It’s been a long time since so much has been made of a heavyweight boxing result. Anthony Joshua had barely made his way back to his feet before the circus began. While last Saturday was far from a close contest, the fallout has been a perfect package of punch-for-punch. Those in the “anti-Matchroom and all things modern boxing” camp raced to sharpen their knives. Ready to dig them in to the still-warm carcass of AJ’s undefeated streak. On the side branded as “Matchroom FC” there is the disbelief that anyone could conceivably criticise the shining light of British boxing.
And in between is BBB.
Along with many others. We pride ourselves on our impartial (yet occasionally opinionated) coverage and look to approach everything in boxing with balance and back it up with facts. We’ve already covered what potentially went wrong for Joshua in New York here, so this is a look at why so many get joy from his apparent demise. There has been a long line of hyped boxers being hated. So much so that we recently recycled an article from early last year that remains just as relevant today.
For many, Anthony Joshua, and all the circus that surrounds him, represents all that is wrong with modern boxing. The tedious debacle between himself, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury will live long with fans of the sport. Their “rivalry” has frustrated and divided fans in equal measure. While the boxers all share the blame, Fury and Wilder receive something resembling a pass for actually stepping into the ring together. Their fight last December (and the rumoured rematch) seemingly left Joshua out in the cold, and looking like the more difficult man to deal with. Or perhaps more accurately the boxer with the hardest team to deal with.
The rise of Anthony Joshua will forever remain intrinsically linked to the popularity boom of Matchroom Boxing. He is the first man that they guided from pro debut to world title, filling out stadiums and smashing PPV records and sponsorship deals along the way. Together, they rewrote the model of what a big boxing show should be. Stadium fights have always been a thing, but only since Joshua have boxers seemingly decided that they are the pinnacle of a career. No longer do British boxers solely dream of capturing world title belts, they wish do so in front of 90,000 plus crowds beneath the stars. If Froch-Groves II undoubtedly reignited this recent trend, then Team AJ carried the baton and sprinted towards the finish line.
With his success inside the ring came the brand exposure out of it. TV chat show appearances helped him transcend the sport. Along came the big money and everyone involved with Team AJ revelled in their success. All well and good so far. The problem lies with the pressure and scrutiny that pile up at a rate similar to the advertising contracts. As his brand became bigger, so did the focus on EVERYTHING he says and does. And now the pressure has caused him to burst, that focus has intensified. Everyone has an opinion on what went wrong and where it can – or can’t – be put right.
Now, Joshua had his flaws before he stepped in against Andy Ruiz Jr. This is not hindsight. He has shown in previous bouts that he can be frustrated by a smaller boxer capable of slipping shots. He showed amazing recovery powers against Klitschko to survive and stop the Ukranian. However, he also showed that he can be hurt and struggle to maintain a high pace over 12 rounds. These were all flaws evidenced over several fights. Most of us didn’t believe these would be exposed so successfully by Ruiz but they were certainly there. Plenty pointed these out before last weekend’s 7th round stoppage. Yet, if you had the temerity to do so then you were a ‘hater’ and dismissed as ‘Barry from Barnsley’ or the like. The insinuation that anyone who spends time commenting negatively on boxing , lives at home and does so from their bedroom, is tiresome and boring.
Depending on where you draw the line between critic and troll, your thoughts on these individuals will differ. There are certainly a select few who seem to spend an unhealthy amount of time and energy chastising every Matchroom and, by association Joshua and Sky, do. However, there are also harsh critics who have become disillusioned with the hyperbole and bluster that surrounds the sport. Matchroom being the top UK outfit, are the biggest target available. Having listened to several podcasts this week (obligatory shoutout to New Age Boxing and the Boxing Asylum), there are many voices that took great pleasure from AJ losing without actually wishing him bad, personally.
If that sounds contradictory, it’s meant to.
Their hatred is for the Matchroom / Sky love-in, rather than the boxers. So when the company’s golden goose was beaten into seven shades of foie gras, they actively celebrated. Whether the animosity towards Eddie Hearn and co is justified is a matter for another time and article. There were certainly some who overstepped the mark and will continue to do so. This is no defence of them. It is a defence of the freedom to criticise.
These critics are a minority who spend the majority of their time watching a sport they (used to) love being frustrated by failed negotiations, questionable quality shows or God knows what else boxing throws up. They do this with very little say or influence. As long as tens of thousands are willing to pay for the post-Sweet Caroline punch-up and the millions continue to watch from around the world, then they’re effectively pissing into the wind.
So, when they get the opportunity to tell the world (social media) “I told you so!” why shouldn’t they? There is no doubt that many do so mainly for a reaction. That doesn’t dilute their knowledge of boxing or weaken their hand. Many of these so-called trolls have watched – or participated in – the sport for years yet because they’re not granted the Sky platform their opinions are supposedly less valid. Their glee isn’t necessarily the slight on AJ it first appears. It’s more of a jab to the face of the comparisons to Muhammad Ali. It’s a body-shot to the claim that Mayweather-McGregor was good for boxing, or the knockout blow to predictions that Kell Brook would beat Golovkin.
Haters are going to hate. Boxing fans are always going to have an opinion, whether those in boxing agree or not.