Anthony Joshua has destiny in his hands at Wembley

Anthony Joshua, left, and Wladimir Klitschko face each other during the weigh-in. Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Anthony Joshua, left, and Wladimir Klitschko face each other during the weigh-in. Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
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Anthony Joshua is the millennial alpha male, towering above those who would be him, shoulders like a motorway bridge, arms made of oak.

Facing him at Wembley is a dominant male of equal dimension, but older, wiser and from an entirely different tradition. Wladimir Klitschko is not only shaped by the full range of boxing experience in a career, amateur and pro, as old as Joshua, he brings an intellectual rigour and degree of calculation rarely seen in the fight game, a PhD warrior 
fluent in five languages.

Eyes panning the room at Sky’s opulent Ruislip HQ this articulate son of Kiev expressed his approval of the presentation of the fight-week rituals. He praised promoter and opponent for their deportment, commended them for “polishing our sport, no f-words, no punches to the face, no throwing chairs”.

With a diplomatic flourish he added: “This is the Mecca of boxing. This is where it started. It is amazing to see the interest from the fans.”

Klitschko has a custodial attitude towards boxing, even in his twilight years. In his decade of domination, ended by Tyson Fury 17 months ago, he carried himself like an ambassador, almost apologetic for the violence wrought with his piston jab and “Dr Steelhammer” right hand.

And now, believing destiny is driving him towards a third heavyweight title success, he is decorum itself in addressing the threat he faces. “You have nothing to fear in defeat, Anthony. Honestly. Just dust yourself down and come back stronger.”

That advice prompted the only moment this week Joshua has looked remotely out of step with proceedings. It was not the cheeky offer of wisdom from a man who has lost four times in 68 bouts, but the idea itself. That he might lose forms no part of Joshua’s thinking.

Klitschko invites us to share his conviction that the defeat by Fury and the challenger role it thrusts upon him here has led to a renewal of sorts, a reboot in enthusiasm and approach. “I feel young, hungry, humble, obsessed with the idea of raising my hand again as a winner.”

Klitschko would not be the first to convince himself he is back in the game but, at 41, having not fought since 2015, he cannot know how he will respond when hit. We must assume he prepared thoroughly for the Fury fight. It was not enough then and it might not be enough now.

Joshua has an unblemished card, 18 straight KOs. He has been tested only once, wobbled and hurt by Dillian Whyte. He sucked it up and blasted his way through the discomfort with a flurry of unanswerable blows.

Klitschko has always been risk averse, keeping opponents on the end of the jab, holding when his defence is penetrated, letting opponents feel the best part of 18 stones draped across their shoulders.

Joshua has never fought anyone remotely in Klitschko’s class. How much of the peak Klitschko remains is the key to the outcome, the tension around which this fight revolves. If Fury indeed exposed irreversible decline, Klitschko will not be able to hold off Joshua’s brutal advances. Otherwise, he might pick apart Joshua’s flaws, his vulnerability to a left hook, take him into the later rounds, territory the 27-year-old has yet to tread in earnest. Since Joshua is uncontaminated by defeat or any sense of negativity, his thinking is uncomplicated and utterly free of doubt.

“I’m in a ring, the bell goes, let’s fight,” he says. “Stripping it down, it’s just me and a man coming to blows. The best man will win.”

Joshua is also empowered by a sense of belonging and pride, an attachment to the idea that in all he does, in and out of the ring, he is representing something greater than himself, his family name, his community.

He will leave for Wembley from a rented house where he has spent the past week with a tight group of eight close friends and associates.

“You know the guy is not going to go out and freeze. You know the character,” said commercial director of the Joshua firm and house guest, Freddie Cunningham. “He comes up to me 30 seconds before the ring walk, tapping me on the hand saying, ‘Come on Fred it will be okay’. I’m there white as a sheet thinking: How do you do that?”