Who poses the biggest threat to Joshua’s reign?

Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko slug it out at Wembley Stadium.

Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko slug it out at London’s Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 screaming fans

In just his 19th professional fight, British heavyweight sensation Anthony Joshua dispatched of long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs) via 11th-round TKO to unify titles and establish himself as the new king of boxing’s glamour division. The war at Wembley will go down as one of the best heavyweight title fights in recent memory, with both men hitting the canvas and taking severe punishment before Joshua somehow found a second wind to force a late stoppage of his 41-year-old opponent in front of 90,000 screaming fans.

The brutal conclusion to a compelling fight extended Joshua’s unbeaten run to 19, with all of those victories coming inside the distance. The WBA, IBF and IBO champion is next expected in the ring in September, against an opponent still to be determined. While he is contractually obliged to rematch Klitschko should the big Ukrainian decide to fight on, mandatory assignments against Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (25-1, 13 KOs) and Cuba’s much-avoided Luis Ortiz (27-0, 23 KOs) also loom on the horizon. With Joshua keen to unify all the belts and, in his own words, enjoy an “era of dominance” for 10 years or more, Knockoutpunch runs the rule over some of his potential future foes.

Wladimir Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs) 

Wladimir Klitschko

Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko

Klitschko, who ruled the heavyweight division for almost 10 years before losing his belts to Britain’s Tyson Fury in November 2015, sadly received more respect from boxing fans for his gutsy defeat to Joshua than he ever did during his long and dominant reign. The 41-year-old proved he had plenty left in the tank by taking Joshua into deep waters and dropping the young Briton hard in the sixth round, when he looked on the verge of securing a famous stoppage victory. However, for some reason ‘Dr Steelhammer’ was unable to close the show, letting Joshua off the hook and succumbing to a late onslaught in the 11th-round as he began to visibly tire.

Klitschko will take plenty of positives from his performance in London and perhaps feel he threw away the fight by failing to capitalise on the signature right hand that sent Joshua to the canvas. But the cold, hard truth is that he’s not getting any younger and took a vicious beating late on from a young lion who is only going to get better.  A rematch would by no means be a formality for Joshua, and would be an easy sell to the public after such a thrilling first encounter, but if the Briton makes the necessary adjustments and tightens up his defences it is hard to see a different result. At this point, Klitschko would be wise to call it a day and pass the baton to the new king of the heavyweights while he still has all his faculties intact.

Threat rating: ****

Tyson Fury (25-0, 18 KOs)

After Joshua’s life-and-death battle with Klitschko on 29 April, maybe Britain’s Fury will finally get the credit he deserves for the boxing clinic he put on against the Ukrainian when relieving him of his titles in Dusseldorf back in November 2015. On that memorable night in Germany, the ‘Gypsy King’ befuddled Klitschko with his lateral movement and unorthodox style to box his way to a comfortable points win and hand his opponent a first defeat in 11 years.

Britain's Tyson Fury.

Britain’s Tyson Fury is undefeated as a pro

However, since becoming the unified and lineal heavyweight champion, Manchester’s Fury has struggled with mental health issues and drug addiction, pulling out of two rematches with Klitschko and eventually having his titles and boxing license taken away from him. In recent months, the 28-year-old has resumed training and is said to be targeting a return to the ring later this year to reclaim the belts he never lost in the ring. He has been outspoken in his criticism of Joshua, dismissing his countryman as a “fraud” and a “pumped up weightlifter” and suggesting it would be his “easiest” fight if they ever meet in the square circle.

Joshua, for once, lost his customary cool on Twitter and responded to a Fury’s taunts with a threat of his own. Immediately after his victory over Klitschko, he called out his compatriot and there’s no doubt a bout between the two big Brits would sell out Wembley Stadium again. If Fury can get himself back in shape (he currently weighs 26 stone) and regain his boxing license, he would provide the stiffest test of Joshua’s career to date. Physically imposing with an astute boxing brain and a gift for mind games, the buildup would be just as fascinating as the actual fight. Joshua may hold a slight power advantage but Fury is arguably the better boxer and carries underrated power himself, as 18 KOs from 25 paid contests attests. If and when they do get it on, it will be a real pick ’em fight and one that will command the world’s attention.

Threat rating: *****

I will play with Joshua like a cat with a ball of wool – hands behind my back, making a right mug of him.

Tyson Fury

Kubrat Pulev (25-1, 13 KOs)

Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev.

Bulgarian heavyweight Kubrat Pulev

The Bulgarian has reeled off five successive wins since he was brutally knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko in the fifth round of his one and only world title shot in November 2014, beating the likes of Dereck Chisora and the long-faded Samuel Peter and Kevin Johnson to secure his position as the mandatory for Joshua’s IBF strap. And according to the Britons’ promoter Eddie Hearn, should Klitschko turn down the option of a rematch and decide to hang up his gloves, Pulev will be his next opponent.

