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Atlas Was Never in Military, But Remains Sternest Drill Instructor in Boxing

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Teddy Atlas never served in the armed forces of the United States, but the longtime ESPN boxing commentator and occasional trainer always has felt a special affinity for the regimentation that is a major part of a soldier’s life. In many ways Atlas is a drill instructor or commanding officer who brooks no dissent on those occasions when he issues a Staten Island-accented order. Whenever Atlas aligns himself with a fighter, a process which he undertakes now only after painstaking investigation, his first directive is always that it’s his way or the highway.

It was only after such a laborious study of his newest pupil, Timothy Bradley Jr., that Atlas, 59, decided to return to the corner. It probably is no coincidence that Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs), who defends his 147-pound strap against Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios (33-2-1, 24 KOs) in the HBO-televised main event on Nov. 7 at the recently renovated Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, has dubbed himself “Desert Storm,” which suggests military precision, attention to detail and coolness under fire.

OK, so the 32-year-old Bradley also never wore a uniform or toted a rifle. His nickname, he says, owes in part to the fact he makes his home in the desert – that would be Palm Springs, Calif. – and in part because of his action-heavy style and respect for those who serve or have served their country with honor and distinction.

The pairing of Atlas and Bradley has the feel of an orderly chain of command that any veteran of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard would recognize. When they begin preparations for the Rios bout, it’s Atlas who will be pulling rank because, well, that’s the way it has to be whenever he becomes involved with a fighter.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Atlas said of taking on a fighter for the first time since he parted ways, acrimoniously, with Alexander Povetkin in January 2012. “That’s the way I’ve always looked at these things. You’ve got somebody’s career – and their life, to an extent – in your hands. They put their trust in you so you got to be sure you can get the job done and done right.

“I spent several days thinking about it (accepting Bradley’s request for Atlas to train him). I went back and forth, going over so many things. It wasn’t an easy decision. It would have been very easy to say no instead of yes. I was hesitant at first, but what I knew about the kid in terms of his character – not only in the ring, but in his personal life – was a factor.

“Actually, my daughter Nicole helped convince me to do this. She also had a part in my deciding to train Povetkin. With Povetkin, I said no several times and he and his people continued to ask. Nicole said, `Why don’t you go to Russia and at least give it a chance? Because that’s who you are, Dad. You’re a really good commentator, but in your heart you’re still a teacher and a trainer.’”

Toward the end, after 2½ years together in which Atlas helped take Povetkin to the WBA “regular” heavyweight title, the fighter began to chafe at some of the trainer’s dictums. Povetkin didn’t want to travel from Russia to the U.S. to train as he been doing, which was a precondition of their working together because of Atlas’ broadcasting commitments to ESPN. Nor did Povetkin agree – or, at least, his manager, Vladimir Hryunov didn’t – with Atlas’ assessment that the still-learning fighter had not progressed enough to accept a title bout with IBF/WBO/WBA/lineal champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2010. Povetkin did wind up challenging Klitschko on Oct. 5, 2013, with Alexander Zimin as his chief second, and he demonstrated that he still wasn’t ready in being easily outpointed by Floyd Mayweathersque margins.

Atlas came away from the experience feeling “betrayed,” but then he had been down that road before and understood that loyalty in boxing is a fragile commodity. One notable example of the friction that is the byproduct of a relationship gone sour is the nasty falling-out in the early 1980s between Atlas and future light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde.

“He ran things like an Army camp,” Lalonde complained of Atlas’ demanding training methods. Atlas doesn’t dispute that assessment. In fact, he’s rather proud of it. What was that recruiting slogan from a few years ago? Oh, yeah. There’s strong, and there’s Army strong.

“Donny Lalonde is not wrong,” Atlas said. “I do run things like an Army camp. But I will never apologize for doing things the way I did, and still do. And that way served Lalonde damn well. Yeah, I was in charge and there was a reason I was in charge. I was the trainer, and I had the responsibility.

“The strange thing is that Lalonde literally begged me to train him. He came all the way from Canada on his own dime. I told him no. He came to Gleason’s Gym (in Brooklyn, N.Y.) where I was training other fighters and he just pursued me. But I didn’t follow my best instincts, which was that there was something about him I just couldn’t trust.”

Atlas learned his craft during seven years of apprenticeship under the legendary Cus D’Amato in Catskill, N.Y. The pay wasn’t good – actually, nothing – but the education he received from the man who had guided Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres to world championships was so invaluable that maybe a price tag shouldn’t be attached to it.

“I have respect for the sport,” Atlas said. “I spent all that time learning my craft and making no money with Cus. I don’t regret spending those seven years in the gym. You lock yourself away, if you will, to make that commitment and that sacrifice.”

But although Atlas loved D’Amato almost like another father, he began to see another side to the old man after a teenaged Mike Tyson showed up, renewing Cus’ dream of having another heavyweight champion. A petulant Tyson acted out at times, but wasn’t reprimanded for it. Atlas, primarily responsible for training the young slugger, personally barred him from participating in an upcoming amateur tournament by way of punishment, then was stunned to see Tyson walk through the door anyway, with D’Amato’s approval. Atlas’ authority in the gym had been undercut, and he was left with the realization that there is no such thing as a trainer’s absolute control, unless both parties mutually consent to such an arrangement and stick to it no matter what.

Other fighters have drifted in and out of Atlas’ life, more often adhering to his mandates for only so long until they came to the conclusion that they were the bosses, not the ones to be bossed around. And any proposed changes in the relationship, Atlas made it clear, were non-negotiable.

