Tomorrow afternoon, WBO/WBA/IBF Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua will defend his titles for the sixth time against former WBA heavyweight titlist Alexander Povetkin of Russian, in front of what is sure to be another massive crowd at Wembley Stadium in London.
It is surely not the fight that boxing fans wanted for Joshua — that would be a showdown with American WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder, and maybe for that reason, Povetkin is being completely overlooked as a credible opponent for Joshua. For most, this fight is simply meant to be a rollout for Eddie Hearn’s DAZN streaming service, which will be having its grand debut this weekend.
But if history is indication, Povetkin is more than credible opposition for Joshua, who struggled a little bit in outpointing New Zealand’s Joseph Parker in Cardiff last March, despite wide scores from all three judges. After all, Povetkin, like Joshua is a former Olympic Super Heavyweight Gold Medalist, having won the gold in Athens in 2004. He has also won eight fights in a row, six by knockout and other than Wladimir Klitschko, may be the biggest puncher Joshua has yet to face in his career.
Povetkin’s situation is much like that of Elieder Alvarez, who was a seen as a very talented fighter but then gained derision for repeatedly taking step-aside money rather than face former WBC light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson. As disgust for this practice for Alvarez mounted, people forgot how good of a fighter he was. Alvarez reminded everyone of this last month, when he knocked out Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO light heavyweight title. Povetkin will hope to repeat this practice.
Yet, Povetkin’s situation differs from Alvarez just a little, as Povetkin’s career has been slowed down by the biggest of boxing taboo’s — steroid use. Povetkin saw a 2016 WBC title shot against Wilder dissipate thanks to testing positive for the steroid melodonium, the same one that got Russian athletes banned from the Winter Olympics, a mere week before the fight was supposed to happen. Povetkin had another positive test the next year before a fight with Bermane Stiverne, resulting in Stiverne just leaving the country. Despite all of this (and some would argue maybe because of it) Povetkin has just continued winning fights.
His last fight came on the Joshua-Parker undercard, against another tall Brit and former Olympian David Price. Povetkin dropped Price with a perfect left hook in the third and while he got hurt badly by a shot at the end of the fourth, Povetkin came back the next round to hurt Price with a right hand, followed up a left hook that almost knocked the soul out of Price’s body. It was good fight to prepare Povetkin given Price’s height and hand speed, but as we’ve seen, David Price is no Anthony Joshua.
For Povetkin to make this a fight, he has to get on the inside, where he has consistently done his best work. For that, he will need to utilize good head movement and he has to jab. Povetkin has been able to dispense with the jab and just move on lesser opponents, but he cannot do that here. Joshua will eat him up with his own jab, and this also leaves him open for Joshua’s excellent uppercut. The jab also sets up the left hook that has been Povetkin’s money punch. “Sasha” also should consider making this fight ugly — hang off Joshua, hit on the hip, pull him down behind the head. Whatever he needs to do, he has to stay on him.
One good sign for Povetkin is that he weighed in today at 222 pounds, his lowest weight since Povetkin was training with the legendary trainer and analyst, Teddy Atlas, about eight years ago.
So it seems Povetkin is in shape to take the fight to Joshua for twelve whole rounds, which he needs to do. While the Russian only has twenty-four knockouts in 34 wins, when Povetkin does catch you-he tends to separate you for your senses. Povetkin would have many more knockouts if he had not been so content to coast throughout his career. That is what happens when you are so much better than your opposition, as Povetkin has been throughout his career.
That is not the case tomorrow. Joshua has been able to do what Povetkin couldn’t in beating Wladimir Klitschko, the only man to beat Povetkin, and establish himself as the man in the heavyweight division. He looks in shape at 245 pounds and after not looking his best against Parker, he should be motivated to bounce back here with Sasha. Then there’s that big pile of money that Joshua stands to make if he wins this fight and fights the winner of Wilder versus Tyson Fury later this year. Povetkin can take that all with a few big punches tomorrow.
Of course, the fight is only part of the story tomorrow. This is the first live fight in the United States for DAZN USA, the new streaming service that Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn is brining along with Bellator MMA. A good fight (and a good stream) is crucial for the success of the service, which is available for free trial for tomorrow’s fight. It all amounts to this-tomorrow is a big day for boxing, and if Alexander Povetkin pulls off the upset, it will be chaos.