Nigerian-born British world heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua, has “trained with the mindset of facing Wladimir Klitschko” for his world heavyweight title defence against American Éric Molina in Manchester next Saturday, even though the rising star will not face the Ukrainian in a megafight until the spring of 2017. It will be a defining moment on his journey.
Joshua’s team have also officially brought on board Rob McCracken, the British Olympic team coach, who was instrumental in taking him – then a neophyte boxer – to gold at the London 2012 Games.
It has been no secret within the fight industry that McCracken has been a background figure in Joshua’s professional development, alongside regular head trainer, Tony Sims, with the Londoner travelling between Brentwood and Sheffield for training and sparring, but McCracken’s open appointment at this stage of the 27-year-old’s career signals the importance of the clash with Klitschko. It will define the first stage of what has been a textbook start to his paid career.
Joshua will be expected to demolish Molina inside three or four rounds to retain his International Boxing Federation belt next weekend, with the 34-year-old Texan, who has a record of 25 victories and three losses, having shone very briefly in his first world title challenge in June 2015 against World Boxing Council champion Deontay Wilder. Molina wobbled his fellow American with a left hook in the third round but ‘Drummer Boy’ failed to capitalise on it before being stopped in the ninth round.
Molina has said he has learnt from that defeat, having won twice since then. “I will hit Joshua harder than he’s ever been hit and if he dances, and I can get him hurt, I will not sit back, like I sat back with Wilder,” he said.
McCracken, who was a quiet but pivotal figure in Carl Froch’s corner for the Briton’s glittering super-middleweight career, is accustomed to being calm amid the storm, and will be preparing Joshua to be at his most alert for his 18th professional fight.
The more serious work will begin in earnest in January to prepare Joshua for his rise to potential greatness, and huge riches, if he can expose Klitschko as Tyson Fury did in Düsseldorf almost exactly a year ago.