Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko: A classic clash of generations

By Ben DirsBBC Sport at Wembley Stadium
Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko will meet in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium on 29 April

There was the odd moment when you longed for the bad old days.

Maybe not as bad as someone chucking a table or swinging a chair around their head, but just a pinch of spice to give what promises to be a hearty dish an appreciable edge.

For once on English soil, Wladimir Klitschko was in control. Which is how he likes it. A dignified man, Klitschko doesn't look comfortable exchanging barbs with a 6ft 7in Batman. Then again, who does? A 6ft Robin?

But in Anthony Joshua, Klitschko has a rival he can understand. Someone safe, just like him.

At one point during his customary press conference monologue - the Ukrainian often swats away questions as if they are bothersome flies - Klitschko looked across at Joshua and said: "We are friends." It sounded like a Jedi mind trick.

Promoter Eddie Hearn had already warned Joshua not to be fooled. "Joshua must not fall into that friendly-friendly trap," said Hearn after his charge's three-round demolition of Eric Molina on Saturday. "He has to have that same ruthless streak he's had until now. He will, because he's a ruthless individual."

Anthony JoshuaWladimir Klitschko
Height and reach6 ft 6 inches and 82 inch reach6 ft 6.5 inches and 81 inch reach
Fights, won, rounds and knockout percentage18 fights, 18 wins, 44 rounds with 100% knockout rate68 fights, 64 wins, 358 rounds with 78% knockout rate
Round per fight average2.44 rounds per fight5.26 rounds per fight
What they said about each other"There is different breeds of animals in this sport, but at the end of the day we are all predators. He is a smart operator and I have a lot of respect for how he has handled himself."Speaking in 2014: "It's important Anthony keeps both feet on the ground. The big mistake everybody makes - and I did it too and that's why I lost a couple of fights - is to believe the hype."

Joshua didn't sound too ruthless, reflecting on the challenge ahead. He didn't sound too anything in particular. In fact, he made defending his world heavyweight crown against the former king in front of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium sound like a four-rounder at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre in Dagenham.

When it was gently suggested that Klitschko - perhaps, just maybe - had been a little bit disrespectful by referring to him as his "little bro", Joshua - gently, respectfully - disagreed. "It's fine. I let it go over my head. It's all irrelevant."

I will conduct myself properly, says Joshua

Joshua even felt the need to downgrade his one quote that might have sounded a tad big-headed, insisting that victory over Klitschko would not, as he had previously stated, make him an "overnight legend" but would be merely the first act in creating a great legacy. In chess terms, it was moving a piece backwards.

What will sell the fight is not needle and trash-talk but the question of timing. It is a classic clash of generations, between a youthful, unproven king and a battle-hardened ruler from a previous age.

Has Joshua, a pro for barely three years and with 18 fights to his name, learnt enough? Or has Klitschko, a man with 64 wins from 68 pro fights and a two-time world champion, amassed too much wisdom?

Wladimir Klitschko

Will the 27-year-old Joshua have too much hunger and too much athleticism for a man 14 years his senior? Did Klitschko's chastening defeat by Tyson Fury in Dusseldorf last November, which brought to an end his second, nine-year reign, show that he was past it? Can Joshua take his power? Can the Englishman go past seven rounds, as he has never done before? Is he in the same class as Fury?

For his part, Klitschko believes his year and a half out of the ring - two scheduled rematches against Fury fell through because of injuries and the Manchester fighter's struggles with mental illness - have refreshed him.

"My brother [Vitali, the former twice heavyweight world champion] said a four-year break was good for him," said Klitschko. "It sounds like I'm really old but I don't feel this way. I was not sitting back, drinking beer and doing nothing."

A record breaker
The British record of 90,000 was set by light-heavyweights Len Harvey and Jock McAvoy at White City Stadium in 1939.
Eddie Hearn also promoted the 2014 Wembley rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves, which set a post-war attendance record of 80,000 and grossed more than £22m.

Two training camps for fights that never happened might have kept him active but there are times when Klitschko's thinking sounds wishful, as when he insists that both his hands and his reflexes have become faster with age.

Before the wily Fury rendered Klitschko almost punchless, there were clear signs of deterioration when he fought unheralded American Bryant Jennings. And if Klitschko really is speeding up after 40, he's a scientific miracle.

However, it is entirely possible that nine years of largely one-side victories dulled the senses, imperceptibly. Between regaining a portion of the world heavyweight crown in 2006 and losing it to Fury, Klitschko made 18 defences, as many as Joshua has had pro fights. All that winning can become mundane.

Wladimir Klitschko v Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to claim his WBO, WBA, IBO and IBF Heavyweight titles

"The Fury defeat woke me up," said Klitschko, who has had 27 world title fights in total. "After so many years I realised I was not as motivated.

"Maybe it sounds crazy, but it was good that I lost that fight and good that I'm the underdog for this one. It's nice being the challenger again. I have an adrenaline rush in my blood. I've been missing it. This time I'm obsessed."

Klitschko and Joshua sparred 20 rounds at the former's Austrian bolthole in 2014, before Klitschko's five-round knockout of Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev. Both men will have learnt a thing or two, but not nearly enough.

"Klitschko didn't perform against Fury so when he says he's obsessed, that's him saying he wants to show people how good he actually is," said Joshua, who won Olympic super-heavyweight gold in 2012, 16 years after Klitschko.

"They say he didn't throw enough punches against Fury. Believe me, he will throw punches against me. If he wins, he will say: 'I'm still the big bro.' But if he loses he will realise that the torch has changed hands, that this is a completely different era. And after that, I want to be doing it for years. "

Some have suggested that Joshua-Klitschko isn't as big or as relevant as both camps would like us to believe, because Fury is the main man. But their point is largely irrelevant. Fury briefly had it all but was forced to abdicate. He owns no world titles, he currently has no boxing licence, he might never fight again.

In time, some of us might even miss the edge he brought to the heavyweight division. But for now, let's just appreciate some plain old boxing.


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