ANTHONY JOSHUAis feeling under “tons of pressure” as he nears the latest defence of his world heavyweight titles against Alexander Povetkin at Wembley.
The IBF, WBA and WBO champion is returning for the first time to the scene of his finest hour as a professional – last year’s dramatic 11th-round stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko – but does so at a time when he will be harshly judged.
That negotiations for a unification fight with WBC champion Deontay Wilder ended in frustration led to Saturday’s fight with the less-glamorous Povetkin, his mandatory challenger and a significant underdog.
Tyson Fury’s return and swift agreement to a fight with Wilder has also led to wider criticism of Joshua, who in his last title defence against Joseph Parker in March was taken the 12-round distance for the first time.
Against his 39-year-old challenger, anything less than a convincing victory is likely to lead to further criticism, and Joshua said: “There’s loads of pressure; tons of pressure. That’s the reality.
“You’re calm and collected but underneath it all it’s the reality. We both know what we are in for. It’s the same with every fight.
There’s loads of pressure; tons of pressure. That’s the reality. You’re calm and collected but underneath it all it’s the reality. We both know what we are in for. It’s the same with every fight.Anthony Joshua
“What more can I do than give my best? I’ll go out there and find a way to win. I know I have a lot of fire in my belly; that’s just as important as skills. Skills and technique apart, we both have a big heart and can dig deep. We both showed that against Klitschko (who Povetkin lost to on points).
“The one who’s toughest will come out victorious. Coming back (to Wembley) is a blessing; it’s time to put on a performance,” Joshua said.
Povetkin, like Joshua an Olympic gold medallist, represents the champion’s toughest fight since that against Klitschko.
He has since overcome Carlos Takam and Parker, when for the first time his performances were criticised, and his trainer Rob McCracken said: “(Povetkin) is a fighter from a different level. With respect to Parker and Takam, Povetkin comes from the top level.”
Similarly to their first press conference, Povetkin was again far smaller than Joshua. It was a size disadvantage that contributed to his only defeat in 35 fights, by Klitschko in 2013, but he said: “Joshua is one of the strongest in the division. Anthony is a very strong fighter but I am just as strong.
“When I fought Klitschko I was much weaker and in worse shape than I am now. I really, really want to take these belts back home.”
The 39-year-old challenger has only been beaten once in his career, that loss to Klitschko in 2013, and boasts 24 knockouts from his 34 wins. Promoter Eddie Hearn fears the fight will be the second toughest of Joshua’s career behind his epic win over Klitschko last year.
And 28-year-old Joshua is certainly not taking his opponent lightly. The Brit said: “In the heavyweight division not only are they talented but one punch changes the course of the fight. We all know that story.
“He’s got that punching power, he’s got big knockouts on his record, so it’s down to me to handle business accordingly.
“He’s a threat with the left hook, but not only that, it’s how tough they are, how much do they want it? He could have the best left hook in the world but if I keep punching him and breaking him down it might stop him from doing that, so these attributes need to get shut down early.
“I’ve got to annihilate that from early on. He’s got a lot in his locker so I need to take control early. The last time at Wembley was against Klitschko, and I think Povetkin is the right opponent to bring that style of fight out of me. It’s all about the ‘W’.”
Hearn admitted he was “nervous” about the showdown, which will be undefeated Joshua’s 22nd professional bout.
“It’s a massive show, a massive event with the biggest star in world boxing and the best heavyweight in the world,” Hearn said. “But I’m a bit nervous because I think this is a much tougher fight than people give it credit for. Boxing fans know how big a fight this is and how tough a fight this is.
“Outside of Klitschko I think on paper this is the toughest fight of Joshua’s career so far. He’s expected to win. But Povetkin punches very hard, he’s got a good chin, he’s durable. I expect this to be a real test.”
Assuming Joshua comes through unscathed all eyes will be on a potential bout to unify the division against Wilder.
But Hearn has warned Wilder, who is set to fight Fury later this year, and his team to come back to the table or risk missing the boat.
“We want the undisputed fight, but it’s very difficult to make a fight when other teams aren’t particularly interested in talking to you,” added Hearn.