2017 was the year that Anthony Joshua transitioned from a boxer of huge potential to the real deal.
His April bout against Wladimir Klitschko was much-hyped and had the pre-fight theatrics to match, including seeing Joshua presented to the crowd by being elevated from beneath the stage through a trap door.
In real time, it felt like it could be an Apollo Creed moment – someone too caught up in the hype to concentrate on the fight. But it never materialised. Joshua’s eleventh round knockout of Klitschko was one of the fights of the year and a defining moment for British and Heavyweight boxing.
There’s no doubt that the end game for AJ – who is now a global superstar – is to be the first undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World since the turn of the millennium. And many expect him to do just that.
Source: Anthony Joshua via Facebook
Joshua is unbeaten (20-0) with a perfect knockout record to boot. And, despite this impeccable record, it is now that the real challenge begins, with a host of challengers lining up to take a dig at the champ – and make a hefty payday when doing just that.
Despite being knocked down in the sixth, Joshua looked every bit the champion people expected him to be during his victory over Klitschko. Indeed, while the knockdown showed that Joshua is only human, it also further demonstrated Joshua’s ability and composure in dealing with adversity, using this low point in the fight to take his time to get his breath and focus back during the referee’s count.
But now there are three men waiting for Joshua. All of whom also have unbeaten records and are desperate to become the unified heavyweight champion: Joshua Parker, Deontay Wilder, and Tyson Fury.
Joshua Parker – WBO Champion
Promoter, Eddie Hearn, is already working towards securing a spring bout for Joshua against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker.
Parker, 25, is the WBO titleholder in the Heavyweight division and is a crucial part of the puzzle in creating a unified champion. Many see him as the first step for Joshua and Hearn has hopes of bringing him to the O2 Arena in February. On the line would be the WBA, IBF, and WBO titles.
Despite boasting a great record (24-0) himself, with his most recent coming via a majority decision over Hughie Fury (the younger cousin of Tyson Fury, no less), Joshua is a huge favourite to win any potential bout against Parker, with punters struggling to find odds better than 1/20 for a Joshua win on Oddschecker, with £10 free sports bets also available.
Without any intention of disrespecting Parker, most boxing fans see him as the easiest of Joshua’s three contenders, with the Englishman boasting a significant size and power advantage.
And that moves us on to the man probably most likely to earn a win over Joshua: Tyson Fury.
Tyson Fury – The Point Scorer
Tyson Fury is not a knockout heavyweight. But he is a tricky fighter to navigate due to his enormous size and pragmatic fighting style.
The 6’9 fighter shook the world by earning a unanimous decision victory over Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 and thereby taking the WBO, WBA, IBF, IBO, The Ring and lineal heavyweight titles in the process.
The fight against Klitschko was in no way a thriller, but that is exactly what Fury will bring to an all-British match-up with Joshua. Due to his massive size and reach, Fury often stays out of reach against his opponents – even against a man as big as Joshua – making landing on him no easy feat. If Fury is able to stay out of the way of Joshua’s biggest shots, he will likely counter-punch his way through the fight and pick up many points as he does so – much like in the style Floyd Mayweather for the past decade or two. Indeed, seven of Fury’s 25 wins (he is also unbeaten) have come via the judges.
Source: Tyson Fury “Official” via Facebook
Of course, with Fury there are many things standing in the way of him getting in the ring. He hasn’t fought since beating Klitschko over two years ago due to a mixture of fitness and mental health issues, as well as the drugs ban that he is still waiting to be lifted.
Once the drugs ban is lifted by the UK Anti-Doping agency, Fury still faces a significant battle to get fit. This is nothing new for Fury though, whose weight often balloons between fights. He claims he has lost three stone recently though, and say he is down to 25 stone, but there’s still a long way to go before he is ready to fight one of the most dangerous fighters in the world.
Fury will likely need at least one warm-up bout before even considering facing Joshua though, and that could come in the form of fighting the winner of the rematch between Tony Bellew and David Haye, which has been rescheduled to May after Haye suffered another of his infamous injuries.
Fury is no stranger to Haye pulling out of fights, having had two fights scheduled against the London fighter around 2013, with Haye cancelling both times – much to the frustration of Fury. For that reason, he may be unwilling to even risk a fight with Haye and would instead rather take on Tony Bellew – although the Liverpool fighter was offered a fight with Fury recently, only for him to instead opt to wait for Haye.
Regardless of the state of Fury’s own fitness though, he will likely have to wait until the end of 2018 – at the earliest – for any potential meeting with Joshua. And that is because Joshua’s biggest priority will be unifying the titles, and will surely mean squaring up to his biggest threat, and the man most capable of knocking him out: Deontay Wilder.
Deontay Wilder – The Knockout Machine
Much like his name suggests, Deontay Wilder is, without doubt, the wildest fighter in the Heavyweight division: he’s big, he’s brash, he’s powerful, he’s arrogant, he’s fearless and he loves to showboat.
Wilder is the antithesis of Tyson Fury. Whereas Fury likes to out-score opponents whereas Wilder sets out with just one objective in mind – to knock out the man that stands before him as quickly as possible.
Although a significant mismatch in terms of ability and size, Wilder’s recent first-round demolition of Bermane Stiverne was nothing short of terrifying. Indeed, only Stiverne has taken Wilder the distance in his career (with a 39-0 professional record) when the pair first met in 2015. However, Wilder eradicated that slight blemish on his record in spectacular style after they reconvened in November 2017.
Wilder, who is the reigning WBC champion, stood with his gloves down, and chest puffed out and held nothing back as he unleashed his biggest and most powerful shots to knockout Stervane, who didn’t last long at all under the pressure, with the Canadian inevitably going down and a knockout being declared before the first round was complete.
That performance alone showed how much Wilder has developed as a fighter, and is certainly not someone to be underestimated – regardless of the fandom surrounding Joshua.
Joshua will likely exercise a more cautious style against Wilder and look to take Alabama’s finest into the championship rounds in search of a knockout. Counter-punching the 32-year-old is also sure to be amongst Joshua’s primary tactics against Wilder, thus using his ‘wild’ side against him.
If everything goes to plan, with Joshua beating Parker in the spring, a Joshua-Wilder super fight could be arranged in time for the summer and could well be one of the biggest of all-time, with every Heavyweight belt on the line and the winner becoming the unified Champ.
Regardless of whether Joshua – or even Parker, Fury or Wilder – ends the year as the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, one thing is for sure: 2018 is set to be a blockbuster year for Heavyweight boxing.