England’s Anthony Joshua, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, will face what should be his toughest professional test so far when he tangles with Denis Bakhtov on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London.
Not only will the 24-year-old Joshua (8-0, 8 KOs) box in his first scheduled 10-rounder (although he has never seen the fourth round yet), but he will also be facing his best opponent so far. Bakhtov (38-9, 25 KOs), 34, of Kazakhstan, has won two fights in a row and has been stopped only twice in his nine defeats. He is supposed to give Joshua rounds, which he desperately needs. But Bakhtov also has a lot of experience against opponents such as former world title challenger Manuel Charr, former cruiserweight titlist Juan Carlos Gomez and contender Czar Glazkov.
“I've spoken to people about Bakhtov and the hard-core boxing fans know he's a test,” Joshua said. “It's quite interesting and all it says is that I am fighting people who have operated at a good level. There's no rush. I need to get more fights and more rounds under my belt and I am happy to do that. I like sparring with the champs, I hope to be able to do more (sparring) with Wladimir Klitschko.”
Joshua was in Klitschko’s camp as he was preparing for a fight with Kubrat Pulev, although it had to be postponed until next month because Klitschko suffered a biceps injury.
Fighting an opponent such as Bakhtov seems like the perfect step up for Joshua, who is in no hurry. He’s in this for the long haul.
“I don't need rounds that are going to slow my career down, unnecessary rounds,” Joshua said. “A guy giving me all sorts of problems and hitting me hard, this is a physical sport and tough fights do take years off you. I don't need those sorts of fights and rounds, and I am getting the rounds in during sparring. It will happen in the ring and when I get that opponent that does go further then I will probably say that I am happy that I got the rounds in.
“They need to look a bit deeper than someone’s height and physique. Klitschko waited 17 fights to win this [regional] belt and look at what he has achieved. Even though it took him that long it is about how you start but how you finished. I’ve started off well but it’s about pacing yourself correctly and making sure I get it right.”
In Saturday’s main event, Wales' Lee Selby meets Australia’s Joel Brunker in a featherweight eliminator with a mandatory shot at titleholder Evgeny Gradovich at stake.