2016 has largely been a disappointing year for the heavyweight division. Tyson Fury’s ongoing issues have now twice derailed his highly anticipated rematch with Wladimir Klitschko, ensuring that the division’s reigning kingpin will not fight again until 2017.
Luis Ortiz, who is largely seen as a legit title contender and started the year strong by dispatching veteran Tony Thompson in March, has been inactive since though is now set to return against Malik Scott.
Beyond these massive letdowns though looms an intriguing matchup between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder with perhaps even greater implications for the sport’s flagship division.
Wilder will need time to recover from a hand injury as well as torn bicep suffered in his last outing against Chris Arreola before this fantastical fight can come to fruition, and either way, each fighter looks headed in a different immediate direction. That said, which of these two gladiators is truly the future among today’s heavyweights?
Joshua vs. Wilder: Skills
Wilder is phenomenally talented with very fast hands. However, you get the impression that most of his success is based on talent alone and that skills are a distant second. To his credit, Wilder has developed a solid jab and will occasionally mix it up with some cagey infighting.
It has not been enough, however, to diminish ongoing concerns about his defensive deficiencies. Wilder has a bad habit of sometimes giving up his height and reach advantages, becoming a very hittable target. It was particularly alarming to see how easily some B-level brawlers have been able to break the champ’s guard to rock him with clean punches.
At other times , it’s simply theatrical to watch the big man overwhelm opponents with his awkward but effective fighting style.
Joshua is a terrific talent in his own right but is gradually morphing into a more complete fighter with each contest. Last time out, we saw the Brit display a lethal mix of power and skill in dismantling challenger Dominic Breazeale. Joshua threw blistering combos to his opponent’s head and body all night.
What’s more is that he boxed smart, took his time and set up his power punches, whilst barely breaking a sweat. Joshua will only get better with more experience and that can be a bad proposition for the entire heavyweight landscape.
Edge – Joshua
Joshua vs. Wilder: Punch Resistance
This is a virtual toss up as neither man has been sufficiently tested in this category to remove or confirm doubts about their chins. Wilder was famously rocked by fringe contender Eric Molina in the 9th round of their 2015 bout. Wilder’s legs looked rubbery but he showed resiliency in recovering quickly. He was also marked up by another lower tier fighter in Johann Duhaupas but hammered his iron-chinned opponent into submission via 11th round TKO.
Joshua was nearly stopped in the second round courtesy of a crushing short left hook against nemesis Dillian Whyte. Joshua somehow managed to remain upright even as a charging Whyte drove him into the ropes with a flurry of punches during the same exchange.
It was Joshua’s ability to shake off the cobwebs and fight intelligently behind the jab that impressed many that night. Whyte is markedly better not to mention more dangerous than both Molina and Duhaupas with the killer instinct to finish the job when his man is hurt.
Joshua vs. Wilder: Power
Wilder’s tremendous punching power is what makes him special not to mention that sledgehammer of a right hand that has helped lay waste to many of his 36 knockout victims. It is a foregone conclusion that he can obliterate opponents of lower caliber but the jury is out on how well that power would translate against the division’s elite.
Wilder could not put away Bermane Stiverne and it took him 8 rounds to stop the faded/never was Arreola. The bottom line is that those quick knockouts are not coming anymore as Wilder continues to fight on a higher level.
The conundrum that Joshua presents for opponents is not simply restricted to power but they also have to account for his exceptional accuracy as well. Matt Legg, who was starched inside a round by Joshua, offered this chilling assessment following their brutal fight:
“The power of his punches goes through your gloves, there’s nowhere to hide.”
An emerging trail of 17 broken bodies including Matt Skelton, Kevin Johnson, Dillian Whyte, Michael Sprott and Charles Martin have all tasted AJ’s knockout punches and the devastating results have all been the same. Fellow champions like Wilder will be wary of becoming the 18th member of this exclusive club.
Edge – Wilder
Joshua vs. Wilder: Intangibles
Wilder and Joshua are evenly matched as they are both rangy, and know how to effectively control distance. They hit hard and are both unusually athletic for their size. In a fight this close, it only takes one factor to give either man the edge needed to tip the scales.
Wilder should have an advantage in experience with nearly 40 pro fights and over 100 rounds under his belt, yet, Joshua has the vastly superior amateur pedigree which often tells the greater tale.
Further, as British novelist CS Lewis cautions, experience can be a brutal teacher. Wilder has faced mostly low quality opponents. Alexander Povetkin would have certainly been a good measuring stick to see how much the Alabama native has progressed. Wilder is no hype job and has the potential to become a very good fighter. Unfortunately, his ledger fails to convince the multitudes, outside of his fan base, that he can win at the highest level.
There is an understandable inclination to look at Joshua as just a mere KO merchant but he is hardly one dimensional. Aside from his obvious physical gifts, the Brit’s most dangerous asset may very well lie between his ears – his ring IQ.
Joshua is a natural student of the game, who employs stealth as well as an ability to make key adjustments throughout the course of a fight. We’ve yet to see Joshua flustered even when pushed by Whyte and a very game Breazeale. His ability to keep a level head under duress demonstrates that he has the strong mental confidence of a champion.
Edge – Joshua
This is a tough fight for the 6’7” Wilder given his increasingly fragile right hand, which is his main weapon. Another injury in a fight of this magnitude would almost certainly spell defeat as he would not be able to hold Joshua off with the jab like he did against the shorter Arreola.
No doubt this contest would be a true barn burner between two of boxing’s most terrifying punchers but I give Joshua the upper hand.