Saturday night sees Anthony Joshua defend his IBF Heavyweight belt for the third time, against giant Texan lump and ex-world title challenger Eric Molina (25-3, 19 KOs). The Watford-born fighter is expected to win here, but not comfortably. For the first time, AJ’s hinted he might take his opponent to the latter rounds – to gain vital experience and stamina. Of his seventeen professional fights to date, only two have gone past three rounds (against Dillian Whyte and Dominic Breazeale). It’s fair to say that Joshua has made pretty light work of everyone put in front of him so far.
Will he end up going down as one of the all-time British greats, though? Well, it’s too early to say. Most boxing pundits think so. And he does have every attribute a top heavyweight needs. But we’ll have to see. Let’s take a closer look at the man and then profile some of the elite UK pugilists Anthony Joshua is trying to emulate…
17 pro fights. 17 wins. 17 knockouts. Joshua’s record is impressive. But let’s face it, half the guys he’s beaten so far in his career you could probably KO. While we won’t be as disrespectful as to call anyone a bum, the standard of foe has been fairly low to date. Dillian Whyte offered perhaps the sternest test thus far, but Joshua has a darn sight more powerful punchers to face in the future. Starting with Eric Molina this weekend. He might not look all that impressive physically, but Molina shook Deontay Wilder recently. Get past Molina and it’s Wladimir Klitschko next. Then… Who knows? Stardom? The Boxing Hall of Fame…?
Lennox Lewis might well have won gold at the 1988 Olympics for Canada, but he was born in London. So we quickly – and wisely – snaffled him up and draped him in the Union Jack at every opportunity. And good job too – he went on to become, quite simply, the greatest British heavyweight boxer of all time.
A three-time champion, the dreadlocked Lewis has the honour of being one of only three world heavyweight champions to get to retirement with zero unavenged defeats. It’s a shame he ended up fighting Tyson so late in Iron Mike’s career – that would have been the ultimate fight were they both at their best. As it was, in 2002, Lewis walked it. Other notable scalps in his time include: Golota, McCall, Bruno, Holyfield and Vitali Klitschko.
A celebrity and character outside of the ring, Frank Bruno is known to non-fight fans for his daft catchphrases, panto appearances and gentle giant persona. In later years, fragile mental health has worried many fans, but memories of him and his awesome punching power live on.
Hammersmith-born Bruno had a terrific 95% knockout rate from the scraps he won and fought 45 times in his career, only losing five times; Once against the best British heavyweight of all time, Lennix Lewis, and twice against the best boxer of all time, Mike Tyson… Not bad, eh?
This Hungary-born British-Australian fighter (blimey, that’s a lot of passports…) might not be the most recognisable name on this list, but let’s not take anything away from Joe Bugner – he truly was a great. Younger viewers might recognise him from the woeful 1994 Street Fighter movie he appeared in 18 years after retiring. Or the 2009 series of I’m A Celebrity… But boxing aficionados know him from his tireless work in the ring.
He never had a truly devastating KO punch, so the fact that he took Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali the distance (twice with Ali) shows the kind of stern stuff he was made of. Not only that, but he beat British heavyweight royalty – and our next entry – Sir Henry Cooper…
Sir Henry Cooper
Our ‘Enry might have lost a controversial points decision against Joe Bugner, but no one remembers that. Cooper goes down as a great British heavyweight and UK sporting legend for his famous work against Muhammad Ali. True, the rest of his career was impressive and he was a tough southpaw opponent to face, but his crowning glory was being the man who put Ali on his backside. Twice.
He took on the then Cassius Clay at Highbury and a couple of ‘Enry’s ‘Ammers’ had the confident American reeling. Most boxing historians agree that had it not been for Ali’s coach ‘noticing’ (or as some would later allege ‘creating’) a nick in Ali’s gloves that was damaging Cooper’s face, the Londoner might have won one of the two fights the pair had. As left-wing as he was left-handed, Cooper had a huge punch on him… As Ali famously once said, “Cooper hit me so hard my ancestors in Africa felt it!”
A natural cruiserweight, The Hayemaker never had a massive problem stepping up to heavyweight. Even when he technically did have a massive heavyweight problem right in front of him… When he became the WBA Heavyweight champ in 2009, he had to beat the man mountain Nicolai Valuev. Eleven inches shorter and SEVEN STONE lighter, Haye still made light work of the giant. Why? Well, his sheer athleticism and speed. Haye was unpunchable in that fight.
But he can hit. Boy, can he hit. When you rock a KO percentage of more than 85% you know you can thump. That’s where the nickname comes from. Well, that and the fact that it’s vaguely witty. Along with ring legend Evander Holyfield, Haye is one of only two fighters to have ever unified the cruiserweight world titles and then become a world heavyweight champion. He’s taking his current comeback slowly, but that’s wise at his age. If he beats Tony Bellew in March (which he should manage), Another title shot won’t be far away… Against Anthony Joshua, perhaps?
There you have it. Those are our picks. Reckon we’ve missed someone off the list? Let us know down there in the comments or on social media.
Book your tickets to see Anthony Joshua defend his IBF belt this Saturday, live on the big screen at Rileys!