Anthony Joshua challenges IBF heavyweight champion Charles Martin at London’s 02 Arena on Saturday in only his 16th fight as a professional.
He remains undefeated, and is rated as the most promising fighter in the heavyweight division, but has he been rushed to world level too soon?
Here are five talking points surrounding Saturday’s fight:
1. Is Joshua really that good?
Potentially, yes. But even if, as expected, he wins on Saturday, he will remain some way behind the very best. That he was fighting with emotion in December’s defeat of Dillian Whyte may go some way to explaining the mistakes that nearly cost him that fight, but Joshua appeared raw and one-dimensional, fighting with minimal intelligence. Martin’s limitations mean he is beatable, but Joshua is not yet ready for Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, David Haye, Wladimir Klitschko or the division’s other leading fighters.
2. Is Martin the weakest heavyweight champion of the modern era?
Yes. Though for all of the criticisms of the heavyweight division, the champions of recent years have been of a high level; it is below them that fighters have been so limited. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, Haye, Wilder, Bermane Stiverne and Fury were or are all superior to Martin, which is largely why Joshua has taken this fight.
3. Could Martin’s southpaw stance be as influential as many believe?
Yes. Equally, the nature of heavyweight boxing and Joshua’s considerable power being as it is, Joshua could land the first destructive punch and stop Martin almost instantly, but he has shown a vulnerability to southpaws in the past. Whyte, who exposed Joshua more than any other in December, believes he saw a vulnerability to southpaw punches. Joshua also lost to a southpaw as an amateur and is yet to face one as a professional. He has sparred southpaws ahead of this fight, but that hardly represents ideal preparation.
4. Could Joshua be exposed by the size of the occasion?
Almost certainly not. He fought at the highest level as an amateur, winning an Olympic gold medal in front of a big crowd, having had a significant reputation leading up to London 2012. He made his professional debut by headlining at the 02 Arena and has had other big fights since then, particularly against Whyte. He is also meticulous in his preparation, seeking the advice of experienced, decorated fighters, Lennox Lewis included. Martin is the less experienced of the two in that respect.
5. How accurate have Fury’s criticisms of Joshua’s muscular physique been?
More than many would like to accept. Joshua’s conditioning is unquestionably aesthetically impressive and contributes to his image as the heavyweight division’s poster boy, not that Martin is by any means out of shape. However, as was seen with Frank Bruno, fighters with Joshua’s build risk being stiff, as Joshua has sometimes looked, and short of stamina. Fury may not look anywhere near as impressive, but his in-ring intelligence, composure and adaptability – even if he is not as strong or explosive as Joshua – would make him the favourite if he were Joshua’s opponent on Saturday. Skills – and Joshua should get there – are ultimately more important than a muscular physique.