Not since Muhammad Ali entertained his battalion of media admirers with unprecedented wit and charm in the 60s and 70s has a world heavyweight champion seemed so disarmingly comfortable in his skin as Anthony Joshua on the eve of battle.
He does not perform like Ali, but open, engaging, regular laughter is his calling card, and the prospect of sharing a ring with a dangerous if lightly regarded challenger, Eric Molina, here on Saturday night seems as threatening to him as a passing bird.
“I’m going to make him look like a novice,” was the extent of his aggression when he shared a platform with the exceedingly respectful American on Thursday, and again at the weigh-in on Friday when they went through the obligatory staring routine … then shook hands. Joshua scaled 17st 11lb, a stone heavier than his opponent.
How at odds was all this with the weighing of the British heavyweight tearaways Dereck Chisora (17st 12lb) and Dillian Whyte (17st 8lb), who had to be separated by an hour after Chisora threw a table at Whyte earlier in the week, earning a two-year suspended sentence and a £25,000 fine, plus £5,000 costs. It seems like a storm that has passed. Their fight, an eliminator for the WBC world title, might well be an anti-climax.
Joshua, meanwhile, knows the prize for beating Molina will be a showdown with the former champion Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley on 29 April. “Yeah, I’ve been winning,” the IBF champion says, looking back on his run of 17 stoppage victories, “but now it is up to me to start adding the names. It’s like an Olympic cycle: in 2013 I turned pro, so in 2017 Klitschko should be my gold medal fight.”
Molina was respectful of his opponent, saying: “He’s getting everything he deserves, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s bringing excitement to the heavyweight division so, whatever it is, I’m grateful to be here to have my opportunity to fight him. He thinks it’s going to be an easy night, the whole world thinks it’s going to be an easy night. So my most powerful weapon is the element of surprise.”
His friend and mentor, Oliver McCall, brought just that with him to Wembley 16 years ago when he knocked out Lennox Lewis in the second round to win the WBC title.
“Oliver came across to me six years ago,” Molina says. “He guided me through some of his mind-frame of his first fight against Lewis [who stopped him in the second round of an emotional rematch in Las Vegas three years later]. He’s a great guy – and what a great moment it was for heavyweight boxing. History has a moment now to repeat itself.”
While it is a moment that is likely to pass Molina by before the bout reaches half way, he insists: “Just because all you guys sit here and believe my shot is this small, I can’t sleep at night and think it’s small. I’ve got to think it’s ginormous.
“The whole world is against me. This is nothing new to me. You guys will never sit here and interview another heavyweight who’s come from 0-1. None of it fazes me. I’ve proved all the media wrong.”
The disastrous start in boxing Molina alludes to was a first-round knockout at the hands of a similarly ambitious young heavyweight called Ashanti Jordan in Las Vegas in 2007. Both were fighting professionally for the first time. Molina was counted out in one minute and 45 seconds of a four-rounder. Jordan went on a 10-fight winning streak before losing to unbeaten Joe “The Future” Hanks two years later, and retired. The Future, like Jordan, is now The Past, quitting on his dream two years ago after two losses – one of them to Andy Ruiz Jr, who overnight was challenging Joe Parker for the vacant WBO version of the heavyweight title.
Molina, 34, is still standing after three defeats, the latest of them in June last year, when he got up three times but not the fourth when the WBC champion, Deontay Wilder, beat him in nine rounds.
He gives himself the same chance against Joshua as McCall was given against Lewis in 1994, adding: “If I came over here with 28 wins and just five knockouts, I’d be in trouble. But I’ve knocked out a lot of opponents [19 in 25 wins]. If I was coming here without that in my bank I’d be in trouble.”
Nice as he is, trouble is what he’s in.
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