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Joshua v Povetkin: British heavyweight champ faces Russian challenger & burden of expectation

Joshua v Povetkin: British heavyweight champ faces Russian challenger & burden of expectation
Anthony Joshua puts his IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles on the line against Russia’s Alexander Povetkin at Wembley on Saturday night, knowing he enters the fight with the added burden of expectation on his shoulders.

Joshua came in significantly heavier than Russian challenger Alexander Povetkin at Friday’s weigh-in, tipping the scales at 246lbs (111.6kg) to Povetkin’s 222lbs (100.7kg).

That weight difference is also matched by the substantial expectation on Joshua’s shoulders as the heavy favorite when the two square off in front of a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.  

“He’s going to be quick, going to be fast, so I’ll put on my dancing shoes and be fast with my feet,” Joshua, 28, said at the weigh-in at the Business Design Centre.

Both fighters appeared relaxed at Friday’s event, continuing the low-key, respectful tone that has characterized the build-up to the fight so far.

Mandatory challenger Povetkin, 39, enters the bout as the underdog, but Joshua will be wary of a fighter who has suffered just one defeat in his 35-fight pro career – losing via unanimous decision to  Wladimir Klitschko in 2013.

Povetkin referenced that loss at the weigh-in on Friday, saying he felt in significantly better shape going into the fight against Joshua, who has 21 wins from his 21 professional fights, including 20 by way of knockout.      

​”I’m just as strong as Anthony Joshua. When I fought Klitschko I was much weaker, and in much worse shape than I am now. I really, really want to take these belts back home,” Povetkin said.

Joshua himself famously faced Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017, the last time he fought under the arches at Wembley, stopping the Ukrainian via TKO in the 11th round in a see-saw epic.

That both Joshua and Povetkin have met Klitschko – albeit with different outcomes – is indicative of two careers that have striking commonalities.

Both fighters have won Olympic gold – with Joshua winning on home soil in London in 2012, and Povetkin prevailing in Athens in 2004.

After his Olympic triumph, Joshua made his professional debut on October 5, 2013 – the same night Povetkin suffered his as yet only pro defeat to Klitschko, on home soil in Moscow.

There are no similarities, however, in the way Joshua has avoided the kind of controversy that has followed Povetkin since he failed two drugs tests in 2016 – the first for traces of meldonium, and the second over a muscle-boosting substance.

The Russian has denied wrongdoing in both cases, and has firmly placed the incidents in the past since being handed a one-year suspension and paying a $250,000 fine.  

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Povetkin has racked up four wins since his comeback at the end of 2016, but looked shaky last time round against David Price, recovering from a third-round knockdown before brutally putting the plucky Brit on his back in the fifth.

That fight exposed the holes in Povetkin’s defense that Joshua will be looking to exploit on Saturday, but also showcased the power that will make the Russian one of the London fighter’s toughest challengers to date.    

Joshua, for his part, heads into Saturday’s fight on the back of an unconvincing points win against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker back in March.

Despite that, Joshua’s star has continued to rise, together with talk of the eminently marketable Brit being a generational great.    

Both fighters have spoken of the differing levels of expectation heading into the Wembley bout, with defending champion Joshua admitting he feels "tonnes of pressure.”

Povetkin, in contrast, will have shoulders that feel a much lighter burden, despite knowing that this could be his last major fight as he enters the twilight of his career.

For Joshua, the added pounds may be an advantage in packing power, but coping with the extra weight of expectation will be an additional battle.