Golden Joshua on course for glory

Graham Houston
22/08/2015 1:13pm

Thirteen fights, thirteen opponents blown out. Anthony Joshua has been doing everything that could have been expected of him, and the 2012 Olympic gold medallist seems to be firmly on course to winning a world heavyweight title.

Even though Joshua (13-0, 13 KOs) has demolished everyone put in front of him, there hasn’t been any serious criticism concerning quality of opposition. The opponents selected all seemed reasonable enough tests at the time the bouts were made - it was just that they had never been hit this hard, this early.

Looking at past Olympic gold medallists who went on to win the heavyweight title, Joshua’s progress, after 13 bouts, is on a par with even the future greats.

Let’s do a comparison with some of the gold medallists who became heavyweight champion, starting with Muhammad Ali, who as Cassius Clay won the Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal as an 18-year-old in Rome in 1960 and made his professional debut in December of that year, weighing 192lbs.

Clay, as, of course, he was then known, stopped 10 of his first 13 opponents, including a two-round knockout win over LaMar Clark, a wild-swinging near-novice from Utah who had knocked over a motley selection of hand-picked opponents (46 KOs in 49 appearances, according to Associated Press). Clark’s manager, Marv Jensen, was under no illusions, telling reporters that he hoped and prayed that Clark wouldn’t hit a ring post with one of his haymakers. “As for the referee, he’d better be ready to duck at all times,” a tongue-in-cheek Jensen told reporters in Clay’s hometown of Louisville, where the mismatch was held.

In his 13th fight, Clay stopped a veteran from Idaho named George Logan in the fourth round. Logan, possessor of a “bruising, slugging style” according to the United Press International news service, was known to cut easily but was nonetheless a worthy opponent who held a win (on home turf in Boise, Idaho) over former contender Alejandro Lavorante, although the Lavorante camp claimed a robbery. Clay easily busted up Logan in what was considered an impressive performance.

Joe Frazier, Olympic heavyweight gold medallist in Tokyo in 1964, made his pro debut in comparative obscurity, stopping a hapless victim named Woody Goss in 102 seconds in Frazier’s hometown of Philadelphia on 16 August 1965. Unbelievably, Frazier - as he revealed in Smokin’ Joe: The Autobiography - received just $125 for his first professional appearance: According to Frazier, the promoter allocated him a number of tickets and told him he could keep the money from whatever he sold.

It has to be said that Smokin’ Joe was matched far tougher than Joshua. In his 12th fight, Frazier had to survive two knockdowns on his way to a split decision win over rough, tough Oscar Bonavena.

George Foreman, Olympic heavyweight gold medallist in Mexico City in 1968, was matched somewhat carefully. He stopped 11 of his first 13 opponents. The durable Robert Davila, from Peru, took Foreman the full eight rounds at Madison Square Garden in October 1969, while in his 13th fight Foreman was obliged to go the full 10 rounds against a trial horse from Miami named Levi Forte, who had been knocked out in two of his last three bouts. Foreman won easily, but one can imagine the critical comments if Joshua had been unable to stop a boxer of Forte’s lowly repute.

Lennox Lewis, gold medallist in the super heavyweight division at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, had, looking back at his record, a surprisingly easy start to his professional career, with his first 13 appearances being against opponents of scant regard.

Lewis’s early career was marred by an unedifying spectacle against a much smaller American steppingstone named Melvin Epps, who was disqualified for a low blow in the second round. The crowd at the Royal Albert Hall booed and whistled at the conclusion of what Canadian Press reporter Jim Sheppard described as “a wrestling and shoving display”.

In his 13th pro appearance, back in Ontario, Canada, where he was raised from the age of 12, Lewis easily disposed of a hapless opponent from West Virginia named Mike Acey, who went out in the second round. Acey had been KO’d in three of his last six bouts, including a one-round KO defeat against Lewis’ old amateur rival, Riddick Bowe. It’s inconceivable that Joshua would have been matched against someone such as Acey at the 13-bout stage of his career, but to Lewis’ credit he took on the experienced and undefeated Gary Mason just two fights later.

Wladimir Klitschko, Olympic super heavyweight gold medallist in 1996, was being matched very carefully indeed during the early part of his career. Klitschko’s opponent in his ninth bout, a distinctly pudgy Mexican heavyweight named Salvador Maciel, had been stopped in his last four appearances before meeting Klitschko. It was a one-round fiasco: The crowd whistled its disapproval when Maciel fell over from who looked like a cuffing left hook. For bout No. 13, Klitschko was served up another unfortunate Mexican victim, Marcos Gonzalez, who had been KO’d five times in his last six appearances before falling in two against Klitschko.

This brings us to Russia’s Alexander Povetkin, Olympic super heavyweight gold medallist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Povetkin faced a definite step up in class when, in his 13th bout, he comfortably outpointed Larry Donald, a competent boxer who had lost a majority decision to the huge Nikolay Valuev in his last fight. Donald, though, was a semi-active boxer by the time he faced Povetkin, with just two bouts in the previous two years.

So, as Joshua prepares to meet Gary Cornish on 12 September, I believe it’s fair to say that - so far - he’s been matched with, in most cases, a standard of opponent that compares favourably with past Olympic gold medallists who went on to become heavyweight champ (Pete Rademacher, thrown in with Floyd Patterson in his first pro bout, obviously isn’t part of the discussion).

Gary Cornish looks, on paper, a step back for Joshua rather than a step forward, but at least the Scottish heavyweight is unbeaten, and we can’t be really sure whether he will turn out to be a decent test for AJ or quickly bite the dust. I’d call it a marking-time fight - I think Joshua is allowed one or two of those.

Photo: Frank Coppi.