Friday, 28 April 2017

Klitschko might not be a spent force – Joshua needs to pace himself

Kell Brook’s trainer looks at where Saturday’s Wembley sell-out, world heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and the 41-year-old Ukrainian may be won and lost
Anthony Joshua, right, lands a right on Dillian Whyte during their British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight in December 2015, when the challenger briefly stood up to his fellow Briton and flaws appeared.

I am not convinced, as many people seem to be, that Anthony Joshua will blast through Wladimir Klitschko. Of course it could happen. But if Klitschko has anything left in the tank, I expect him to drag Joshua deeper into the trenches than ever before. The Ukrainian may even be able to spring a surprise late on – if he can navigate the early rounds.

I know that puts me in the minority. But I keep wondering whether too much has been made of Klitschko’s defeat to Tyson Fury. Yes, he looked awful that night: slow and flat-footed and desperately trigger-shy. The question is: how much of that was down to age and how much to Fury bamboozling him? Because make no mistake, the Gypsy King fought an exceptionally smart tactical fight, which was very different to what everyone expected.

Watch it again and you’ll see that when Fury attacked he boxed orthodox, with his left hand leading, but when Klitschko came forward, he immediately switched to southpaw, fending him off with a right-handed jab. Not only did that confuse his opponent but – crucially – it increased the distance between Klitschko’s right hand and Fury’s chin, making it harder for Wladimir to land with the heavy artillery.

Another factor in Fury’s favour was that he was the bigger man with the longer reach – which meant Klitschko could not get his powerful left jab off, from which everything else he does flows.

It may be that Klitschko was just too old that night – and that he will look even more plodding and ponderous at Wembley after 18 months out. If so, it’s an easy night for Joshua. He will be too quick and powerful, and could end up finishing the job early, just like he has with most of his previous 18 opponents.

But what if Wladimir isn’t as gone as we all think? Then the fight becomes really interesting.

If I was training Klitschko I would stress how important it is to get through the first four to six rounds, when Joshua will be at his most dangerous. He has to make him miss, tie him up, and establish his own jab – and then, as the fight goes on, start to take him to places where he has never been before.

Winning the battle of the jabs will be key. Yes, Joshua is tremendously fast and powerful, but Klitschko’s jab is more technically sound and accurate. And although he doesn’t look it, because he stands a bit upright, the Ukrainian is also very hard to hit.

He will also be reminding himself that Joshua has never been the distance. One of the worst things for a fighter is when they go into a bout knowing they may have to go 12 rounds for the first time. No matter how well they prepare physically, it gets in their head. And if it does go into the latter stages Joshua – as good as he is – will find himself facing fresh challenges.

Klitschko will also want to find out how Joshua responds if he is put under sustained pressure.

Because it is a different story when you have been beating up opponents and then somebody stands up to you, as Dillian Whyte did briefly to Joshua. That’s when some chinks in the armour appeared.

Remember when Naseem Hamed fought Marco Antonio Barrera and thought he would blow him away? Barrera realised that Naz fought in bursts and liked loading up with big shots, having a breather, and then loading up with big shots again. So Barrera kept the pressure on him for the full three minutes, which didn’t allow Naz to recover and set himself up for the power shots.

Of course Joshua will know all this – and so will his excellent trainer Robert McCracken, who I am sure will devise the correct gameplan for the fight. If it was up to me, I would get Joshua to pace himself, no matter how much he wants to put on a show with 90,000 people cheering him on. I would start by working behind the jab and seeing what is coming back from Klitschko before opening up.

He has to be careful he is not trigger happy with the right hand. Instead he should start with straight shots, get the jab working and find his range early on, making sure he isn’t overreaching with the left jab and it’s connecting well before dropping in the right hand.

Once his timing is on point, he will look to throw fast counter right-hands over Wlad’s jab, finishing with left and right hooks.

But he has to make sure he keeps stepping to his right to keep away from Klitschko’s power shots when Wlad tries to close him down. Yes, if the opportunity arises to knock him out, then try it. But he shouldn’t go out with intention of throwing everything at Klitschko early on. It is probably smarter to systemically break him down over the rounds.

This could well be a changing of the guard, with the younger fighter beating the older icon, as when Joe Bugner overcame Henry Cooper, or Mike Tyson blew out Larry Holmes.

But experience counts in boxing. And, at the back of my mind, I wonder whether Klitschko might just be able to use all his nous to nullify Joshua’s tremendous physical talents, just like Muhammad Ali did when he rope-a-doped the unstoppable George Foreman back in 1974, and shock us all – either with a points victory or late stoppage.”


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