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Anthony Joshua facing Carlos Takam in fourth title defense

When last seen in the ring, Anthony Joshua, boxing’s biggest star this side of Canelo Alvarez, retained one heavyweight world title and also won a vacant strap in one of the best and most dramatic heavyweight championship fights in many years.

It was on April 29 before a British boxing record crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, where AJ and former longtime world champion Wladimir Klitschko engaged in a see-saw slugfest in which both men were knocked down. But Joshua knocked Klitschko down three times overall and stopped him in the 11th round of the leading fight of the year candidate.

Most expected Klitschko to exercise his contractual right to an immediate rematch and face Joshua again this fall in another massive fight, but he surprised many and retired. Now Joshua is set to get back to work for his fourth title defense against a much-lesser-regarded opponent in mandatory challenger Carlos Takam on Saturday (Showtime, 5 p.m. ET) before a sold-out crowd of about 75,000 — an indoor boxing attendance record — at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

“We’re going to have to put that Klitschko win to the side at some stage, because boxing is unforgiving. That was that. This is now,” Joshua said. “Carlos is a completely different animal than Klitschko.”

This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:

Anthony Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) vs. Carlos Takam (35-3-1, 27 KOs)

Late to the party

Cameroon native Takam, 36, of France was not supposed to be Joshua’s opponent. Joshua was supposed to have faced Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (25-1, 13 KOs), a mandatory challenger, but two weeks ago Pulev suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to withdraw.

Thanks to the foresight of Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, he had Takam on standby, training as an insurance policy in case something happened to Pulev, because the show must go on.

Sure enough, Pulev got hurt, and in stepped Takam, who was one spot below Pulev in one set of sanctioning body rankings. That meant he was the next leading available contender and will still satisfy Joshua’s mandatory obligation.

“I think Eddie did a great job to have someone in place in case these mishaps happen,” Joshua said. “And when I heard the news I was fighting Takam, of all people, he’s a very strong, game fighter. This is his chance to kind of shock the world.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I would still fight,” Joshua continued. “If Eddie had opponents lined up, I was definitely still going to fight. There was no point in my mind where I thought that I’m not going to compete. So when I heard I wasn’t going to be fighting [Pulev] and that the next guy in line was Takam, it was like, OK, cool.”

Waiting wasn’t an option for the heavyweight champ.

“I’m just happy that I don’t have to wait [to fight] because it probably would have been March or April,” said Joshua. “That would have been a year out of the ring. I don’t think now is the time to be taking that much time out, so I’m really grateful that the show could still go on.”

Takam was thrilled to be called out of the bullpen.

“I’m ready for this fight. I’m ready for everything he has,” Takam said. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. We were in the gym getting ready, hoping we would get this chance.”

Takam is no Klitschko, or even Pulev, but he’s a solid heavyweight. He was a 2004 Olympian, and in 2016 he went the distance in a competitive loss to Joseph Parker, who went on to win a world title. Since the Parker loss, Takam has won two fights in a row. He also has a knockout loss to longtime contender Alexander Povetkin and a draw with Mike Perez.

Takam’s biggest victory is a unanimous decision over former two-time title challenger Tony Thompson. He also beat former contenders Michael Grant and Francois Botha, but they were way past their best days.

Takam is grateful for the title opportunity and sounded confident despite the long odds.

“My experience will help me win the fight. I’ve been in there with a champion [Parker],” he said. “I saw Joshua go down [against Klitschko]. I saw he has a weak point, and we’ve been working on targeting that. I’m going to box my way. I’m going to come forward, fight my fight. I believe in myself. It wouldn’t be a shock if I won because of the confidence I have.”

Rolling with the punches

Joshua was preparing for Pulev, who has a far different style from Takam, so when the opponent change was made, he and trainer Rob McCracken had to adjust.

“Anthony’s been training for a 6-foot-5, full-ranging awkward guy, and now we have a 6-foot-2 little guy who’s going to come at you nonstop. Jabbing, punching, overhand right, hook, relentless pressure,” Hearn said. “[But] he’s going to come across Anthony Joshua looking absolutely the best he’s ever looked in camp.”

Joshua, 28, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist for Great Britain, did not sound at all fazed by the change, only disappointed by it.

“I was a bit baffled. You know how it is when you’re a fighter — you say, ‘I’m going to fight with one arm, one eye, one leg.’ I didn’t expect [Pulev] to stand down the opportunity, but I do understand that he wanted to be 100 percent,” Joshua said. “Nowadays, there’s a lot of science to the sport, so he probably had to get advice from his doctors, so I get it. But it’s a shame, because there was just something about Pulev and wanting to outclass him.

“My mindset with Takam — I don’t know. He’s veteran where you take a lot to give a lot. It’s just switching up my mindset about the style of fight I’m going to engage in now. That was the main disappointment.”

One adjustment for the 6-foot-6 Joshua will be fighting a much shorter opponent than originally planned and a much shorter opponent than his recent foes.

“I’ve fought [Dominic] Breazeale, [Eric] Molina and Klitschko, and for Kubrat Pulev I’ve focused on a lot of taller fighters,” Joshua said. “They say Carlos Takam fights at 6-foot-2, but he probably fights at 6-foot bent down and crouched over. All in all, what goes down in the history books is whether I win or lose. I just got to do whatever I got to do to get this win because it’s really important for me and the sport of boxing because it sets up several fights in the future.”

One of them is a possible unification showdown with Deontay Wilder.

Key stats

  • Joshua: 19-0 (19 KOs); current unified WBA and IBF heavyweight champion
  • Joshua: Opponents land 7.1 total punches per round, according to CompuBox
  • Joshua: Inactive for 182 days, longest layoff of his career
  • Joshua: 19 consecutive KOs, longest active streak among champions
  • Takam: 35-3-1 (27 KOs); first career world title fight
  • Takam: Five KOs in last 10 bouts
  • Takam: Represented Cameroon at the 2004 Olympics
  • Takam: Attempting to become third fighter from Cameroon to win a world title (Sakio Bika, Hassan N’Dam)

Lesson learned

Joshua had not faced any adversity as a pro other than perhaps one rocky moment early in a 2015 fight with Dillian Whyte. The he went through the crucible of the battle with Klitschko, including coming within a whisker of losing when he was knocked down and badly hurt in the sixth round.

In retrospect, it was a lesson every potential great needs to go through.

“Now when I watch boxing, I watch it completely different,” Joshua said. “When you watch a George Foreman and Ron Lyle kind of fight or [a Muhammad] Ali and Foreman fight, where a bit of their soul and spirit disappears, I always wondered how they were doing it and how they were taking those shots. You always question how, why and what makes people do what they do. Until I went through it, I would always watch boxing, but now I don’t just watch it, I understand it. I know the thing that you can’t be taught is how to survive in the trenches. I just feel like my heart is very big and I wear it on my sleeve in this sport.

“It’s just that mindset. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win, that’s one thing,” he continued. “I just realized as well what the division needs because I think the masses of people can relate to a boxer’s life. It’s labor. You’re up early, working, you’re resting and providing for your family. There’s also the glitz and glamour of getting money, but that disconnects from so many people. The wealthy people are 1 percent of the world, so people just want to see you fight. They want to see you go to war. That’s another thing I’ve learned — what people want and desire for in this sport [is] to kind of bring the attention back to boxing. I don’t just do it. I don’t just watch it. I really understand it. I know what to do to deliver.”

Rafael’s prediction: Joshua by knockout.

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