A chance for glory: Joshua vs Takam preview
(Photo Matchroom Boxing)
Chris Williamson previews IBF / WBA 'super' heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua's latest defence and ponders whether late substitute Carlos Takam can spring an almighty upset...
The first issue of Boxing Monthly magazine I ever bought was in 1991, purchased with wages - if £6 a week can be described as wages - from my paper round.
The simple, dramatic cover line, 'Back from the brink' perfectly complemented a photograph of terrifically-sculptured heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield landing a big uppercut against 'Smokin' Bert Cooper, in a fight that had previously seen the champion down and nearly out, sagging against the ring-ropes in round three.
As a household without a Sky TV subscription, I eagerly read the BM story before I had seen the Holyfield vs Cooper fight. Not long after, my father managed to borrow a VHS copy from a friend of his. "Holyfield is all over the place!" broadcaster Ian Darke shouted in commentary as the late substitute Cooper landed a Hail Mary right hand, forcing 'The Real Deal' into the first count of his career and almost grasping the greatest prize in sport - the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
Cooper was, of course, a late substitute for former champion 'Iron' Mike Tyson who injured a rib in training for what would have been the richest fight in history. A quarter of a century later, Britain's Anthony Joshua is regarded as heavyweight champ by two of the four main sanctioning bodies and in the early stages of what many expect to be his own action-packed and lucrative reign.
Joshua (19-0) faces his own modern day Cooper in the similarly short, stocky shape of Carlos Takam, a Cameroon-born Frenchman who substitutes for injured Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev at the Principality stadium, Cardiff on Saturday night.
The 36-year-old Takam is something of a known quantity having been in and around the top of the heavyweight division for the last three or four years, in which time he's mixed it with quality operators Mike Perez, Tony Thompson, Alexander Povetkin and Joseph Parker.
Even in losing efforts vs Povetkin and Parker, Takam emerged with credit from spirited, ambitious displays given in intimidating 'away' atmospheres. Indeed these performances look improved in hindsight; given the shape of Povetkin's physique that evening and two subsequent failed Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) tests it's not unreasonable to wonder if it was a chemically-assisted fighter who bludgeoned Takam to the Moscow canvas in the tenth round of a terrific, all-action match in 2014.
Parker too now ranks as one of Joshua's championship peers after winning the WBO version of the title, with Takam providing easily the toughest test in his run towards that title when losing a close unanimous decision. This is no sham replacement: Boxing Monthly ranks Takam at number eight in our latest world rankings, just one place behind Pulev.
Having beaten Wladimir Klitschko in what many - myself included - regard as the finest, most dramatic heavyweight title-fight since Holyfield relinquished the title to Riddick Bowe almost exactly 25 years ago, now is no time for slip-ups for the 28-year-old Brit, ranked number one in the world at heavyweight by Boxing Monthly.
This year Takam (35-3-1) has already fought twice - winning a minor IBF belt with a scary face-first KO over Marcin Rekowski before another walkover vs Ivica Bacurin in front of a few hundred fans in Saint-Vincent. The promoters take the line that Takam has been training as a reserve for weeks - they would wouldn't they? - but as preparation for a world title fight, I'm afraid his recent opposition has been woeful.
Nevertheless, the challenger is saying the right things ahead of the clash. "This is a huge opportunity for me and heavyweight boxing can change in a round," Takam said earlier this week. "If I can do things differently from what other boxers have done against Joshua, I’ll have a chance to win by knockout. It will be just as important to work Joshua’s body as well as the head and my speed will be important."
Of course, despite the fine win over Klitschko, questions do still remain over Joshua. Apart from Wladimir, Dillian Whyte provided Joshua's sternest test and - and perhaps I'm clutching at straws here in the hope of a competitive match - similarities do exist between Takam and Joshua's Brixton rival. Takam is stocky with an excellent left hook - albeit he can be quite crude when jumping in with it - which hurt Povetkin several times. He's also a clever counter puncher and we know Joshua will attack his challenger.
The main question over Joshua going into this match is of motivation, focus and his ability to effectively switch the weeks of preparation for a tall opponent into a much shorter one.
"A fight is a fight," says Joshua. "[Trainer] Rob [McCracken] has never just trained me for one style of opponent, he has trained me to be the best me. Whether I was fighting Pulev, King Kong or Takam, he's trained me to be me - thinking about balance, footwork and hand positioning."
While I greatly admire Takam, I expect a quick blow-out for Joshua here. I'm unconvinced the challenger can be in sufficient mental or physical shape to successfully navigate the man-mountain in front of him.
To end on a note of positivity, I understand and tend to agree with the anti-PPV feeling among boxing fans - particularly with late changes and substitutes - but the changing dynamics of the market mean UK fans can at least support their champion in the flesh at prime time in their local market. Consider that of Lennox Lewis' eighteen 'world' championship bouts (some lineal, some WBC only), just three were held on British soil.
The fight game and all the success it brings seems refreshingly fun for Joshua and - although criticised by some for his sponsorship saturation - I reckon he's fantastic for the sport. He goes out and does what the heavyweight champ - baddest man on the planet - is supposed to do: knock the competition out.
Joshua in two explosive rounds is the pick here, before he moves on to challenge for the two crowns he doesn't yet hold.