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Received wisdom has it that Anthony Joshua’s emergence and success has been a boon for boxing; key in its resurgence as a mass spectator sport, and inspiring an upsurge in participation at grassroots level.
Icon, role model, supreme athlete and advertisers’ dream rolled into one, this is Joshua (more affectionately known as AJ), a young man from the hard streets of Watford who’s risen to the heights of superstardom and fame, proving that anyone can do it with a positive mental attitude, dedication, discipline and sense of purpose.
This of course is bunkum, the kind of tripe served up in service to a free market status quo that operates according to the ethos of the betting shop rather than the library.
Under its nostrums, we are invited to believe that success is consonant with obscene wealth, fame and acclaim, and that in order to achieve those things you must turn yourself into a human robot, wherein every step, activity, word and gesture is measured and taken according to whether it serves your ambitions.
Joshua is not only a world champion of the ring, he is a champion of free market corporate values. His profile and image has been shaped and machined according to the requirements of an economic and value system that stands as a denial of reality, along with the human condition in all its wonderful and flawed complexity.
That said neither he nor any other prizefighter is obliged to represent anything other than him and themselves. Joshua’s success in the ring is eminently deserved, hard earned and fought for. But it’s in the space between human imperfection and human endeavour where truth and authenticity resides. The attempt to elide the former and accentuate the latter is the lie that sustains dominant cultural values that have wrought and wreak so much damage.
For those reasons, the flawed hero possesses an appeal no amount of PR spin and marketing could hope to compete with. Give me Jack Johnson’s defiance of convention over Joe Louis’s submission to it. Give me Jake La Motta over Sugar Ray Robinson. Give me Muhammad Ali over Henry Cooper. Give me Marvin Hagler or Roberto Duran over Sugar Ray Leonard. Give me Mike Tyson over Frank Bruno or Lennox Lewis. And give me Tyson Fury over Anthony Joshua.
This is not to say we in any way condone the outrageous acts, statements and behaviour of flawed champions – indeed far from it. It’s more that their flaws and misdeeds make their achievements in the ring all the more human. And it’s also the fact they carry within the potential for redemption, reminding us that a sinner redeemed is more ennobling than a saint fallen.
Joshua’s next fight is against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller on June 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York. It is a decidedly underwhelming prospect, made in the interests of commerce not boxing. Promoter Eddie Hearn, a man whose love of a pound note seems unbounded, likes the idea of cracking the lucrative US pay-per-view market. With his partnership with US streaming outfit The Zone in mind, this contest inarguably ticks that box.
But what is good for AJ’s marketability as a commercial product, not forgetting Hearn’s bank account, is not necessarily good for the sport – certainly not in the UK.
With neither Fury or Deontay Wilder available, the last remaining credible opponent for Joshua this time round is Dillian Whyte, who gave the former Olympic champion a run for his money when they met back in 2015 in a British title clash. By all accounts, the offer Whyte received from Hearn to fight Joshua in April was close to derisory, which considering Whyte’s growing profile and impressive recent performances and improvements since teaming up with trainer Mark Tibbs, it was no surprise he turned it down.
Whatever the future holds for Joshua, the words of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer are required reading: “For the world is hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.”
Errol Spence Jnr v Mikey Garcia
When Mikey Garcia makes his entrance to the ring at the magnificent AT&T Stadium in Dallas tomorrow night, home to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, he will do so either burdened with the profoundly daunting challenge of moving up two weight classes to face one of the most skilled and devastating exponents of the sport around, or he will enter the ring inspired by it.
In a fight that’s scheduled to be shown live on ITV4 in the UK, the prize on offer is Spence’s IBF welterweight strap. Adding to the stakes is that both fighters are coming in undefeated, Garcia with the kudos of being a four-division champion and more experienced than his younger opponent; Spence knowing that of the two he’s faced the higher calibre opposition, a roster of talent that includes Sheffield’s own Kell Brook, whom he stopped in 2017 at Bramall Lane.
Spence is a southpaw with slick skills and a mean streak that has seen him stop, KO or retire all 24 of his opponents, while Garcia, fighting orthodox, has stopped or KO’d 29 out of his 36.
The stage then is set for either a comfortable victory for the bigger man in Spence, who fights out of Dallas, or a major upset and achievement on the part of Garcia, who fights out of Riverside, California, where he’s trained by older brother Robert Garcia, himself a former world champion.
In recent years there’s being a growing trend of fighters moving up two weight classes for big title and money fights. Britain’s Amir Khan against Canelo Alvarez and Kell Brook against Gennady Golovkin are two notable examples. Both came undone in the attempt, lending credence to the wisdom that a good big man beats a good little man, while also learning the hard way that weight classes exist in boxing for a reason.
With this in mind it’s hard to see Mikey Garcia, excellent fighter that he is, confounding the odds. If he manages to hear the final bell, he’ll have achieved the boxing equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis in a pair of roller skates.
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