking off. An incredible atmosphere.”

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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A Kaleidoscope of Boxers Guaranteed to Provide Action: Past and Present

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Marvelous Marvin

To set the tone for this article, one needs only to watch the way in which Thomas Hearns came out in the first round against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He was ready to rock and roll as was his fearsome looking opponent. The ensuing unmitigated savagery was the quintessential illustration of full-tilt boogie.

For most boxing fans, the anticipation of an all-out action bout gets the chills running down spines faster than anything else. But not all, as some prefer a tactical or clinical fight that someone like Mikey Garcia can orchestrate and others –but not many—enjoy a defensive gem via a Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, or Pernell Whitaker. A few love a genuine blood fest that a Gabe Rosado-type can provide, and who doesn’t like seeing something special as in Sugar Ray Leonard, Kostya Tszyu, Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko?

Chill-or-be-chilled types like Bob Satterfield and Tommy Morrison were super exciting. In this connection—a certain cadre of warriors, past and present, would come out charging and stalking as soon as the bell rang. Many demonstrated a marked disdain for defense and used a non-stop, no let-up pressure that discouraged their opponents, especially in the late rounds. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable because it sensed some form of destruction was on its way. The cheering would start during the instructions and sometimes did not let up until the concussive end.

This cadre included Rocky Marciano, Tony Ayala, Vicious Victor Galindez, Jeff Fenech, Roberto Duran, and Julio Cesar Chavez (who sapped the spirit of his opponents by ripping away at their mid-section). Also, Carl “The Cat”  Thompson , chill-or-be-chilled Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno (60-12-1 with 59 KOs),  Ron Lyle, the ultra-violent Edwin Valero, the appropriately nicknamed JulianMr KO” Letterlough, James “The Outlaw” Hughes and his mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat, Thai stalking monster Khaosai Galaxy (47-1),  the first version of George Foreman (pictured with the aforementioned Lyle), Ji-Hoon “Volcano” Kim, Ruslan  Provodnikov, Orlando “Siri” Salido, Marcos Maidana, Lenny Z, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and Mickey Roman (the later four are still fighting but past their primes).

Others who presently incite the anticipation of something special include (but are not limited to) Naoya “Monster” Inoue (16-0), Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (24-0), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1), Alex Saucedo (27-0), and, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1) who now has become slightly more tactical like his nemesis, Canelo Alvarez (50-1-1).

These stand out as representative.

Past

A prime Mike Tyson—and the emphasis is on prime– was the epitome of a boxer who guaranteed action. One simply would not leave his or her seat when “Iron Mike” was doing his highlight reel thing, and his blowout of Michael Spinks punctuated his standing at the top of all-action type fighters, even if the action was usually non-mutual.

Joe Frazier came out smokin’ and would not let up until either he or his opponent were done. For the most part, decisions were not in Joe’s DNA and his left hook was as malicious as a hook can be. With Joe, you just sat back and enjoyed the action. Frazier, wrote boxing historian Tracy Callis,  “was a strong, ‘swarmer’ style boxer who applied great pressure on his opponent and dealt out tremendous punishment with a relentless attack of lefts and rights; His left hook was especially stiff and quick when delivered during his bob-and-weave perpetual attack; he fought three minutes per round and never seemed to tire.”

Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon (87-3-9) was a powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine, built like an iron rod. Some said he pushed his punches. Well if he did, he pushed 87 opponents to defeat. He also became only the second man to stop former three-time world champion Emile Griffith, turning the trick in the 14th round. Blessed with great and deceptive stamina and a solid chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force. He was unbeaten over the last 81 bouts of his career, a span of 13 years, and defended his title 14 times. “One would need to write a book in order to do justice to comparing a fighter of Carlos Monzon’s calibre to his fellow all-time greats,” wrote Mike Casey.

Arturo Gatti and Irish Micky Ward were the quintessential action fighters. One is gone amidst controversy, and hopefully the other will not pay a price for his many ring wars. With these two, just count up the Fights-of-the-Year and the rest is history. Suffice it to say that Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

Until his fateful fight with Nigel Benn (another all-action fighter), Gerald McClellan was absolutely, positively, a stalking monster with dynamite in his gloves. It was ferocity and fury at its highest level and it was something to behold. Sadly, his fight with Benn left him permanently disabled; his story remains a dark stain on boxing. As Ian McNeilly notes, “one man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it.”

Michael “The Great” Katsidis’s all-action style made thrilling fights a lock. The Kat” was willing to take three to deliver one. It was blood and guts to the last drop. Whether he too exacted a heavy price for this style remains to be seen.

