For the second day running, the feature event here on Thursday was in the balance until its final moment as Unowhatimeanharry, the beaten favourite behind Nichols Canyon in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, turned around the form under a bold ride by Noel Fehily and held off his old rival by a head. Ruby Walsh threw everything into his finish […]
There was nothing more to say but they said it anyway. Hoovering up a few more pay-per-view clicks at the end of a long promotion ritually relies on pre-fight shenanigans but there was no chance of that when Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko stopped short of eloping together on Thursday as their world title fight on Saturday night looms.
For weeks now, the bloodthirsty wing of the sport has complained these guys were way too nice. They shook hands every time they met, they laughed at each other’s jokes – such as they were – and, even when they had their face-off on Sky recently, there were as likely to tip the table on Johnny Nelson’s head as David Haye was to go on holiday with Tony Bellew.
On Thursday at Sky’s headquarters in west London, they tried again. We might as well have been in Disneyland. There was zero tension. You kind of wanted Tyson Fury to charge in dressed as Batman and moon the cameras. In a world where all the comedy is unintentional, irony rules.
“It’s the last time these guys will see each other before the weigh-in,” Nelson revealed breathlessly, scotching rumours that AJ and Wlad – as they call each other – might be heading for a moonlit dinner on the Thames before they try to tear each other’s heads off in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium.
Michael Buffer – the Benjamin Button of boxing – was there, getting younger by the second but still an ingenu. “We are just 58 hours away,” he crooned. The classically trained actor will take home more from London than for any Malvolio he might once have portrayed; certainly he will out-earn the undercard.
Robert McCracken, who has been in Joshua’s corner for most of his amateur and professional career, struck a rare edgy note when, referring to Klitschko’s last outing, a 12-round defeat by Fury in November 2015: “As great a fighter as Klitschko has been, Father Time is a terrible person when he shows up. And he’s already shown up.”
Klitschko immediately turned the charm back on. “I’m going to fight a guy whose age is exactly the number of years I’ve been in boxing, 27,” the 41-year-old reminded us. “It’s a pretty amazing fact. I’m a challenger again. I feel young, humbled and totally obsessed with the idea to raise my hand again.”
Wlad the Surpriser then did his schtick. Or stick. “I’m not Nostradamus but I feel so strong in my obsession I recorded a video on this [memory] stick last week and the outcome of the fight, my prediction. This stick will be integrated into my robe on Saturday night, sealed. Do not ask me after the fight what is on this stick. The only person who is going to be able to open it up and watch it is the person who buys the robe, and all the money goes to the Klitschko Foundation, for the education of kids.”
Away from the cameras, they opened up a little. Klitschko described his opponent as a puncher and himself as a boxer who can punch.
“This is a defining fight for Klitschko, not for me, because it’s at the end of his career,” Joshua said. “When he gets beat, that could be the end of him. This is just a part of my journey. I may not be the best but what I do, I do brilliant. That’s what’s got me here. The little things I do, work for me. If he says he’s the better boxer, so be it. So, when I start punching you in your jaw, you better stand up to my power.”
He was not alone in noticing that Klitschko has thrown fewer punches in clusters since he beat Alexander Povetkin four years ago. Joshua has done his homework. “He will probably start fast because he won’t be able to keep up the pace. Father Time [echoes of McCracken] is a genetic thing. It’s something no one can deny. I think around 2005 was the good, sharp Wladimir. Hard work has to become smart work as you get older. He has to work smart now. I’m still at that stage where I’m more ‘hard work’.”
Klitschko, joviality done with, said he hopes his performance will lift his compatriots in Ukraine. “Ukrainians are going through a lot of challenges, geopolitical, economical. Those challenges need good motivation. I believe, as Nelson Mandela said, sport has the power to change the world. In this crazy world – we’ve seen terrible events recently – I think boxing shows that in sport you can clarify differences in opinion under the rules, then continue your life.”
If this press conference is to be remembered for anything, it might be a boxer using the word geopolitical – and not hurling a single insult worthy of the name. Peace.