While the 36-year-old has some solid names on his record, including Tony Thompson and Alexander Ustinov, he is smaller and lighter than Joshua and has frankly not looked the same fighter since he was knocked down four times in a one-side beatdown at the hands of Klitschko. If the fight is made, Joshua would be expected to steamroll Pulev, who does not possess the one-punch knockout power required to keep the unified champion honest. Pulev has better-than-average boxing skills and a decent jab, but it is unlikely he will be able to avoid Joshua’s power shots for 12 rounds to win on points. A stoppage for Joshua in the middle rounds seems like a safe bet.

Threat rating: **

Luis Ortiz (27-0, 23 KOs)

Viewed by many boxing scribes as the division’s bogeyman, the former Cuban amateur standout remains undefeated after 27 professional contests, with 23 of those wins coming inside the distance. However, at 38, it is surely now or never for ‘King Kong’ to claim a world title, and he has his eyes firmly set on ex-Matchroom stablemate Joshua.

Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz

Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz

Ortiz really announced his arrival as a legitimate heavyweight contender with his TKO win over former world title challenger Bryant Jennings in December 2015. He followed that up with an equally impressive beatdown of fellow veteran Tony Thompson but injuries and contractual disputes have held up his progression. His two-fight deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom produced two lacklustre performances, a decision win over fringe contender Malik Scott and a laboured 7th-round stoppage of Doncaster’s inexperienced Dave Allen. He has since signed with Al Haymon and is due to meet journeyman Derric Rossy next in a fight unlikely to offer any clues as to whether he has the tools to conquer the division.

While his counter-punching is impressive and he possess knockout power in both hands, Ortiz has shown signs of his advancing years in recent fights. He struggled to pin down the slippery Scott and looked short of ideas against a novice like Allen. There are also question marks over his ability to take a shot, given that he has never really been hit cleanly on the chin by a big puncher. As a southpaw, he would certainly be a tricky opponent for Joshua, but the younger, fresher man should be too fit and too strong for the aging Ortiz if they ever meet in the ring.

Threat rating: ****

Joseph Parker (23-0, 18 KOs)

WBO champion Joseph Parker

WBO champion Joseph Parker

New Zealander Parker is widely considered the weakest of the current heavyweight champions,and did little to dispel that notion with a disappointing points win over his sparing partner Razvan Cojanu in the first defence of his WBO title on 6 May. To be fair to Parker, he had been preparing for a more high-profile fight with Britain’s Hughie Fury  who pulled out at the last-minute citing a back injury – and must have felt slightly flat taking on such an obscure opponent who knew his game so well. Even so, it was a poor performance that had the likes of Dillian Whyte and Tony Bellew begging their promoter Eddie Hearn to get them a title shot at the young Kiwi.

Of course, it would be unfair to judge Parker solely on that lacklustre showing in Auckland, as at the age of 25 he has already beaten some solid opponents in the shape of Andy Ruiz Jr, Carlos Takam and Alexander Dimitrenko on his way to becoming his country’s first ever world champion. He also has fast hands for a heavyweight, a solid chin and underrated power, chalking up some eye-catching knockouts as he made his way up the heavweight ranks.

That said, he is still relatively inexperienced at the top level and has yet to take on a truly world-class opponent. After his pulsating victory over longtime division ruler Wladimir Klitschko, it would take a brave man to back Parker against Joshua, who is not only bigger and more powerful but is also accustomed to the big occasion. Unless Joshua takes the Kiwi too lightly, it’s hard to see anything other than a stoppage victory for the Briton.

Threat rating: ***

Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs)

The lanky, charismatic American holds the WBA belt after beating Bermane Stiverne on points in January 2015. That remains the only time in his professional career Wilder has been taken the distance, with the Alabama native stopping 37 of his 38 opponents. A bronze medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games, Wilder has a surprisingly crude boxing style and a leaky defence that high-calibre opponents would hope to exploit. But the thunderous power he possesses in his right hand is arguably the greatest equaliser in the sport – if he lands clean on the chin, the referee won’t need to bother administering a count.

WBA champion Deontay Wilder

WBA champion Deontay Wilder

Wilder received plenty of criticism for his level of opposition on his way to winning a world title, and is desperate for a fight to prove he is the real heavyweight champion. In his most recent outing, the 31-year-old stopped the late substitute Gerald Washington with one his trademark right hands. He has made five successful defences, beating less than stellar names in Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka and Chris Arreola. In Wilder’s defence he has sought out tougher opposition, signing up to meet former world titleholder Alexander Povetkin in Moscow before the Russian failed a drug test. He has also vocally pursued a unification bout with WBO champion Joseph Parker, which he hopes to arrange for September if he can delay a pointless mandatory against Stiverne.

Should Wilder add the WBO strap to his collection, and Joshua defeat Klitschko in a rematch, it could set up a mouthwatering clash to find the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. And at this point you would have to favour Joshua, who is a much more accomplished boxer than Wilder and physically more imposing than the tall but gangly American. Wilder has also been wobbled on several occasions by relatively light-hitting heavyweights like Molina, so he may struggle to cope with Joshua’s ferocious power. That said, as long as he is still standing Wilder is a live dog who can end any fight with one swing of his destructive right hand. One thing is for sure, should the division’s two biggest punchers meet in the ring their chances hearing the final bell would be somewhere between slim and none.

Threat rating: ****

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