Ringside report: Joshua vs Takam
Reigning IBF and WBA heavyweight king Anthony Joshua’s end of year sojourn to Wales proved a commercial and dramatic triumph, if not an aesthetic one. Glynn Evans reports from ringside...
The biggest draw in world boxing attracted a crowd of close to 80,000 to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium to witness him retain his IBF claim for a fourth time by clattering industrial tough Cameroon nugget Carlos Takam to defeat in round ten of a contest that was also for the WBA 'super' and IBO heavyweight belts.
The lively rumble came to a controversial close when Preston ref Phil Edwards wrapped himself around the still horizontal, still swinging, French citizen with 1:34 showing on the clock. Moments earlier, a right hand scud from Joshua had unquestionably caused the proud and resilient challenger’s knee’s to dip but AJ was missing with far more than he was connecting, as he flailed to administer the coup de grace.
Takam, who rescued the show as a sub for the injured Kubrat Pulev at just 12 days' notice, deserved the chance to cross the finishing tape and the crowd expressed deafening displeasure.
Team Josh had given it the charm offensive from the moment they docked in the Welsh capital and this most humble and grounded of superstars went out of his way to ensure that all requests for selfies and signatures were satisfied. And the demand was insane. Similarly, his persistent pleas to ‘grow the sport of boxing in the UK’ are both plausible and passionate.
After bearing his soul in the historic Fight of the Year against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium last May, the 28-year-old phenom could have been excused for demanding a ‘gimme’ for his return but this pleasing punch-up proved anything but.
A widely predicted early night seemed on the cards when a left hook to the jaw sent Takam to the ground in the final moments of round four. The challenger emerged for the fifth with a nasty gash around his right eye and his vision was compromised from then on.
Nevertheless, confronted with Takem’s perpetually dipping and slipping suede, the king struggled to find his radar, thereafter. It should be acknowledged that he’d spent the entire year prepping for the significantly taller Klitschko and Pulev.
Regardless, ‘Josh’ became overeager to appease the massive congregation by administering Monsieur Takam with a ‘nightcap’. But he found the transplanted Frenchman every bit as difficult to crack as the 39 who’d tried previously – only Alexander Povetkin has beaten Takam early, and the spectre of the Russian's later PED test failures places an inevitable question mark against that October 2014 result.
In truth, it was a flat and flawed performance by the 66-1-on Watford warlord. By round eight he was chuffing like a chimney. Much of the sting had left his shots and far too many wild left hooks were whizzing aimlessly around the back of one-eyed Carlos’s head. AJ has been far better before this and will undoubtedly be far better in the future. Luckily Takam, five inches shorter and 17 pounds lighter, lacked the size to capitalise.
That said, the African block of rock deserves huge props. Early doors he displayed the ‘top half’ movement, reflexes, instincts and nous of an elite spar hand. Initially, his most effective offensive tool was his perpetually bobbing nut; one clean connect of which instantly fractured the champ’s beak in round two, and invoked a flood of blood. After half way, however, the 36 year old challenger was landing as often as Joshua, albeit not as hard. The unwarranted stoppage restricted his embarrassment.
Moving forward, promoter Eddie Hearn – roundly booed by the congregation – promised unification superfights against fellow unbeatens Deontay Wilder (WBC) and Joseph Parker (WBO) plus the possibility of another box-office bonanza with a returning Tyson Fury in 2018.
For all his natural ability and marketability, AJ still has plenty to address before success in that kind of company becomes a ‘sure thing’.
Presently, the world super-flyweight scene is smoking and, in the chief support, Birmingham’s Kal Yafai cemented his standing as a serious soldier by taming the mandatory challenge of Sho Ishida of Japan.
After 12 rounds of high grade fare by fighters flaunting combined stats of 46-0, the 28 year old Midlander’s greater aggression and industry were rewarded with scores of 118-110 and 116-112 (twice) in his favour.
It was a 23rd successive win for the 5ft 4in Beijing Olympian who, despite a four inch height discrepancy, dictated with a darting jab and meaty digs to Ishida’s elongated midriff.
With promoter Hearn keen to dip his toes into US markets, clouting Kal is now a viable proposition for the rival 115lbs belt holders – Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (WBC), Jerwin Ancajas (IBF) and (best avoided) Naoya Inoue (WBO) - or daunting contenders such as Juan Francisco Estrada, Carlos Cuadras or Roman Gonzalez.
Though Yafai would doubtless prove competitive against all mentioned, he presently might lack that little bit of stardust needed to conquer them.
Bray belle Katie Taylor emerged as the Vasyl Lomachenko of female fisticuffs by assuming world title status just 42 rounds and 334 days into her professional career.
The five-time world amateur champion and 2012 London Olympic gold medallist added the WBA lightweight title to her haul with an exhilarating display of skill and energy against Argentina’s two weight world boss Anahi Sanchez.
All three scoring officials registered scores of 99-90 for ‘KT’ after a ten-twos tear up that delivered the best performance, best loser and best contest of the evening.
I write as a recent and somewhat reluctant convert but women’s boxing clear matters in 2017 and, with the stadium well-filled, both athletes were accorded a deserved ovation at the conclusion. Despite flunking the scales the day before, the Latina played a very spirited cameo role.
Taylor, 31, still needs to shed her amateur ‘bounce’ and transform full body weight into her power shots but she is blessed with a classical (under deployed) jab and quite blistering glove speed when she opens fire. Now 7-0, she craves unification and a first paid gig in the Emerald Isle.
Brixton beef cake Dillian Whyte didn’t resemble a world heavyweight champion in waiting when he toiled to a unanimous decision – 119-109 (twice) and 118-110 – after a 12 round snoozer with flapping Finnish giant Robert Helenius.
It appeared an edifying match-up on paper but both principals failed to get the crowd involved and the loudest cheer coincided with the announcement for the ‘twelfth and final round’!
The ‘Body Snatcher’, 247 ½ lbs, brings bulk and endeavour but is light on speed and co-ordination and needs to incorporate greater disguise to his muscular assaults if he is to have any chance of prospering on the highest stage. Though half a foot taller, ex European champion Helenius, now 25-2, forgot to pack any ambition into his suitcase and seemed content to plod and prod to inevitable defeat.
Ex British champ Whyte, who licked Joshua as an amateur but lost to him as a pro, is top ten rated by all four major sanctioning organisations and apparently his team have their antennae set on WBC king Deontay Wilder. However, the Jamaican born 29-year-old would be a long odds outsider against any of the existing belt holders on this evidence.
Frank Buglioni successfully retained his British light-heavyweight crown for the second time with a unanimous 12-round points win over Crystal Palace’s career super-middle Craig ‘Spider’ Richards. Scores of 117-111 (twice) and 116-113 accurately reflected his supremacy.
Nevertheless, the ‘Wise Guy’ from Winchmore Hill, now 21-2-1, will need to significantly raise his standard if he’s to stave off his mandatory challenger (Hosea Burton) and acquire a permanent hold on the coveted Lord Lonsdale belt in the new year.
A six-day sub for Commonwealth king Callum Johnson who’d never previously ventured beyond round ten, the hitherto unbeaten Richards routinely peppered the flat-footed champ with slashing counters. One time catwalker Buglioni’s disfigured face revealed all about his recurring defensive shortcomings in what was anything but a model performance.