With a much anticipated bout with Kubrat Pulev approaching, fans of Anthony Joshua are celebrating the fact that AJ is set to take to the ring once again, after around a year out of action due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, circumstances will be strange at the SSE Arena, Wembley, with only 1,000 spectators permitted to attend, and it will be interesting to see how both fighters adapt to the atmosphere – neither has fought since the pandemic began.
But there is a sense that as Joshua returns to the ring, having defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. last year to regain his heavyweight titles, this could herald something like a fresh start for AJ. His performance in his first fight against Ruiz in New York was limp and lethargic, as Joshua looked a shadow of his best self, but in winning the rematch he has a chance to cast those difficult moments out of his mind and focus on the future.
It’ll be interesting to discover what Joshua has been working on in the year since his last fight. For many fans of AJ, they’ll be longing to see a return to the kind of savage, knockout performances he delivered earlier in his career, leaving opponents sprawled on the canvas, shocked by the power of the opponent that had just knocked them down.
There have been a few times more recently when Joshua has been taken the distance, with two of his last three wins coming by way of unanimous decision, against Joseph Parker and Ruiz respectively. Throw in the defeat to Ruiz in the pair’s first fight, and Joshua hasn’t posted the same kind of knockout results in recent times as he has done before.
But then, you can’t argue with the fact that being forced to go the distance a couple of times has made Joshua a better fighter, and given him more strings to his bow. That kind of wiliness is necessary if a fighter is to achieve great things in the sport, and Joshua has proved that he is by no means just a one-trick pony.
An inability to last the course is arguably what cost Deontay Wilder when he took on Tyson Fury in the pair’s rematch earlier this year. Fury’s gameplan was simply to tire Wilder out, to absorb the American’s blows and wait for his opportunity to strike – which he did to great effect. In the end, a lack of versatility proved to be Wilder’s downfall, but Joshua’s ability to stick in for 12 rounds proves that he may give Fury a run for his money should a match-up between the two champions take place in 2021.
First though, Joshua must navigate the threat of Pulev, with AJ the clear favourite when you look at the Joshua v Pulev odds. And while the Bulgarian will no doubt push the Watford fighter hard, it would be a breath of fresh air to see Joshua return to the peak of his powers and deliver an early knockout to reassert his dominant supremacy in the heavyweight division.