Hellraiser Boxing - Matt Lewis looks at big punching prospects and asks if this astonishing and entertaining attribute can have a negative affect on their development.
Hellraiser Boxing News | The Hellraiser Weekender: The Harder They Hit...
Matt Lewis looks at big punching prospects and asks if this astonishing and entertaining attribute can have a negative affect on their development.

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The Hellraiser Weekender: The Harder They Hit...

by Matt Lewis

Deep down the fans of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are quietly concerned. The heated debates on social media may give impressions of confidence, but one suspects that either side is secretly harbouring feelings of doubt about the abilities of both champions. You'll be familiar with their perceived flaws - Wilder's defence, Joshua's stamina, Wilder's recklessness, Joshua's chin, Wilder's balance, Joshua's size – an endless list of unknowns, brought forward one after the other for a ceaseless public flogging. And as much as I dislike such spectacles, I must admit that both sides have a point. The reason there are so many unquantifiables, I think, is that the pair of them punch too hard, and are being moved too quickly through the ranks as a consequence.

The big hitters are easy to watch. They're one of the few things that the purists and the regular fans enjoy equally, and the highlight reels are spectacular – not one of us is going to pretend we don't like to see knockouts. But the harder they hit, the quicker their ascendency is to the top of the sport, and when they get there, they run the risk of coming unstuck against someone who has not only learnt to punch, but has learnt the martial art itself.

Take, for example, Lennox Lewis, who fought his 20th professional bout against Derek Williams in an attempt to add the Commonwealth belt to his growing collection. At the time, Lewis was 19-0 with 17 KOs, having gone the 10 round distance against Levi Billups immediately beforehand. Williams was dismissed in the 3rd, but not before giving Lewis several things to think about on his way home after an imperfect performance from the favourite. Lewis, a decorated amateur and Olympic gold medallist, was now British, European and Commonwealth champion, but it would be another 13 months before he won a world title, by which time he would be 23-0 and a veteran of four years' professional experience.

But once he won it, well... the rest is history. His only losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman along with a draw against Evander Holyfield were all subsequently avenged (two of them in brutal fashion) as he dominated the division for a full decade, facing and defeating nearly every name the division had to offer at a fascinating time for the sport.

Mike Tyson

Lewis, who like Joshua also packed a punch, had boxed a total of 80 professional rounds by the time he became a champion. Tyson Fury had boxed 146 rounds across 25 fights when he defeated Wlad Klitschko in 2015. Klitschko himself had got 126 rounds out of the way, as well as his first loss, before dethroning WBO champion Chris Byrd in his 35th contest. Mike Tyson had 76 rounds under his belt before winning his first title, Gennady Golovkin had 80, Joe Frazier had 118 and George Foreman had 116. Marvin Hagler, long denied an opportunity to become world champion, managed an astonishing 306 professional rounds before beating Alan Minter in his own backyard to take the WBA and WBC middleweight crowns.

In comparison, Anthony Joshua had boxed 32 rounds (in 16 fights), and Deontay Wilder had boxed 58 rounds (in 32 fights) before winning their respective titles. They've blasted their way to the top of the division, but one can't help but wonder if some useful lessons have been skipped along the way, leaving chinks in their repertoires as a consequence. Wilder was being soundly outboxed before finding the punch to stop late replacement and former NFL player Gerald Washington last year, while Eric Molina, down a total of four times in their 2015 bout, nevertheless gave the champion a torrid time, dragging him into needless shootouts and finding ways to frustrate Wilder, who couldn't find an answer to Molina's crude-yet-effective style.

Joshua has also looked a little non-plussed when power alone wasn't enough to get the win. Dillian Whyte, Joshua's arch rival, took him into the second half of a fight for the first time in his career. After weathering an early Joshua storm, the Brixton man upped his output in the second round, and for a moment the upset looked to be on when Joshua was wobbled by a big left hook. A huge uppercut saved his blushes in the seventh, but the feeling in the Joshua camp was one of relief rather than elation. Wladimir Klitschko, down in the fourth round of their April super fight, rose from the canvas to return the favour a round later, and Joshua again looked like he had run out of ideas and out of steam when his punches failed to deter the wily veteran. But the Ukrainian couldn't find the killer blow, and was stopped by a volley of unanswered shots in the eleventh round after the Brit caught his second wind.

How does all this bode for the hard-hitting prospects just starting out? Men like Daniel Dubois, who is giving promoter Frank Warren matchmaking nightmares after crushing all six of his opponents inside two rounds? Exasperated, Warren has petitioned the British Boxing Board of Control to allow him to fight for the British title despite being younger than the minimum 21 years of age, fast-tracking him at a pace that Warren himself is unhappy with. Yet, what else is he to do? The young heavyweight is quickly becoming a crucial feature of Warren's undercards, and the boxing public will soon grow tired of seeing him devour one overmatched opponent after another, so fast-track him he must. 

It is not a boxer's job to make fights deliberately harder or longer, and if the finish is there then they have every right to give themselves a quick night's work. However, those that do so regularly will run the risk of coming up short when they can't find that early stoppage they become accustomed to delivering. When it comes to a boxer's growth and education, “rounds in the bank” are truly irreplaceable, and the champions of the future must have enough to rely upon when experience, not power, is the key to unlocking victory.

Posted: 4th Jan 2018

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