“AJ has had a fantastic career financially, but maybe it niggles him that he’s probably got no real legacy. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, unlike the Cobra!”
The words of Carl Froch, as told to the Sporting Post in a recent interview. It’s certainly a bold statement from the former super middleweight champion. Part of it is undeniable, of course. Froch is a Hall of Famer, having been enshrined in the annual ceremony in Canastota, New York last year. But his scathing appraisal of Anthony Joshua, including the assertion that the Watford heavyweight will not join him in being honoured, seems harsh.
Just because Froch’s words are cold and brutal, it does not necessarily render them wrong. So what are the merits and drawbacks within Joshua’s legacy? How will history sum up one of boxing’s more complicated fighters of recent years?
The pure accolades that Joshua has accumulated are the stuff of legends on paper. An Olympic gold medal secured when he was a comparative novice at amateur level. British and Commonwealth championships won with aplomb as he rose through the professional ranks. ‘AJ’ two-time unified heavyweight champion, holding the WBA, IBF, WBO and The Ring titles. He has beaten five former heavyweight champions in his career.
In black and white, these achievements are every bit as Hall of Fame-worthy as Froch’s career highs. They also exceed what some other members of that hallowed group have achieved. A Hall of Fame is predicated on more than just simple hardware. There is another measurement in which Joshua is also a shoo-in for Canastota immortality.
A Hall of Famer must have wielded influence and popularity over the course of their career. Carl Froch did so when he engaged in a two-fight series with George Groves. Their battles captured the imagination in a way not seen since Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn shared hostilities two decades before. You may have heard Froch mention the fact he and Groves filled Wembley to the tune of 80,000 people for their 2014 rematch.
Anthony Joshua has filled Wembley. Twice. He’s also filled the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, King Abdullah Sports City in Saudi Arabia and two nights at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Froch deserves immense credit for headlining a Wembley show when stadium boxing was a novelty. But Joshua’s legacy is as the man who made big outdoor occasions routine.
A two-time unified world champion, Olympic gold medalist and mainstream superstar who has drawn millions of fans to his fights. Joshua will walk into the Hall of Fame, no matter what Froch says. But that doesn’t mean his legacy is easy to process. Joshua’s career is one of contradictions. For every triumph there is a lapse. For every knockout there is a night of tentative caution.
Joshua has collected some impressive scalps over the course of his career. While some level the accusation that he was washed up, knocking out Wladimir Klitschko in 11 rounds was still no mean feat. Alexander Povetkin was a former belt-holder who would go on to brutalise Dillian Whyte. Joseph Parker was the unbeaten WBO going into his unanimous decision defeat at the hands of ‘AJ’.
But contrast these nights of triumph with the dark times Joshua has endured. The galling knockout by Andy Ruiz Jr. The twin-defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, where the Watford man looked too gun-shy to trouble a much smaller foe. Even his last fight, a laborious decision win over Jermain Franklin, lacked sizzle. When Froch and others attack Joshua’s legacy, these are the fights that come to mind.
So should Joshua’s decline and the loss of his knockout instincts blunt what came before? The very nature of legacy means it is usually the better points that become immortalised. Cristiano Ronaldo’s career will be remembered more for his exploits for Real Madrid and Portugal than what he’s doing at Al-Nassr. The same can be said of Joshua. His stadium-stuffing, belt-toting heyday will become more vivid as his struggles fade. When he hangs up the gloves, Joshua will do so with his legacy intact.
Joshua isn’t finished yet. It is hard to imagine him beating rumoured foes like Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder at this point, but then he has overcome the odds before. Whether it was shrugging off his troubled background to medal in 2012 or rising from a heavy knockdown to stop Klitschko, ‘AJ’ is no stranger to adversity. But even if he doesn’t find a way back this time, Canastota still awaits.
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