“Before I had that safety net of the commentating, which I’ve had for 18 years, I felt that way to an extent,” he said of the pressure some trainers feel to stick with recalcitrant fighters who provide their primary or sole source of income. “I might have to think about something two or more times before I said no.”

Perhaps the most memorable example of Atlas at his prickly best was the night that Michael Moorer was in the process of dethroning IBF/WBA heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield on April 22, 1994, in Las Vegas. Moorer was winning, all right, but not following Atlas’ instructions to the letter.

“I just sat on the stool and said, `You don’t want to fight. You don’t want to win this damn thing, so I’ll fight,’” Atlas said at the time. “Get outside, give me the water and I’ll take your place.’ And I made him say to me that he wanted to fight before I would get up. I said, `You don’t want to fight.’ He said, `No, I do.’ Thank God.”

So what was it about Bradley, who recently parted ways with his longtime trainer, Joel Diaz, that swayed Atlas into again slipping into the trainer’s role he has been so reluctant to assume?

“He was a guest on my radio show (on Sirius XM) a couple of months ago,” Atlas recalled. “It was right after his fight with (Jessie) Vargas. There was a controversial ending to that fight in that (Bradley) got nailed and hurt by a really big right hand with about 30 seconds left in the last round. With Vargas going after him, the referee, Pat Russell, erroneously stopped the fight. He heard the 10-second clapper and he thought it was the bell. Everybody – including Vargas and Bradley – that the fight had been stopped and Vargas had won. Vargas even started celebrating.

“We talked about whether Bradley could have survived another 10 seconds, and being the gladiator he is, he said he could have. And then I asked him a question: `Do you know why you got hurt?’ He said, `Well, I got hit with a right hand, Teddy.’ I said, `Of course, but do you know WHY?’ He said, `No, Would you tell me?’

“I told him he had his left hand low, but he had a James Toney-type shoulder roll before he went to throw his own right hand. The problem was he did it a little prematurely sometimes before he got Vargas’ right hand out of the way. Basically, Timmy was telegraphing that his own right hand was coming. It gave Vargas a clear runway to catch him when his left hand was down.”

Bradley went back home to Palm Springs, studied the tape of the fight, spotted the problem and wondered why no one else had detected it. Not long after that, he called Atlas to ask if he would consider becoming his new chief second.

Burned in the past, Atlas was unsure whether he wanted to expose himself to another flame of disappointment.

“It’s become very easy for me to say no, especially after what happened with Povetkin,” Atlas said. “It would have been easy to say no again. But I was going out to California anyway, to do the PBC on ESPN fight between (Abner) Mares and (Leo) Santa Cruz. I spent two days after that fight with Bradley. I broke down tape of his fights with Vargas and (Ruslan) Provodnikov like I would for ESPN viewers. I pointed out some things to him that he hadn’t realized.

“I went home and spent several more days thinking about it. I went back and forth on so many things. I talked to my family again. Then I called Timmy up and said, `OK.’”

But it wasn’t the 32-year-old Bradley’s star status or potential for improvement that was the deciding factor for Atlas. He’s turned down other talented fighters without so much as a second thought. There was something about Bradley, though, that resonated.

“You are who you are,” Atlas said. “And what you are as a fighter is connected to who you are as a person, and that goes to your background, you past, your upbringing. I liked the way Timmy carried himself, with respect and a certain quiet toughness. He had a standard of conduct that was obvious and, quite frankly, you see less and less in society today.”

Bradley, the father of three children with his manager-wife, Monica, and the stepfather of two of her kids from a previous marriage, understands that he and Atlas share a bond that at least partly transcends boxing.

“Teddy don’t have a million fighters. Teddy was retired,” Bradley noted. “I told him, `Hey, man, you can’t hide all that knowledge. You got to pass it on.

“The reason why Teddy is doing this is because of the person that I am. I’m a family guy; he’s the same way. He’s also a guy with a high boxing IQ. He hasn’t trained fighters in years, but he’s trained some of the best in the world.

“He has the time. He’s going to work it out with his schedule. I’m his only fighter. It’s a great fit, man. I can learn a lot from Teddy.”

So it’s back to boot camp for Atlas, whose military experience, such as it is, has been limited to occasionally working with the West Point boxing team and his friendship with two-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells, who was an assistant at Army and the head coach at the Air Force Academy before moving on to the NFL.

“Someone told me that when Parcells left the Giants and Ray Handley took over, some of the players were asked at training camp what the difference between them was,” Atlas said. “They said, `Oh, it’s much better now, much nicer, much easier, much more player-friendly. Handley is not a dictator like Parcells was.’ It was very similar to what Lalonde said about me.

“Yeah, it was much better until the season started and they weren’t winning. Then those guys found out it wasn’t better. It was misery and a disaster.”

So what happens the next time a fighter in need of a make-over seeks out Atlas? Is there training life for him beyond Timothy Bradley Jr.?

“I saw how Timmy was in his house, as a husband and father,” Atlas said. “I saw what’s important to him, and to me. I decided if I was going to come back and train, it was going to be for a person like this.

“Timmy said, `Anything you ask me to do, I’ll do.’ I could tell it wasn’t just lip service. I think I’m pretty good at being able to read people. Lalonde told me some of the same things, but I didn’t follow my best instincts then, which was that there was something about him that I just shouldn’t trust.

“My experience with him affected me. I said to myself, `The next time someone comes to me unsolicited, I’m going to pay more attention to my instincts. So here we are, 30 years later. When Timmy told me he’d do what I told him to do, no questions asked, I believed it. There is a truthfulness to him. It’s kind of refreshing, really.”

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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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