AJ fans will be hoping that these differences will not mean much and that the similarities are a hint at history repeating itself.
The battle between erstwhile generations and the new spawn is an occurrence of every lifetime that has ever existed. Every father fears the day his son eats his dinner faster than him or manages to put up a piece of flat pack Ikea furniture without aid. Stories of the old and young jostling for supremacy can be found in myriad formats and cultures; Greek tales of tragedy and conquest, Biblical verse, Disney legends (think Simba and scar) and of course, boxing.
In the ring we have had great clashes that demonstrate this conflict, such as 45 year old George Foreman’s triumphant win over the then 26 year old champion Michael Moorer to claim the oldest heavyweight title in boxing. Or more recently, Manny Pacquiao’s dominant suppression of Keith Thurman. Slightly more depressingly, it is more often the case that the young star brings about a more familiar reality with their fists. Such was the case with the memorable last bout of Bernard Hopkins (51 at the time), wherein he cascaded through the ropes due to a pummelling from Joe Smith Jr in 2016.
However, as boxing’s A- listers age past their ring sell-by date, we will still see this warring continue albeit in a less violent manner. Some of the vitriolic put downs come across as jealousy of a career that is now far beyond their own reach. Many ex fighters have been suspect of this, including previously mentioned legends, George foreman and Bernard Hopkins. Most recently, it is Lennox Lewis who has been accused of this.
The last undisputed Heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis has been labelled as a “clown” by Anthony Joshua after Lennox berated his last performance against underdog Andy Ruiz Jnr. “The Lion” had criticised the way in which the fight ended, adding that he thought the 6 foot 6 hulking Joshua had quit. The two former champions have been embroiled in a war of words for a while now. It began with Lennox’s disparagement of Anthony’s supposed reluctance at attempting to make himself the undisputed champion by fighting WBC champion Deontay Wilder. To ameliorate the relationship further, Lewis has backed Ruiz in the rematch due to take place on December 7th.
Conceivably, it is the case that the old lion is jealous that the heavyweight pride has a new king and his critical display on social media is actually relief that he has not been out done. Or it could be that the experienced ex- ruler genuinely sees a duality between the two fighter’s careers and his stern but constructive criticism has been mistaken in its aim. His insight seems to offer a warning that AJ will lose the rematch unless he goes back to the drawing board. In any case, one cannot look at both of their careers and not sense a strong comparison.
Anthony Joshua and Lennox Lewis have had similar boxing experiences in many key areas. Both are Olympic Gold medallists that have blitzed through a credible heavyweight division until suffering their first career loss at 23 and 25 fights respectively. They both carry explosive right hands and use their height and natural build to their advantage. For years boxing pundits and casual fans have drawn the links between two of Britain’s finest son’s (albeit perhaps a surrogate Canadian/ British son) but now it appears the defining moment is upon us. Will Anthony Joshua return from the elephant’s graveyard as the new “lion” and relive the glory of Lennox Lewis? Or will he be listening to the hyaenic cackle of Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury’s taunting after another pasting by Andy Ruiz?
To answer that question it could prove useful to look at where it went wrong the first time for the old lion, what he did to recapture the belts and to go on to have one of the most successful heavyweight careers in history. Let’s peer back in time to Lennox’s first loss against Oliver McCall
Its 1994 and the heavyweight division is in full swing, Lennox Lewis has tidied away Donovan Ruddock and guaranteed himself a spot against the winner of America’s Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield for the WBC belt. Bowe (a fighter beaten by Lewis in the 1988 Olympics) beat Holyfield in a classic heavyweight bout and then extraordinarily ditched the belt. The destiny for the highly anticipated Brit vs American matchup was to be unfulfilled and the belt by default would go to Lewis. (There are some parallels between the AJ and Deontay Wilder match being unrealised due to Machiavellian scheming by corresponding boxing promoters). Lewis went on to blast through Tony Tucker, Frank Bruno and Phil Jackson. Oliver McCall was now due to share a ring with him. McCall was a rated fighter who had been beaten in his second ever professional bout and sported four other losses in 29 fights including a loss from James Buster Douglas. He was regarded as a reasonable, if unlikely threat to the WBC champion.
McCall is little known to the occupants of Wembley Arena on the 24th of September 1994. A slight dearth in atmosphere is noticeable as a crowd of 7,000 jeers the American fighter.
Something is not quite right.
Lewis is in his corner, he glances at the canvas for a few moments as Oliver McCall stares ferociously across the ring. McCall’s eyes are darting around every inch of the squared circle and are burning fervently. His violent expression indicates that he is more than game. Lennox does not share this look.
1st of June 2019, and the long ring walk mixed with a nervous energy radiating from Anthony Joshua triggers a sense of unease for all AJ fans.
Something is not quite right.
This is supposed to be a display for Joshua, a chance to market himself to a trans-Atlantic consumer during his American debut. He has had a stellar career with 22 wins and a massive 21 knockouts so this should be a piece of cake. Nevertheless, he fidgets with his gum-shield and rests his colossal arms over the turnbuckles. His eyes glance over the surface of the canvas as if already foreseeing his eventual reunion with it. Andy Ruiz pounds his own face, sticks his chest out and scans his opponent. He knows he was born for this fight.
