Plotting Anthony Joshua's Career in 2014

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Plotting Anthony Joshua's Career in 2014
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

On first glance, Anthony Joshua looks like a promoter's dream: a big-punching heavyweight, affable and the Olympic champion to boot. It is true to say that the sky is the limit in terms of Joshua's potential.

However, because of Joshua's pre-existing fame and pedigree, there are huge expectations on his shoulders and far greater pressures than the average novice. The pro careers of Audley Harrison and, to some extent, James DeGale serve as cautionary tales.

Joshua won his fourth professional fight on Saturday, and none of his early opponents has lasted past two rounds. In theory, there should be no rush for a 24-year-old in the heavyweight division, where these days fighters tend to peak past the age of 30.

But because Joshua is already a box-office attraction whose career will be closely followed by fans and media, there will be calls to move him artificially fast through the ranks.

Promoter Eddie Hearn will also want to keep the goodwill that surrounds Joshua, which could ebb away if fans get bored of his journey through a succession of one-sided learning fights.

Hearn has struck on a good idea by having Joshua travel around, visiting Wales for his last fight, and he's due to fight Hector Avila in Scotland next. Joshua is a physical spectacle, and fans in new places will turn out for the novelty value of seeing a potential superstar.

Avila is not a great opponent, despite taking a demotivated Dereck Chisora nine rounds last year. It is, however, a classic promoting trick to match your man against previous opponents of domestic rivals, looking to beat them more impressively.

It is hard to know how long Avila will extend Joshua but after that, his fifth fight, it is probably time to step up the opposition.

Joshua has a similar problem to 2008 Olympic bronze-medalist David Price—both are so heavy-handed that opponents don't last long enough to offer much challenge. Price eventually went into his first real international fight without adequate preparation against Tony Thompson, an opponent who dug in and threw back.

Part of the problem is that the UK domestic scene has a significant gulf in quality between Chisora, Price, Tyson Fury and the rest.

Although it would not be totally ridiculous to see Joshua with a game veteran like Matt Skelton or Martin Rogan, he is unlikely to learn much from them. The most suitable British opponents would be current English champion John McDermott and, in particular, Michael Sprott.

Looking further afield, the man who best fits the bill is Dominick Guinn, the once-hyped American who, at 38, has become a superior journeyman. In recent years, Guinn has gone the distance with Tomasz Adamek, Denis Boystov and Kubrat Pulev, but he hasn't logged a good win since 2008.

Beyond Guinn, another suitable American would be Nicolai Firtha, the 6'6" "Stone Man" who went five rounds with Fury and four with Deontay Wilder. That makes him a good barometer of Joshua's power as a professional.

One man Joshua shouldn't fight is Harrison, despite the "Olympic champion vs. Olympic champion" sales pitch. Harrison would inevitably turn it into his show, and after his first-round defeats to Price and Wilder, fans have grown bored of the circus. Given the way in which Joshua responded for calls to fight Riddick Bowe, he may already know this.

 

 

A significant advantage Joshua has over Harrison and DeGale is a trainer in Tony Sims, who is actively concerned with keeping his charge's feet on the ground. As Joshua told the Mirror in November, “The only thing I listen to about my prospects is what my coach tells me, and he tells me I’m rubbish and that I’ve a lot to work on."

In his post-fight interview with Sky Sports on Saturday, Joshua was very self-critical, perhaps even exaggeratedly so.

But for a man in his position—already being told he's the champ, a future legend and all the rest—it is far better he be over-critical than over-confident.

On the other hand, Joshua has told the BBC he wants a heavyweight title shot by 2017, so the ambition is there. That is a realistic trajectory given the quality of the division once Wladimir Klitschko retires.

By the end of 2014, Joshua doesn't need to be worrying about world rankings yet, but he should look to have fought a top-50 fighter against whom a win will move his status from that of a promising former amateur to that of a rising professional.

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