Following a week where his bout required a substitution, former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua returned to the ring to face longtime Heavyweight contender Robert Helenius at the O2 Arena in London, England. The main story of this fight was that because Helenius took the bout on a little more than four days notice, what type of fight would occur inside the ring when he faced Joshua on August 12th. This was a question that proved to be warranted because Joshua after all did lose his first world championship in June 2019 to Andy Ruiz, a fighter who took that fight on limited notice. The commonality between the two bouts unfortunately was that each came as a result of Joshua’s original opponent testing positive for banned substances.
Although it is hard to ignore that coincidence, that would prove to be the only similarity between the two bouts. While in his first encounter with Ruiz, Joshua was reckless when he was able to score a knockdown of Ruiz in a memorable third round, which resulted in him getting caught, knocked down, and ultimately losing his title via stoppage, this time around the primary takeaway was Joshua’s patience. In that he was able to implement a tactical strategy where the primary weapon was his jab. An approach that was nearly identical to the one Joshua used in his bout with Heavyweight contender Jermaine Franklin in April of this year.
A fighter implementing a tactical strategy is something that does not always lend itself to the appreciation of Boxing fans, especially when the fighter who is executing such a strategy is known for scoring quick knockouts as Joshua is. It is an approach however, that more often than not, proves to be successful. This fight would prove to be no different as Joshua frequently landed his jab and was able to control the tempo of the fight simply based on being able to land it frequently. While not always entertaining, it does a few things that some fans might overlook, one, it can limit an opponent’s ability to throw punches simply because it is a weapon that can make an opponent reluctant to throw punches because of the possibility of getting countered. The second thing a consistent jab can do beyond winning rounds and limiting an opponent’s offense is, it can gradually bust an opponent up and cause among other things swelling and bleeding.
This set up a scenario where much like Joshua's performance against Jermaine Franklin earlier this year, it was a workmanlike performance where Joshua simply bided his time and took his time gradually mixing in hooks and right hands behind his jab. It would be a right hand in the seventh round that landed high on the head of Helenius that sent the longtime contender down hard and out on the canvas, the fight was over.
While some might be critical of Joshua's performance as was the case after his victory over Franklin, I felt that he was consistent and with this fight being his second under new trainer Derrick James, he is gradually showing improvement while also showing new wrinkles to his Boxing style. It is something that is not always appreciated, but it does show that a boxer's skillset never stops evolving as long as the fighter is committed to learning new things among the polishing and refinement process that takes place as a fighter prepares for competition. This fight should also prove that the biggest benefit to a fighter is being active regardless of what level you might be at in the sport.
With two wins in 2023, Joshua appears to be heading towards a showdown with former WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder. While this is a fight that has been a wish for many Boxing fans for years and would have been bigger than what it would be now if it had taken place while both Joshua and Wilder were world champions as it would have led to an undisputed champion being crowned in the division, it is still one of the bigger fights that could be made currently and the only question might be whether that fight would be next or if Joshua might be able to get one more fight in before facing Wilder.
The key for Joshua will be to stay active because being active will allow him the best opportunity for success when fights that are more lucrative come along. Despite the economics that be in the sport that do not always promote the idea of consistent activity for fighters at or near the top level of the sport, we have seen time and time again the flaws of inactivity when a fighter or more specifically their promoters and management teams only want marquee fights where either the fighter underperforms or outright loses to an opponent that prior to that fight was more active and in competition on a regular basis.
Anthony Joshua's comeback continuing was not, however, the only bout that took place on August 12th of significant interest to the Boxing public. Following Joshua's win over Helenius, the Boxing world focused its attention on the Gila River Arena in Glendale, AZ for a fight that many observers, including yours truly, felt that a Fight of the Year candidate would take place. The battle for the WBO Jr. Lightweight world championship between champion Emanuel Navarrete and former WBC Jr. Lightweight world champion Oscar Valdez did not disappoint.
In previewing this fight, I started that both Navarrete and Valdez had similar styles and with each being a fighter that likes to come forward, it ultimately proved to be worth the anticipation that preceded it. From the opening bell, the two fighters engaged in a battle that was fought at a high pace with each having his share of moments throughout.
What stood out to me however was the difference in size between the two fighters. Although both men made the 130lb. Jr. Lightweight limit, Navarrete looked like the much bigger fighter to the extent that he looked like perhaps a full 135lb. Lightweight or maybe even a 140lb. Jr. Welterweight compared to Valdez, who looked smaller in comparison. There were a few additional things that would ultimately prove to be crucial in this fight. First, despite the near non-stop pace in which this bout was fought, Navarrete was able to control a significant portion of the combat with his jab and this in addition to seeming to land the harder punches of the two in a toe to toe battle gave him the edge, despite Valdez having several moments throughout the fight where he appears to stun Navarrete.
The courage both men displayed in this fight is something that can also not go unnoticed as by the late rounds of the scheduled twelve round world championship bout, Valdez was figuring with his right eye shown shut as a result of the jab and power punches of Navarrete. Despite fighting with an apparent injury to his right hand, Navarrete was able to kerp what was an ungodly pace in throwing 1,038 total punches and landing 216 according to CompuBox compared to Valdez' 436 total punches thrown and landing 140. While Valdez was ultimately the more accurate of the two, which made the fight competitive and close in landing nearly 33% of his total punches to Navarrete's near 21%, it was the greater activity of the champion that led to him retaining his title via twelve round unanimous decision. Unofficially, I had Navarrete winning this fight eight rounds to four or 116-112 in points.
While I felt Navarrete won this fight clearly, I also felt that it was highly competitive and have a strong feeling as someone who has covered several notable series of fights over the years including many trilogies that this might be the conclusion of chapter one in the story of Emanuel Navarrete versus Oscar Valdez. Boxing is a sport, but part of it is the constant desire of promoters and networks to want to put on the most competitive and most entertaining fights for their respective audience. Although this desire does not always happen on a consistent basis for several reasons related to the business of the sport, which more often than not does not serve in Boxing's best interest, this is a case where two fighters are willing to face each other and both said following the fight that if the fans wanted to see a rematch, they would be open to it. Style wise, the competition level and intensity will likely be the same no matter how many times Navarrete and Valdez fight.
Ultimately, August 12, 2023 was a memorable day in the sport of Boxing. Not only did the Boxing fans get to see the next chapter in the comeback story of a former Heavyweight champion of the world that almost didn not happen, which resulted in what could be a candidate for Knockout of the Year, but what followed later in the day was a fight that lived up to every bit of hype as the potential Fight of the year for 2023. The real winners were the Boxing fans.
"And That's The Boxing Truth."
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