Two worlds collide, rival nations: Joshua vs Povetkin presser
Mark Butcher reports from today's Anthony Joshua vs Alexander Povetkin press conference as a showdown laced with political context and intrigue approaches at Wembley stadium on Saturday night...
The Russians ‘infiltrated/visited’ Salisbury (depending on your point of view) and now they are on their way to Wembley.
With political tensions between Russia and the UK nearing breaking point following the infamous novichok incident, Alexander Povetkin is cast in the unusual role of being able to wrench the world heavyweight titles from Anthony Joshua and strike an unlikely blow for President Putin and Mother Russia at England’s national stadium on Saturday night (Live on Sky Box Office PPV and DAZN in the US).
The night may not have the ramifications and symbolism of Joe Louis’ first round blitz of Max Schmeling that stung Hitler’s Nazi narrative in June 1938, but - in this politically charged world - a victory for 15/2 underdog Povetkin carries significance beyond the reach of boxing.
At Thursday’s press conference in the catacombs of Wembley, the challenger was far too diplomatic to mention the strained relations between the two nations. Surrounded by an entourage that included WBA 175lbs champion Dmitry Bivol, Povetkin (34-1, 24 KOs) wore a sharp grey suit that made him look more like an action movie henchman than a heavyweight champion in waiting, but he remained taciturn when questioned about his expectations for the fight.
“I’m in very good shape right now. I had a very good camp concentrating on strength and endurance,” Povetkin said. “Anthony Joshua is one of the strongest in the division and I’m very happy to be fighting him. The fight will show everything that I’ve got. Anthony Joshua is a very strong fighter, but I am just as strong.”
In a division of boxing behemoths, Povetkin is, of course, on the smaller side of heavyweight dimensions. He was manhandled while dropping a lopsided decision to Wladimir Klitschko in 2013 [L12], but assured the media and numerous hangers-on in attendance that he was a different beast these days.
“One thing I can say is that when I fought Klitschko I was much weaker and in much worse shape than I am now,” said the former WBA ‘Regular’ champion. “I really want to take these belts back home, but I try to never say anything ahead of time. You will see on fight night.”
Povetkin’s low-key and respectful tone was reciprocated by Joshua, in this battle of Olympic super-heavyweight gold medallists (Povetkin 2004, Athens; Joshua 2012, London). There were no shoving matches or smack talk on show. This fight doesn’t require the hard sell.
Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs) talked of the pressures associated with being champion, but cut a relaxed figure. He agreed that Povetkin was his second stiffest test to date after shared opponent Klitschko who Joshua defeated in rousing fashion (WTKO 11) at the same venue in April 2017.
“Klitschko was a good challenger. He came, we had a lot of respect for each other, we put on a good fight together and we performed,” Joshua said, ahead of the first of this new two-fight deal at Wembley, which is expected to draw another 80,000 plus crowd. “The sport of boxing won that night because we put on a good show. We’ve been away [from Wembley] for a while, we’re back now.
“With Alexander Povetkin, I’m expecting the same type of fight because skills apart, technique apart, I think we’ve both got a big heart and we can dig deep. We both showed that against Klitschko, we both dug deep and stayed in there. We’re going to do the same on Saturday night, put our skills on the line and I think the one who is toughest will come out victorious.
“When I look at his weight, he is one of the lighter heavyweights but that means ultimately he has a lot of speed, he’s a quick fighter,” he continued. “But that’s good because I still train with the amateur guys who are just as quick as him. I spar cruiserweights like Lawrence Okolie [in action against Matty Askin on the undercard] who is very fast and sharp. I’ve worked with a lot of people who have [Povetkin’s] strengths. It [will be] difficult, but a good fighter will always find a way.
“Povetkin is one of my toughest challenges to date, so that is where my focus has been for how many months I’ve been training. I just love to fight, I love fight week. My body has been broken down and been built up in this camp like never before. Coming back here is a blessing. I feel relaxed, calm. This isn’t new to me anymore. It feels like home.”
Many feel Joshua will simply walk through Povetkin, but that does the Russian a disservice. His movement and timing should cause Joshua problems. After his impressive win over Klitschko that transformed him into a global figure, the champion’s standing has lost a little lustre with efficient, rather than earth-shattering, defences against Carlos Takam (WTKO 10) and Joseph Parker (W12) – victories that seem less remarkable given Dereck Chisora and Dillian Whyte’s subsequent results over the same opposition.
Joshua’s size and strength should win out, but Povetkin remains a genuine, if under-estimated, threat.
The world and, one imagines, President Putin await the outcome with interest.