THE Anthony Joshua show rolls on – but for how long? This isn’t a question of how much Joshua has left as a fighter, but rather as a commodity. He remains one of the most marketable fighters on the planet, but it seems increasingly likely that those heady nights of his peak are firmly behind us.
On Saturday night he huffed and puffed before eventually doing what so many had paid to see him do: render poor Robert Helenius horizontal. The show, broadcast on DAZN, had all the trappings of an ‘AJ’ event – pyrotechnics, celebrities at ringside, Sweet Caroline being played 735 times – but there was an emptier feel to it. Of course, this wasn’t the planned event; Helenius stepped in at a week’s notice after Joshua’s original opponent, Dillian Whyte, failed a drug test.
And perhaps it was because of the abysmal two fights preceding the main event, but by the time Helenius and eventually Joshua made their way to the ring things felt forced. After Dereck Chisora stumbled to a decision win over Gerald Washington, we still had to endure analysis and predictions from DAZN’s punditry team, despite the fact it was past 11pm and both Joshua and Helenius were ready to go, as shown by backstage footage on the broadcast.
This is a sin committed by every broadcaster in boxing, not just DAZN. Rather than letting one fight flow into the next there is always a stop-start schedule that is deeply frustrating.
That being said, DAZN and the event organisers should be applauded for how quickly they pivoted to Helenius as an opponent. All of the fight branding and visuals on the night had been changed apparently seamlessly; it looked as though the Fin was the planned opponent all along.
And on commentary, the DAZN team didn’t try to pull the wool over our eyes (too much). While Chisora and Washington floundered at each other, Mike Costello and Andy Lee made it quite clear that, regardless of the result, neither man would hold much relevance in the heavyweight division. That, of course, raises the question of why this fight was chief support in the first place.
In some ways, the broadcast highlighted what DAZN’s priorities are now. More time was spent on cringe-inducing interviews with KSI and Conor McGregor than discussing the excellent clash between Sunny Edwards and Jesse Rodriguez, set for Glendale’s Desert Diamond Arena on December 16, that had only just been announced.
Then, during the main event as Joshua looked ponderous for six and a half rounds, they were more critical of him than perhaps any commentary team has been before – and they weren’t being unfair. While Tony Bellew continued to insist Joshua was purposely banking rounds against Helenius, Lee quite rightly challenged him on that and questioned whether it was more a case of Joshua taking too long to find the answers to what were rather simple questions being posed by Helenius. He wondered aloud why Joshua wasn’t pulling the trigger when Helenius backed himself against the ropes during the fight.
Joshua eventually produced the highlight-reel finish we were all expecting, but Costello and Lee were still asking the right questions. The one thing they did skim over was just how marked up Joshua was by the time the fight finished – both eyes had swelling and blood gushed from his nose. He should not be taking that sort of punishment from someone like Helenius.
And when it came for his turn to talk, Joshua was – as we’ve now come to expect – just a bit weird. When asked about a fight with Deontay Wilder, he made a poorly executed joke about how he’s injured his back from “carrying the heavyweight division.” He seems genuinely fed up with the criticism and questions he constantly has to face, and it’s hard to blame him. The level of scrutiny he’s been under since winning his first ‘world’ title is almost unprecedented, particularly in the UK.
Still, on we go. Joshua says he wants to fight two more times this year, which seems unlikely. But he is right in insisting that he needs to stay active, and at least one more appearance before 2023 comes to a close would make a lot of sense. Wilder is, of course, the desired opponent but there was a distinct lack of push for that clash on this broadcast.
And if that fight is made, it won’t just be the Joshua show. It will be a fight fans have been desperate for, irrespective of the results that have gone against either man. Joshua will not have the pressure of carrying the event on his own; he will have an adversary more than willing to produce drama both in the build-up and in the ring. Perhaps then we will get a much clearer picture of who Joshua is as a fighter at this stage in his career, in a fight where he is free from the pressure of trying to avenge a loss or facing someone he is expected to destroy.
Last week, Eddie Hearn joined talkSPORT for a live interview that was basically billed as a planned argument with presenter Simon Jordan. This isn’t the first time they’ve clashed on air and both have been very critical of each other in the past, but it appeared as though Hearn was brought on for the sole purpose of bickering with Jordan.
It was mean-spirited and utterly pointless. It’s baffling that Jordan thought he could prevail in a war of words with Hearn, and even more confusing as to why Hearn considered this a worthwhile endeavour. There was talk of agendas and schemes to undermine Hearn, and the pair took aim at one another’s backgrounds.
Yes, we’re involved in a sport designed around punching each other, but do we really have to be so hostile?
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