IT IS entertaining to think what would have happened if Anthony Joshua had to pick from Angelo Dundee, Lou Duva, Eddie Futch or Richie Giachetti.
Joshua picked Robert Garcia last summer and Derrick James for this spring, but what if the ancient quartet were still operating, still growling, still teaching fighters the way of the ring?
‘AJ’ would have loved Futch, no doubt about that. Duva would have inspired him. Giachetti would have pushed him. Dundee would have talked his ears off. The four would have all seen the raw talent, all tried to polish the edges. They would have gone in search of better jabs, more head movement, a bigger right hand, a smarter head. They would have all believed in the Big Lad.
“My guy,” Dundee would have famously uttered. Futch would have been reserved in praise, picking carefully his words of wisdom to fit the product. Duva would have backed his man to take down King Kong. Giachetti, known in his FBI files simply as The Torch, would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder and issued challenges. They were men, who in subtlety different ways, went to the trenches with their fighters. They came out swinging in defence of their men. Duva and Giachetti did trade blows with people in the ring and outside the ring. Dundee was always screaming at injustices and Futch was smarter in his ways at pushing and defending his man.
All four would have changed the Usyk fights. I firmly believe that. Perhaps James would have changed the Usyk flights. Perhaps. I know that the activity, advice and urgency in the corner at the end of a bad round, would have been worth the price of the admission. Several versions of “you’re blowin’ it, son” seem to fit the bill.
Futch would have got real close, his words muffled by the tiny distance between his mouth and Joshua’s ear. It’s the gap where harsh truths remain forever. Joshua would have listened and known Eddie Futch was telling him the truth.
Dundee would have talked and then glanced across the ring. He would have reminded Joshua of all the work and their talks and dreams. He would found that nerve to tickle. Joshua would have been up early, bouncing, looking at Usyk and Dundee would have still been talking.
In the Saudi Arabian rematch with Usyk, Joshua sits in a high stall in his lonely corner, his arms draped along the ropes until the bell sounds. It is unusual; Usyk is up, bouncing, nodding at the last words from his corner for five or six seconds before the bell sounds. That sends a message; it lets everybody know that Usyk is ready, Joshua is not.
Both Giachetti and Duva would have fallen, sprawled, jumped through the ropes at the end of a tough round. They like to meet their boxers; the talking starts then. Both would have told Joshua that he was not hurt. Both would have told him that. Their fighters were indestructible beasts in the ring. Manny Steward was the same. “This son of a bitch can’t hurt you. Now get the f**k out there and knock this mother f**ker out!” Who is going to argue with sensible reasoning like that? It’s a chorus of belief from men that understand the cruel game. They were all masters of the 60-second salvation, they could all change and save a fight in that crucial and shrinking time slot.
All the best fighters – and some of the bad ones – have a tale about a man in a corner saving their career, lifting them, inspiring them, insulting them. It happens at all levels, not just in front of 90,000 with the heavyweight world title as the prize.
Dean Powell saved Derek Chisora one night in Birmingham in a British title fight against Sam Sexton: Del Boy was throwing it away, Deano used his sharp elbows to get in Del’s face and read him the riot act; Sexton was beaten two rounds later.
Dundee would have got inside Joshua’s head. Sweet Angelo would have found the triggers inside the boxer’s mind. He would have also, away from the glare, worked on a bit more fluidity. Dundee was the king of the corner crisis, but he also had a deep understanding of the heart and mind of his fighters. Joshua needs that, it’s not a secret.
Can you imagine Duva screaming away, looking at the referee, the opposite corner, his fighter and the commissioner at ringside. Duva spitting venom like he was talking to a 19-stone pit bull. That would have shaken Usyk! I have those images of Giachetti and Larry Holmes talking, exchanging words and opinions during the fight’s break between rounds. That is a deep trust that you can’t buy; Joshua would have loved that devotion.
And, Eddie Futch would have walked Joshua through the hell, holding his head in his hands if it was real tough and explaining the way out of the struggle. He would have told AJ not to panic. It would have worked with wise and simple words.
“You see, with fighters you gotta praise them,” Giachetti said. “I tell them that if they listen, if they pay attention and if we work as a team, we’ll become big together.” All fighters great and small have to be able to listen, The Torch is right.
“I’m home,” Joshua told me when I asked him what it would be like walking out at the O2 on Saturday. Welcome home, just make the most of the night and the words of advice; James might just be part of a long tradition of good men working the corners like the art it should be.
The very best men in the corner can deliver magic and how do you fight magic?
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