Lucia Rijker, AKA “The Dutch Destroyer,” lived up to her moniker and destroyed everyone in her path. Again, it wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Christy Martin (49-7-3) put female boxing on the map in the ‘90s and she did it by going undefeated in 36 straight encounters, running roughshod over her opponents as evidenced by her 25 wins by stoppage during this run. She also managed to steal the show from a Mike Tyson main event in 1996 during her memorable and bloody battle with Deirdre Gogarty.

Present

Deontay Wilder, aka “The Bronze Bomber,” has a record of 40-0.  With 39 wins coming by KO—many in spectacular fashion, The “Bomber” brings with him that same sense of anticipation that Tyson did. It’s not if; it’s when and “when” can occur at any time. But unlike Tyson, there is a vulnerability that Luis Ortiz exposed that makes the excitement index go even higher.

Dillian Whyte (24-1) has seldom been in a dull affair. His vulnerability combined with his mode of attack ensures thrilling action and the possibility of a stoppage at any time. Unlike Dereck “Del-Boy” Chisora, Whyte is consistently aggressive and dangerous.

Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2) has slowed down considerably but his recent stoppage win over Lucas Matthysse offers hope that he can still conjure up his exciting whirlwind style of fast in-an-out movements that allowed him to win multiple titles over several future Hall of Fame opponents between 2005 and 2011. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., if rumors are true, would allow Pac Man an opportunity to accomplish a number of extraordinary things including avenging a prior defeat and ruining Mayweather’s undefeated record. Time will tell.

Though he appears to have shot his wad, a prime Antonio Margarito was the classic stalk, stun, and kill fighter. Heck, he belonged on the Discovery Channel. His two blowouts of Kermit Cintron showed the “Tijuana Tornado” at his most brutal. His come-from-behind demolition of Miguel Cotto stands out for its drama and bloodletting—and subsequent speculative controversy.

David Lemieux (39-4) always brings the heat. His fights seldom end as scheduled. With KO power in both hands and a propensity to rehydrate by 20 pounds, he is the essence of danger and attendant excitement. “With the sheer power he carries, Lemieux will always have a shot at beating any middleweight, and he is almost always involved in good action fights,” says James Slater.

Amanda Serrano (35-1-1) is the only women’s boxer to win world titles in six divisions. The “Real Deal” is unique in that she has a high KO percentage (74 percent) which is rare for female boxers. Amanda is 120 seconds of guaranteed action for each round.

                                                         **********

While Iron Mike Tyson is THE MAN, Matthew Saad Muhammad also warrants special billing as he embodied what this article is all about. Steve Farhood summed up the essence of Saad Muhammad with an observation that would be appropriate for his tombstone: “Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad) has a better jab, Marvin Johnson wields more power, James Scott does more sit ups. But, Muhammad’s heart is the size of a turnbuckle, and it anchors his title reign.”

Who did I leave out? Whose name or names would you add to this list?

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AJ Needs to Look Good Against Povetkin, but the Russian Won’t be a Free Ride

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Golovkin broadcast

During the Canelo-Golovkin broadcast last weekend, it was mentioned that the two biggest star fighters in boxing were Canelo Alvarez and WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. Canelo, the newly crowned middleweight champion, was in need of a signature win over a marque opponent to strengthen his claim and Joshua is in the same position heading into his title defense against former WBA title holder Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium Saturday night.

This time last year, being roughly two months out from his title defense against Carlos Takam, Joshua, 28, was the perceived alpha fighter in the heavyweight division. AJ had won all his fights by knockout and, other than a Wladimir Klitschko right hand that dropped him in the sixth round, looked as if he were a sure thing to be the future of the division. But then he looked average stopping Takam, a late replacement for Kubrat Pulev. Joshua cut Takam, dropped him in the fourth round and stopped him in the 10th, but the stoppage was a little bit of a quick hook in the eyes of most observers and it dulled the win.

Five months later Joshua fought undefeated WBO titlist Joseph Parker. Three weeks prior to this fight, Joshua rival and WBC title-holder Deontay Wilder, after nearly being stopped in the seventh round, knocked out the most avoided fighter in the division in Luis Ortiz to score the signature win of his career. So the pressure was on Joshua to win impressively.

Unknown to anyone, Parker showed up only interested in becoming the first fighter Joshua couldn’t stop. And AJ didn’t endear himself to any newly conformed fans when he fought with little urgency, content to win a lopsided decision. Relying almost exclusively on his jab, he made no real attempt to get Parker out of there. Compounding the shrinking perception of AJ, Takam, in his next bout, was beaten more definitively by Dereck Chisora than he was by Joshua.

When you take into account that Wilder scored an impressive KO in his last fight over the most formidable opponent he’s fought and Joshua only scored one knockdown in his last two fights combined, it’s easy to glean why Wilder has narrowed the gap regarding the public perception of them. What’s been missed about Joshua’s last two bouts, however, is that he was utterly dominant. It’s hard to find three rounds he lost of the 22 he was in the ring. But yet, the thing that is most remembered is that AJ didn’t look like the doctor of destruction that his physicality and ring record projected him as being.

