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JEFF POWELL: Pull NO punches. Cautious Anthony Joshua must start taking risks to have any chance against Deontay Wilder

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JEFF POWELL: Pull NO punches. Cautious Anthony Joshua must start taking risks to have any chance against Deontay Wilder

  • Anthony Joshua defeated Robert Helenius in a seventh round knockout 
  • Helenius becomes the 26th boxer to taste defeat to Joshua in his career 
  • Fans vented frustration at the bout with boos ringing around London’s O2 Arena

One swallow doesn’t make a summer but a single punch from Anthony Joshua prolonged the autumn of his career.

The thunderbolt from the blue which sent Finnish substitute Robert Helenius back to La-La-Lapland keeps AJ going towards a starry-starry January night in Saudi Arabia where he will bank at least half as many millions for fighting Deontay Wilder as Bayern Munich have paid for Harry Kane.

Which, long after midnight in the O2, raised the question of how he would best envisage the eventual climax to his journey from Olympic gold via two reigns as world heavyweight champion to this tilt at recapturing the former glories.

A reflective pause, then he answered: ‘Retiring healthy.’

Quite how that sensible ambition equates with taking on Wilder, the mightiest puncher since Iron Mike Tyson, is not easy to conceive.

Anthony Joshua must start taking risks to have any chance against Deontay Wilder

Anthony Joshua must start taking risks to have any chance against Deontay Wilder

America’s Bronze Bomber, who somehow contrived to lose his world title to Tyson Fury despite dropping the Gypsy King four times in three fights, demolished the aged Helenius in little more than a single minute last October.

Joshua achieved the same result on Saturday but it took him six-and-a-half rounds to land his first knockout for three years and only his second since 2018.

He did so with the only punch of consequence in this fight. Thrown as it was after a preamble of such cautious tedium that some of the fans who had decided against claiming refunds when Dillian Whyte was forced out of the opposite corner by a drugs controversy began voting with their feet.

Many of the majority who remained began booing by the third round and although the jeers turned to cheers for a showreel KO, the jubilation was somewhat muted by comparison with the ecstasy of old.

Actually scoring this fight was more a chore than a science. By narrow technicality I had Joshua ahead but in real terms I gave up on it before the terminal seventh.

Joshua knocked out Robert Helenius in the seventh round at the O2 Arena on Saturday

Joshua knocked out Robert Helenius in the seventh round at the O2 Arena on Saturday

So wary were these two giants of each other, with Joshua so aware of the mother-lode awaiting him in Riyadh being at risk, that to tell the truth neither of them deserved to win any of the first six rounds.

In football parlance, the proper score at half-time was nil-nil.

At 33, Joshua is a long way from being consigned to the knacker’s yard. The last quality any boxer loses is punching power and by that measure he is still an elite fighter. Even if his claim that his back is aching from the strain of holding up the entire heavyweight division while Fury is inactive is a mite delusional.

What has been holding him back, this fight included, is the way maturity has brought with it an unwillingness to take chances. Prize-fighting is a game of hard, calculated risks and Joshua has become increasingly wary since he was knocked out by Andy Ruiz Jnr and embarrassed by Oleksandr Usyk.

Eddie Hearn described the entire team as ‘relieved’ when the 6ft 6in Helenius was felled like a tree.

Joshua did little to impress in the first six rounds before producing a viscous knockout

Joshua did little to impress in the first six rounds before producing a viscous knockout 

Joshua denied he had felt any pressure but perhaps that does explain why he forgot to check on the condition of his victim as he went to celebrate with ringsiders, including Conor ‘Me-Me’ McGregor.

Joshua is talking again of ‘rebuilding’ towards winning back at least one heavyweight belt and that entails re-energising the faithful. He explained his discourtesy by saying: ‘I need to reward my fans.’

The promoter on the night, Hearn, said of the next step: ‘We all believe AJ can beat Wilder.’ Nothing is impossible in boxing, especially at heavyweight, given the confidence to take risks.

Whether Joshua’s self-belief has been reimbued by a solitary blast of his power will be fascinating to discover.