On Saturday night Anthony Joshua will return to Wembley Stadium for the first time since knocking out former champion Wladimir Klitschko in what is arguably the second toughest test of his career so far against Alexander Povetkin. With much of the build-up focused on a prospective unification fight with Deontay Wilder, a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking this fight is nothing more than a keep-busy fight before bigger things next year. Even with the backdrop of Anglo-Russian political tensions the fight looks to have failed to capture the imagination of the wider public but make no mistake, Povetkin is a top heavyweight in his own right and this is no mere tune-up. Joshua cannot afford to be complacent.
39 year old Olympic gold medallist ‘Sasha’ Povetkin comes into this fight with a wealth of experience. In 2007, when Joshua was taking his first steps into a boxing gym, the Russian was already ranked as a top 10 heavyweight by Ring Magazine. Since then the only time he has found himself outside of the top 10 was after a year of inactivity having failed 2 drugs tests in 2016. Failed drugs tests that also cost him a title shot against Wilder, a fight against former WBA champion Bermaine Stiverne and have made him a somewhat controversial figure in boxing circles. He is currently ranked as the third best heavyweight after Joshua and Wilder.
During his career he has fought a plethora of heavyweight talent. With wins over Chris Byrd, Ruslan Chagaev, Mike Perez, Carlos Takam, Mariusz Wach, Christian Hammer and a whole host of other contenders, Povetkin arguably comes into the fight with a better record than Deontay Wilder. Whilst many may argue that he’s showed signs of his age in recent years he still has 6 Kos in his last 8 fights, including the brutal destruction of a game David Price on the Joshua-Parker undercard back in March. During his 13 years and 35 fights as a professional ‘Sasha’ has lost just once, a 12-round decision against former champion Wladimir Klitschko in a fight that many will remember more for the wrestling and clinching of Klitschko than the boxing. This isn’t a man who is used to losing.
Povetkin is experienced, game and make no doubt about it he travels to England intent on prising those belts from Joshua’s hands. At 39 he may be slowing down and not have the sharpness of a younger man but this will be seen by him as a potential “last hurrah” to round off his career.
Meanwhile, Joshua will be hoping to extend his 22-fight unbeaten streak and book that big money unification fight with Deontay Wilder for April. Though the negotiations for that fight have proved difficult so far. In fact, the Povetkin fight is only happening due to Joshua and Wilder failing to come to an agreement in time and the WBA putting Povetkin in as a mandatory. A loss at this point would be a serious spanner in the works for Joshua’s future plans. He can ill afford to slip up.
Povetkin is known for having decent power in both hands and a determined come-forward style. At only 6’2”, Povetkin is small for a heavyweight so he will be looking to close the distance with Joshua before he can unload his big shots. We’ve seen in previous fights Povetkin likes to close distance by leaping in with a big left hook or an overhand right and his ability to land these punches will be vital for his game-plan. As he tries to get closer he will need to keep low and move his head, lest he find himself on the end of Joshua’s right hand. In the Price fight he was hit with a left hook that sent him staggering backwards to the ropes. He cannot afford to do this against Joshua, he is unlikely to get away with it if AJ smells blood.
In the other corner as the bigger man Joshua will also need to concentrate on controlling the distance. Fast footwork has never been one of Joshua’s strongest points but this appears to be an area he’s been working on in the run up to the fight and he’ll need to be sharp on his feet to stay out of the way of “Sasha” so don’t expect Joshua to weigh in particularly heavy. Key punches for Joshua will be the jab and the straight right hand. Carlos Takam, who along with Wlad Klitschko has faced both men, rates Joshua’s jab as his best punch and this could prove vital in deterring Povetkin from rushing in. With the Russian looking to stay low and out of the way of the straight punches a strong upper cut will come in handy. Joshua could also look to the Klitschko-Povetkin fight for inspiration. It may be unappetising for us fans but clinching, leaning and wrestling could prove to be very effective, as it did for Wladimir.
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On the undercard Joshua’s fellow 2012 Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell will be looking to avenge his 2015 split decision loss vs French lightweight Yvan Mendy.
Hackney’s Laurence Okolie will fight for the British cruiserweight title vs reigning champion Matty Askin.
Lastly, we have heavy puncher Sergey Kuzmin aiming to give David Price his second consecutive KO vs a Russian. Don’t blink.
Where Can you Watch It?
The card will be shown live on Sky Box office in the UK from 6pm for a fee of £19.95
In the US you can watch the fight on the streaming service DAZN
Alternatively, you could buy a ticket as rumour has it there are plenty more still available as Eddie Hearn is struggling to sell out 90,000-seater Wembley Stadium.