Unflappability over Invincibility – The Aftermath of Joshua Takam

By Babajide Sotande-Peters

Photo: Matchroom Sports

A gruelling 10 round affair topped of with an unfulfilling ending, Anthony Joshua paves the way for an even bigger 2018.

As cliche as it always seems to sound, the true mark of a prominent champion is to maintain a sense of level-headedness in the midst of mass hysteria, heightened expectations and constant scrutiny.

Anthony Joshua, four years and 20 fights into his tenure in the paid profession, is already expected to dependably elicit said characteristics, owing to his consistently strong upward trajectory, otherworldly fanfare and his own self-expectation.

The minutes on Sky Box Office preceding both men’s entrance to the ring, simliar to the week leading up to the fight sounded like an old-fashioned nightly informercials with selected protagonists proclaiming the greatness of a product that they had tried and tested excessively.

Every possible superlative you could use to describe AJ, from the 28 year old being described as the “perfect heavyweight athlete” to proclamations over how easier Joshua would make his demolition of Carlos Takam look in comparison to fellow champions and contenders who the Frenchman had previously crossed paths with. And it’s not like you would be silly to assume any other outcome – a late-drafted replacement and Joshua fresh from a full camp and a career defining victory which catapulted his public standing, this should be an early night.

But then the ultimate truth maker, the squared circle took over as the spectacle fell silent and the two men went to work.

It was a rather revealing exercise to follow the events through the lens of invested observers and admirers of the champ, be it those commentating on affairs, those in attendance, or even those voicing their opinions via social media. A head butt by the veteran Takam in the second, which temporarily disfigured Joshua’s nose brought prompts of “the end is near” as people sensed that the champion would now go for the jugular and avoid being forced in to overtime.

Then the narrative switched to Takam needing to be saved from decapitation as his eyes were bloodied and closing in the midst of Joshua’s front foot pressure after the challenger survived a fourth round knockdown.

Then focus shifted to Takam’s bravery and defensive intelligence and whether Joshua had piled on too much muscle and would fade down the stretch, whilst retaining the expectation that he still carried the power to put the Frenchman’s lights out with one punch. And ultimately, as local referee Phil Edwards, in a fashion synonymous with British boxing officiating, abruptly saved Carlos Takam in the tenth from a swarm of missed Joshua hooks, the narrative became one which was typified by a need once again to save Takam from himself, as obviously Joshua had demonstrated that he was on the verge of putting the 36 year old to sleep with the next cleanly landed shot.

As you can see, a pattern clearly begins to emerge here. Seldom in his career does Joshua close fights with one clean punch, yet the mirage of a 20 straight knockout record sustains the expectation that his punch power is matched by no mortal.

To add to a fight card which was poor in delivery and even worse in execution, one can be forgiven that they were over promised and undersold on the in-ring Anthony Joshua on Saturday night – after all he is the best placed individual to steer the ship of the illustrious heavyweight division away from stagnation and Eastern European governed monotony. The biggest takeaway from the fight was not particularly that of dissatisfaction, but how, in both a positive and negative way, Joshua’s performance mirrored that of the era which had followed before he’d burst into public consciousness. He barely dropped a round, but at times, the action seemed to grind down to near halt as the champion was bemused by the resilience of the man stood in front of him, images which looked a world away from the scenes which gripped the nation at Wembley Stadium back in April.

However, what Joshua lacked in destructiveness and flash, he more than made up for in composure and intelligence, demonstrating many of the traits necessary for career longevity – in addition to clear evidence of a more refined mindset and approach, reflective of those around him as well as those who have previously inspired him. In particular, the transition from loading up on punches and missing wildly, to a more patient approach behind his jab which created openings, is one that should be taken as a positive going forward. In certain situations Joshua can ill-afford to let his desire to engage and entertain shroud previously crafted gameplans and actual technique.

As it relates to the future, Joshua’s showing had enough of a dominance to it to appease the masses who are invested in his journey like a graphic novel and enough of a vulnerability to it to satisfy detractors who actively look for faults in every step he takes – and further incentivise future foes who didn’t need any further incentive to face off versus the arguable biggest figure in the fight game.

Joshua shouldn’t wish to have it any other way. A feeling of complete invincibility breeds complacency and recklessness, whilst this current approach clears the paths for new goals to be set, more individuals and rivals to be proved wrong and a sense of mental unflappability to be cultivated and maintained.

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