Round 1 rings in at Wembley on the 24th of September 1994 and Lewis steps forth cumbersomely once and then holds his feet defensively. The prodding and pawing jab is an ineffectual one. The three inch reach and height advantage are negated by his stagnant stance and McCall’s aggressive lunging jab. McCall is already hostilely lacing up shots that graze the top of Lewis shoulders and body by the end of the round. Lewis by now has already begun to drop his left hand, a dangerous trait of his that by now should be a cause for concern. His trademark right hand is coiled awkwardly, telegraphing the challenger. 31 seconds into the 2nd round and that indolent left hand was absent from the champions head to absorb the weltering right hand counter. He is knocked down, flattened and hurt. He tries to get up and stumbles. His arms are raised to the ref to try and convince him of his wherewithal to continue. But it’s called off and Oliver McCall leaps into the air, tumbling over himself as Lewis protests, barely fully standing up straight.
Many in the boxing community say this was an early stoppage but all at the ringside agree that Lewis only managed to recover after the ref counted. Lewis was beaten by a thundering shot that would have put even some of the steeliest of chins out. The angle, the torque and placement of the punch was perfection and it came from a Lewis error that accommodated all of those factors.
Round 7 rings in at Madison square gardens on June 1st 2019 and Anthony Joshua steps forth, not fully recovered from his previous two knockdowns and lethargically nudges at Andy Ruiz for thirty seconds. He takes a pace forward with a lumbering left hook and is set upon like a backyard pit-bull ravaging a pig’s ear. The sheer ferocity and violence of the barrage topples AJ for a third time. He gets up quickly whilst wincing at his team. The champion walks over to the corner and sets his large, tired arms up on the turnbuckle and proceeds to fidget awkwardly with his mouth piece again. He survives the mandatory 8 count and Ruiz sets upon him again, quickly making him submit to one knee. Now utterly confused and in a world of hurt, the 20,000 voices around him did not matter. He was alone with a man he overlooked that now looks over him, panting his last breaths as a unified champion. He had been lost in a tumultuous sea of battering hooks and crosses. His mouthpiece has been spat out and the fight is over.
He gives up and Mike Griffin casts him a lifeline, dragging him ashore as he protests. The body language tells us all we need to know. AJ did not want to continue. And who in their right mind could blame him? The margin between him and Ruiz rapidly widened between rounds 3 and 7 to the point where every exchange Ruiz would appear unphased and in control. Anthony Joshua’s most prolific area, the mid-range, was filled with a flurry of activity from the Mexican, were he managed to beat Anthony to the punch most of the time. It wasn’t that Anthony Joshua was out punched or was in with a big puncher. This fight was won and lost on speed. The power punch played a big part of this fight. With Andy Ruiz answering Anthony Joshua’s 23 overall power punches to his 39.
But why then does Lennox Lewis stand on ceremony and advise loudly and brashly that Anthony Joshua cannot do what he had done all those years ago….twice?
Despite the comparisons made, there are a lot of differences between the fight that happened over two decades ago and the one that took place in June. Some might argue that Anthony Joshua fared better; staying in the ring long after his brain was discombobulated in the third round. Lewis was flattened inside just two rounds. Alternatively the argument is that Lewis was flattened by a lucky punch but AJ was systematically beaten. The largest claim of difference between the old fighter and the AJ is that Lennox was defeated through his own lack of discipline. Conversely he portrays AJ’s loss to much deeper, skill- based problems. Problems concerning energy, training, over extending shots, footwork and not utilising distance. Lewis was dropped in his first loss against McCall with a perfectly placed big shot. A trivial but no less true term “one shot is all it takes in the heavyweight division” can underscore that a win does not necessarily mean a fighter is better than another in this division.
Additionally, the lead up to the rematch is certainly different. Lennox immediately sacked his former trainer Pepe Correa and brought on Emmanuel Stewart. He established the characteristic snapping jab of Lewis, one of the best jabs Professional boxing has ever seen. This trademark punch enabled most of his wins and propelled him from a good fighter to a great fighter. Lennox has advised AJ to do the same and bring on someone new to guide his diet and training. It took Lewis well over 2 years to face his demons but Anthony Joshua is intent on correcting his mistake just 6 months after they first met. During those two years Lewis faced Lionel Butler, Justin Fortune, Tommy Morrison and Ray Mercer, which were more than enough to gain back his confidence. The abstract pre fight nerves of Lewis were non-existent in the rematch. And by the time Lewis was to face Oliver McCall for the second time, “The Atomic bull” would be a disturbed man, battling with mental health issues. His break down in the ring is one of the most infamous moments in boxing.
AJ fans will be hoping that these differences will not mean much and that the similarities are a hint at history repeating itself. Most of his fans relish a previous Joshua who owned a vicious killer instinct. He would leap on his opponents when they were hurt and pulverise them intelligently. AJ’s surging knockout run was ossified by Klitchkos knockdown which has been theorised as the turning point for his career. The Milk toast approach is of a more rigid, defensive fighter which seems juxtaposed to the colossal and intimidating figure we see on Lucozade and under armour adverts. But more importantly, the energy and spirit of AJ was absent for his fight in New York. Instincts are rarely wrong in the squared circle and the instincts of many watching around the world knew that something just wasn’t right. And this, as intangible as it may seem, needs to be fixed as a priority. And it may take longer than just 6 Months.
Many want to see a new undisputed king of the pride and a large percentage of this group want to see Anthony Joshua at the top of this food chain. The criticism from Lewis may come across as bitter gloating over a hard loss, but the paths Lennox Lewis took as a fighter led him to be an all-time great. Perhaps Anthony Joshua should listen to an old lion’s advice
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