Opinion remains divided on the pace at which British heavyweight prospect Anthony Joshua is being brought on as his professional career progresses from the prospect to challenger phase.
Anthony Joshua was born October 15, 1989 & turned professional on October 5, 2013 aged 23 years, 11 months & 20 days. The cautionary tale of British heavyweight prospects of recent years includes names such as Audley Harrison & David Price – both fellow Olympic medalists. Audley Harrison became a by-word for over-promising and under delivering in the professional ranks after his high stakes failure as the BBC’s last substantive (& expensive) involvement in professional prize fighting. His shadow looms large both from a sporting & commercial sense on every significant heavyweight prospect that follows him.
Harrison signed a two-year deal which gave the public broadcaster exclusive live UK television and radio rights to his fights. His professional debut was the first live fight shown by the BBC since March 1994. At the time of signing this historically disastrous contract Harrison said: “I’m ready to help build British boxing back up in the public eye with the BBC.” It represented a major coup at the time for the BBC’s then Director of Sport Peter Salmon, who was able to better offers from several commercial channels. Salmon was given a large increase in budget by then Director-General Greg Dyke – a war-chest which peaked at £300 million per annum just two years later.
Harrison stated back then: “My ultimate aim is to be heavyweight champion of the world but first I’ve got to get a few wins under my belt and I’m looking forward to doing that live on the BBC.“
The two key fundamental (without even touching on the small matter of ability) differences between Joshua & Harrison as I see them are as follows: 1) Harrison was 29 years, 6 months & 23 days old when he turned professional – fully 5 years, 7 months & 24 days older than AJ & 2) Harrison was effectively being commercially guided or dictated to in one sense by non-boxing specialist professionals in the ilk of Salmon & his financial higher uppers obsessed with a quick fix cash in on the momentary wave of nationalistic fervor that followed the Sydney Games of 2000.
“I haven’t looked at my schedule yet but if everything went OK I would expect to be in the ring every two months. Some of those fights will be in Britain but maybe some others might be in the United States.” Audley Harrison
“When I first saw Audley fight I was overwhelmed by his commitment, self-belief and dedication.“
Both comments appear epic expressions of naivety that proved fateful to the entire trajectory of the sport in Britain in retrospect. A comparison of their first 13 professional opponents (including Joshua’s next scheduled opponent) is telling:
Audley Harrison >> Anthony Joshua
First 13 Professional Opponents by Boxrec Achievement Points of Opponent at Time They Fought
More accomplished opponent by fight number in BOLD
13. Lisandro Ezequiel Diaz 15 >> Kevin Johnson 108
12. Quinn Navarre 38 >> Raphael Zumbano Love 63
11. Mathew Ellis 63 >> Jason Gavern 33
10. Ratko Draskovic 23 >> Michael Sprott 102
9. Rob Calloway 126 >> Denis Bakhtov 120
8. Shawn Robinson 17 >> Konstantin Airich 67
7. Wade Lewis 49 >> Matt Skelton 83
6. Dominic Negus 28 >> Matt Legg 2
5. Mark Krence 33 >> Hector Alfredo Avila 29
4. Julius Long 0 >> Dorian Darch 13
3. Piotr Jurczyk 58 >> Hrvoje Kisicek 0
2. Derek McCafferty 1 >> Paul Butlin 11
1. Mike Middleton 6 >> Emanuele Leo 8
Joshua has thus a) had a more accomplished opponent 8 times out of 13 & b) been offered a more generalized progression in challenge than the seemingly schizoid one given to Harrison.
Or stated graphically:
Nearly 30 as he turned Harrison had no time to waste – time which was duly wasted on nondescript opponents in largely nonsensical (taken as a pattern) venues. Joshua, being guided by boxing professionals, over the same 13 bout period will have fought in 8 different cities – exposing his brand to a widening fan-base, whilst learning the basal skills & nuances of the professional trade. Harrison managed 4 UK cities in his first 13 bouts – along with truly meaningless bouts in Las Vegas; Miami & Atlantic City. This critical commercial groundwork has been laid over only 22 months with AJ aged just 25 years, 6 months & 26 days making him just under 2 months younger than David Price was when he made his professional debut.
Additionally opponents Matt Skelton; Michael Sprott; Denis Bakhtov & the soon to be faced Kevin Johnson all provide career length if not instantaneous moment pedigree simply missing from Harrison’s early professional ‘education‘. The first 10 to 18 opponents are supposed to offer minimal risk to a blue chip heavyweight prospect & the gains are to be made in the intangibles of wider education & commercial exposure. Proof of the former exists in a comparison with a heavyweight prospect who managed to go all the way to the Hall of Fame & within one bout of equaling Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0 – Larry Holmes who turned professional aged a very similar 23 years, 4 months & 18 days & tested his mettle against 13 opponents with a cumulative Boxrec accomplishment yield of 349 points – compared to AJ’s running total of 639. Britain’s hope for a world heavyweight king would do well to note that patience is a virtue & Joshua should be afforded the time to develop into what he almost certainly can become.