Anthony Joshua fighting Saturday got me thinking. Michael Jordan was an overall better player than LeBron James because Jordan won six NBA championships to James’s four.
Wait, maybe LeBron James is the better overall player because he reached NBA finals 10 times compared to Jordan’s 6.
Actually, now that I think of it, that would mean that Jordan’s NBA finals win percentage is better than King Bron, so Jordan has to be considered the better player, right?
By now, you should be able to see the tediousness of such debates.
Truthfully speaking, and with a grand attempt at pushing my own personal biases aside, LeBron leads in several statistical categories, but those totals were amassed with five extra seasons and counting. Yet, Jordan leads some of those metrics when percentages are compared.
It is much easier to compare two players on a specific night or even in a single game played against each other, but comparing careers is a multi-faceted argument filled with context that spans eras.
It cannot be as simple as ring count or stats. Questions like what caliber of players did they face off against and what caliber co-stars did they have access to throughout their runs?
Which one is better? That’s the question.
What IS better? That’s the consideration.
Let's Play Compare and Contrast
This weekend, Anthony Joshua returned to the ring for what was supposed to be a financially lucrative stay-busy fight against a career-rival. In the past, Anthony Joshua would fill stadiums for his summer/fall showdowns but coming into Saturday night’s showdown at the 02 Arena in Greeenwich, two things were different.
First, AJ is without a world title, and the other is that he’s coming off a year in which he lost back-to-back fights (one as champion and the other as challenger) against Oleksandr Usyk, perhaps the only heavyweight with a rightful pound for pound claim.
Still, with rumors of a winter showdown against Deontay Wilder, a fight that eluded both fighters and fans years ago, there was plenty interests in seeing AJ check Dillian Whyte off before aiming his sights on the “Bronze Bomber.”
The event was nearly derailed after Whyte’s pre-fight VADA test “returned adverse findings.”
In searching for a new foe, the question of who presented challenges. However, Eddie Hearn, Matchroom head honcho and AJ’s promoter, realized that this fight should serve as a precursor to the Wilder fight, rumored to be finalized in the coming days and likely to take place in Saudi— the newly established capital for boxing’s richest prizefights.
Eddie made the right move by securing Robert Helenius as the late replacement.
Helenius was not brought in to “save” the promotion because few believed he could win, but the intent of “The Nordic Nightmare” being picked was to further promote the Wilder fight.
After all, Helenius last fought August 5th only to make a return against one of boxing’s biggest superstars seven days later, on the 12th. He won that fight against Mika Mielonen (6-1) by 3rd round TKO— leaving Helenius fresh enough to step in unfazed.
Choice Of Helenius As Sub Foe Was Fairly Brilliant
However, the genius of bringing in Helenius was to give fans globally the chance to see Anthony Joshua face off against the very last opponent Wilder shared the ring with in an effort to produce a “who did it better” promotion.
These kinds of promotions are not new, and they’ve been utilized by all great promoters at some point in their career. It is a similar tactic to putting a future opponent on the undercard of a champion superstar’s feature bout.
It is not to look to past the current promotion, but to enhance the next, and as a promoter, the “next fight” is always the job.
It was always going to be difficult for AJ to “outdo” Wilder because when he fought Helenius in October of 2022, he scored a 1st round KO and in a highlight reel fashion to boot.
The counter-right KO came with nearly 10 seconds left in round 1, so that means AJ had to finish Helenius within the first 2:50 of the opening bell to do it faster.
Faster does not equal better.
Many have criticized AJ’s performance because he left that fight with a bloody nose and reserved the excitement for the 7th and final round— it was mostly a jab-fest before the beautifully timed right hand that ended the fight.
Anthony Joshua won in the exact same fashion as Wilder, and the end scene from both fights were eerily similar as Helenius was left floored with his eyes glazed and back flat on the mat in both instances.
However, this brings us back to the question of “better” because if both men used Helenius as a launching pad into their eventual showdown then the question changes to which fighter is better because of the fight.
For Wilder, it is a question of activity.
In the October 2022 bout against Helenius, Wilder broke a record for fewest punches recorded in a heavyweight world title eliminator. Wilder only needed to land three punches to seal the victory. This is an impressive feat, but it is also worth a bit more context.
Deontay Wilder Has NOT Been An Active Fighter
Like AJ, Wilder is on the other side of back to back losses at the hands of an elite fighter, in this case Tyson Fury. The last of those fights took place October 2021. That means, by the time Wilder steps into the ring again— presumably against AJ— he will have only landed three punches in one round of professional boxing in the span of over two years.
You can spar all you want, but there is no substitution for the bright lights and thousands of people in attendance and millions watching at home.
Anthony Joshua, in that same span, has boxed just over 30 rounds, going 2-1 with 12 of those rounds coming against Usyk.
Many look at AJ’s last two fights in a vacuum. Looking at both performances as one completely ignores the corner factor. AJ was with Robert Garcia before making the jump to Dallas with Derrick James and co. That factor matters because merging a veteran fighter’s unique style and tendencies with a new coach takes time (and fights).
The idea of changing trainers is similar to the rebuild process for a major league sports club— you keep what works and tweak what hasn’t, but you also enter a new space with different beliefs and strategies as it relates to diet, strength training, and sometimes even philosophical differences.
AJ was able to implement a game plan which he stuck to, and his patience was rewarded in the 7th. And it isn’t just that Anthony Joshua got the stoppage victory, but it was how he did it. He methodically set up the very combination that led to the KO.
Anthony Joshua Now More So A Savvy Thinking Man's Fighter?
Moments before the stoppage, you could see Anthony Joshua offering Helenius a look at his lead hand, but it was AJ that was downloading his opponent’s reaction.
He knew what Helenius would do when he offered up that same sequence again, and seconds later, AJ put the finishing touch on his game plan.
Was it the most exciting strategy? No. But we have seen exciting AJ, and that guy does not beat Usyk (and probably Fury).
However, this version of AJ, when polished, could offer a whole new dimension to his game that is just as dangerous as his aggressive fight script.
Wilder beat Helenius faster and easier, there is no question about that. But which of these performances propels the fighter forward? If all we learned from the post-Fury version of Wilder is that he has crazy power then we didn’t learn anything.
If Anthony Joshua only accomplished one thing then it was making sure that Malik Scott— Wilder’s trainer— has much more to consider by way of preparing his fighter for an AJ that seems hellbent on evolving himself under the tutelage of James.
Bottom line, how many tools will it take Anthony Joshua to beat Wilder?
Regardless of that answer, it appears as though AJ plans to show up with as diverse an arsenal as possible.