Advertisement

Could Anthony Joshua’s final run as an elite heavyweight be his best?

The best of Anthony Joshua might be in his future.

That concept might sound absurd to many who have followed his career. After all, he lost three of five fights between 2019 and 2022, which changed the way the two-time heavyweight champion is perceived by pundits and fans.

However, things might be aligning themselves favorably for a strong run – a final run, the 34-year-old said – that could restore much of the luster he lost.

Joshua is scheduled to face MMA star-turned-boxer Francis Ngannou on pay-per-view Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. If he wins, he’ll keep a close eye on the May 18 fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed championship.

“I think we’ve got to see what happens … with the belts,” Joshua said last year, per The Independent. “Let them be competed for and then potentially let them go up in the air and then we’ll see where the belts land.

“Then just stay consistent, stay focused on improving for these next 12 to 16 months while I’m in title contention.”

Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs) was the unquestioned top heavyweight after Wladimir Klitschko declined, with victories over Dillian Whyte, Charles Martin (to win his first belt), Klitschko and Joseph Parker.

Then disaster struck in 2019. He was dropped four times and stopped by Andy Ruiz in seven rounds to lose the undisputed championship, after which he suffered one of the sport’s great indignities: His mental toughness was questioned.

He bounced back to easily outpoint Ruiz and regain his belts six months later but he looked timid, which didn’t help his reputation.

Then, after he stopped an aging Kubrat Pulev, he lost back-to-back decisions against former cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 and 2022. Some believed he was finished as one of the top heavyweights at that point.

Maybe not.

First, he gave a strong performance in the second fight with Usyk. He looked prepared and determined, and he boxed well, which is why the fight couldn’t have been much closer. Usyk won a split decision by scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 113-115.

Joshua didn’t fight with his past ferocity in his next two fights, a unanimous decision over Jermaine Franklin and a seventh-round knockout of Robert Helenius. However, the victories had him moving in the right direction.

And in his third fight, against Otto Wallin on Dec. 23, he delivered a vintage performance. He fought with the confidence he had pre-Ruiz, outclassed the solid Wallin with his formidable boxing skills and ended the fight in brutal fashion in the fifth round under new trainer Ben Davison.

It arguably was his best performance since he knocked out Alexander Povetkin in 2018.

“I’m on a journey, and I’m going to stay focused,” he said afterward. “I don’t celebrate when we win these fights. I celebrate when I win the titles.”

Also, his rivals seem to be more vulnerable than ever.

The big fight for him would be a showdown with countryman Tyson Fury, providing Fury gets past Usyk. Fury looked terrible in his meeting with Ngannou in October, going down in the third round but rallying to win a split decision.

If Fury has ever looked beatable, it’s now.

And if Usyk beats Fury? We’ll go back to the second Usyk-Joshua fight, which could’ve gone either way. And consider Usyk’s last fight, in which he went down and was hurt badly by a body shot but rallied to outpoint Daniel Dubois in the ninth round in August.

That performance and Joshua’s apparent resurgence would make a third fight between them fascinating.

Of course, Joshua has to beat Ngannou before moving on to a title shot. If he does, he’ll be first in line to fight for a title when the opportunity arises.

That could come against the May 18 winner, although Fury and Usyk could do it a second time. Joshua also will be in a strong position if a title opens up for any other reason. One or more sanctioning bodies could strip their champion, fighters get injured, they retire. Who knows?

The former champion’s job is what he said it is, “stay consistent, stay focused.” If he can do that and continue to have his hand raised, he should get the opportunity to prove he’s as good as we used to think he was.

Story originally appeared on Boxing Junkie