When an elite fighter like Anthony Joshua is seen as being a knockout artist and then goes a few fights in a row without delivering a memorable KO, critics and fans begin to find things about their game that are suddenly alarming. And that’s why it’s imperative for Joshua not just to beat Povetkin; he must become the first fighter to stop him. That will get the attention of the right people and at the same time gain back some of the cachet he ceded to Wilder since March of this year.

According to The Ring magazine’s latest ratings…the top six heavyweights, in order, are Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker. So of those ranked 3-6, Povetkin is the only one who hasn’t yet faced Joshua or Wilder. Many well-known observers who cover boxing also see Povetkin 34-1 (24) as the third best fighter in the division. In fact, the new narrative regarding this fight is that Povetkin is really dangerous. With his power, extensive experience and toughness, he’s not an automatic win or free ride for AJ this weekend.

Yes, that’s what they’re saying before they get into the ring – so let’s remember that after the bout, because if Joshua 21-0 (20) looks impressive and stops Povetkin, we’ll more than likely hear how Povetkin was washed up, having turned 39 earlier this month and having lost to the best fighter he ever touched gloves with in Wladimir Klitschko. In one night, Povetkin will go from being a real test for Joshua to an old man who couldn’t beat anybody in the top 10. Conversely, if Povetkin goes the distance and is competitive with Joshua, then, in a knee-jerk reaction and overstatement, many will label AJ a fraud and a sure loser when he faces Wilder.

The reality is a stoppage win by Joshua will be impressive because Povetkin has never been close to being stopped. Even after going down four times against Klitschko he never looked as if he wanted out and Wladimir was a single shot bigger banger than Joshua is with either hand (with the difference being Joshua gets off more freely and puts his punches together in combination, opposed to Klitschko who force-fed his opponents one-twos. Also, Joshua is quicker handed than Klitschko and that should enable him to land some big shots in succession on the presumably attacking Povetkin).

Povetkin most likely needs to be inside against Joshua. There’s only two ways to do it, either by pressing AJ or moving away and timing him, and the method he chooses will illustrate just how much AJ’s power is or isn’t too much for him to chance moving in on. If Povetkin pulls a Parker and the fight goes the distance, Joshua shouldn’t be excoriated because it’s hard to stop a fighter who is only looking to survive. At the same time Joshua will have to let his hands go and fight with more urgency and passion than he showed against Parker, because if he doesn’t that will raise my red flag.

When Joshua crashed the top-10 heavyweight rankings I thought, having watched him closely, that he had the potential of former champ Lennox Lewis. That hasn’t changed, but I’m beginning to see Lewis as being more of a natural fighter and AJ as the better athlete. On paper it’s close when comparing them, but Lewis, especially under the late Emanuel Steward, kept improving whereas Joshua, after looking so good and well-rounded stopping Klitschko, seems to have plateaued.

Alexander Povetkin is AJ’s twenty-second bout. In Lennox Lewis’s twenty-second bout, he fought Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.

Ruddock (27-3-1) was a 6’3”, 231-pound, well-built fighter with power in his left hand but limited skills. Povetkin is 6’2” and weighed in at 229 for his last bout. Ruddock’s left-hook/uppercut was probably a bigger single shot than anything in Povetkin’s arsenal but that’s about the only check Razor gets in his column over Povetkin. The Russian fighter has a much higher boxing IQ than Ruddock and is the more technically sound fighter with better structure and form.

Lewis destroyed Ruddock in two rounds in what was the signature performance of his career at the time. Joshua has already delivered a signature performance, his stoppage of Klitschko after knocking him down three times, but critics and fans have short memories so Joshua needs to deliver another eye opening performance. As was the case for Ruddock when he fought Lewis, Povetkin looks made to order for AJ to look good against. However, Povetkin, unlike Ruddock before he confronted Lewis, has never been stopped and is known for his durability and ruggedness.

Joshua says he is motivated for Povetkin and isn’t looking past him. He says he fears losing, and I don’t need him to confirm he has a gigantic ego and cannot be happy about some of the pageantry and attention that Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury have stolen from him. As for Povetkin, this is no doubt his last title shot and he certainly knows this is the fight he needs to put everything together…which should translate into him coming to win which means he’s going to fight instead of hoping for pats on the back for showing up. And if Povetkin comes to fight, Joshua should get some great opportunities to shine and post another signature win.

This is the ideal fight and opponent for AJ to show just what he has and to stay on the same trajectory that Lennox Lewis did after stopping Razor Ruddock.

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

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