It’s one of the most time-honoured and compelling narratives in sport: the gnarled old veteran, desperate for one final shot at the big time, taking on the hungry young lion eager for his own chance to dominate the world as his opponent had before him.
It sounds like a storyline from a Rocky movie, but in this instance it is a real and – as Wladimir Klitschko may well find out come Saturday – heavy dose of reality. The Ukrainian, who has dominated the heavyweight division for more than a decade, must take on the man who currently holds his collection of belts: Anthony Joshua.
Klitschko only has himself to blame for being in this predicament of fighting an unbeaten champion in front of a partisan 80,000 strong crowd. He completely failed to turn up in his last fight against Tyson Fury where he was deposed as the division’s main man, and despite what Fury might tell you Klitschko wasn’t outclassed: he simply didn’t throw enough punches to win.
Why? Who knows, it could have been a tactical decision to try and keep the bout close and tight, or perhaps – after 20 odds years as a boxer – he simply doesn’t like getting hit any more. Once that fear sets in, it really is a slippery slope….as many great but fading champions can attest.
So which Wladimir will we see at Wembley: the great champion who has left an incredible legacy, or the scared, over-the-hill heavyweight who is afraid to get punched?
Any uncertainty at all that exists in the betting market – and remember, Joshua is as short as 1/2 to win the bout – is because of the elephant in the room: do we know how good AJ really is?
It’s true that in his short career to fate he has never been tested, but is that because he hasn’t been matched with anyone of his ability so far or rather because he is streets ahead of any other heavyweight on the planet.
The 27-year-old dealt with Dillian Whyte and Dominic Breazeale – neither shrinking violets – with consummate ease, and that suggests that even those willing to go toe-to-toe with AJ can be disposed of. Klitschko won’t try and meet him in the centre of the ring of course, but the point is that Joshua has beaten fighters of all styles, so any doubts can be put to one side.
Can he take a solid shot? We still don’t know, but on the evidence of his performance against Fury it is unlikely that Klitschko will be the first to find out.
So how can punters turn Joshua’s likely victory to their financial advantage? At 1/2 to win by any means he isn’t going to make you rich overnight.
Remember though, Joshua has won all 18 of his fights within the distance. Klitschko has tasted the canvas before, albeit a long time ago, and his defensive skills were improved markedly by trainer Emmanuel Stewart.
Sadly, Stewart is no longer with us, and Klitschko’s performances have downturned as a consequence.
The Ukrainian has been a brilliant champion, and while not everybody has enjoyed his pragmatic style the manner in which he has conducted himself in and out of the ring – in a sport where trash talk and caveman tactics prevail – has been so refreshing.
But unfortunately, Klitschko’s career will come to an end on Saturday. There is 4/5 available on Joshua to win by KO or TKO with Betfair, and that is outstanding value. To push the envelope further, Joshua to win in rounds 7-12 – after his concussive punch power finally takes its toll on Klitschko 0can be backed at 5/2.