Legend Lewis on the big fight: 'Joshua early ... Klitschko late'
Paul Zanon visits the legendary Fitzroy Lodge gym in Lambeth to hear heavyweight legend Lennox Lewis break down the impending showdown between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko ...
There’s something about walking into Fitzroy Lodge that let's you know ‘you’re here’.
That distinct smell of gallons of sweat which have hit the floor over years, the pounding of the bags, the sound of trains rhythmically passing overhead as the structure of the gym shakes.
Most importantly, it’s the look on the faces of each trainer and student. This is not a gym for the boxing casuals or those with a fleeting interest in the sport. You come to Fitzroy Lodge to train and learn. If that’s not for you, the exit door is the same one you walked through to enter the premises.
So who better to epitomise the label of head teacher, than the former heavyweight champion of the world, Lennox Lewis?
Having stepped off a long-haul flight a couple of hours earlier, Lewis was now sat in the middle of a boxing ring, with a small group of journalists circled around him, hanging off his every word as he gave his views on the up and coming bout between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko.
The former undisputed champion opened by saying: “It’s an interesting fight. It’s interesting on all sides. Because of the fact that Klitschko lost [against Tyson Fury] and he wanted to get the man that beat him back in the ring, but he wasn’t able to get that.
"Now he’s up against the young, strong, ready for the world, Anthony Joshua. The only thing that Anthony Joshua lacks at the moment is experience. Looking over his past 18 fights, he’s really come along. He’s got a lot of positive things going for him. He’s very confident.”
Looking at Joshua’s experience to date, Lewis explained just how big a step-up Klitschko is compared to the Watford colossus’s previous toughest outing to date. “AJ’s best victory to date? I’d have to say Dillian Whyte. It was a fight he had to win because he was his foe. This was the guy that used to call him names and said he was a chicken, so he needed to straighten him out in the ring.
"Now it’s a big, big leap to go after Wladimir. But then, the question still remains – how much Wladimir has still left. How much of the true Wladimir is left? This fight may bring out the best of Wladimir.”
And does Lewis believe Klitschko has much left in the tank at 41 years of age? “It’s difficult to say because he’s in a position. Tyson Fury beat him and he didn’t like that loss. He wanted to revenge it and wasn’t able to. Now, Anthony Joshua’s got his belt and he may think to himself, ‘Anthony Joshua don’t deserve my belt. He needs to win it fairly. He needs to step into the ring with me and show that he can hold this belt.'”
An essential part of Lewis’s glittering CV is the fact he avenged his only two losses against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. Does he feel Klitschko will be affected mentally by the Fury loss?
“It doesn’t seem like he’s going through any mental demons. The only mental demon is the loss, that he wants to avenge. Everybody’s saying ‘You’re getting old, this could be the last hurrah for you.’ Nobody likes to hear that. Nobody wants to believe that.
"I don’t think he believes that or will fall into that. I think he would want to go out with a win. Although they seem like they’re friends, it’s all the psychology around the fight. When they’re in there, they’re going to be punching, trying to knock each other out.
"It’s a big fight for Anthony. A massive fight. The first time ever in front of so many people that he’s ever boxed in front of. This is the fight he’s been waiting for since the Olympics, boxing Wladimir. For the championship of the world.”
Lewis has fought on some massive platforms - Madison Square Garden and Las Vegas, to mention but a few. Joshua will be fighting in front of 90,000 people at Wembley, which could have a profound affect on a fighter.
Lewis, however, somewhat debated this point. “Only if you’re not mentally there. For me, I used that as a mental build-up. I’ve got the crowd behind me and I’m going to use that. It sends my adrenaline through the roof. I use it to my advantage. And when I used to go to America, they used to boo me and I used to think to myself, ‘I’m gonna make them clap for me after. I’m gonna beat up their guy!’ Going in to a place where the audience is against me always made me want to beat up their guy.”
The all-important detail everyone wanted to hear from Lewis, of course, was how he believed the big fight will pan out. Lewis firstly discussed how Joshua needed to fight Klitschko. “The only thing he needs to worry about is not getting hit and making sure his defence is up high.
"If it was me, what I would do. I’d look at Wladimir’s losses. Now he’s [Klitschko] up against a stronger man than him. I believe so. More stamina and more strength, but I think they’re pretty equal on the speed.”
And the flipside to the coin, referring to how Klitschko might beat Joshua, Lewis commented: “Taking everything he’s got. It really comes down to defence. Establishing the jab when Anthony’s coming at him. Whether it’s throwing a right hand or a jab. Just never allow him to hit you until it goes into the late rounds.”
So his final verdict? “Because of Wladimir’s last fight, I can’t really go Wladimir the whole way. I can’t really go AJ the whole way, because I know there’s a little more seasoning that needs to come and that could be apparent in the fight if it goes to the later rounds.
“[So] Anthony Joshua early and Wladimir late, because of the fact he’s been through 22 of them [world title fights]. He knows how to go the distance.”