Anthony Joshua, Kubrat Pulev, Carlos Takam; Michael Sprott has fought them all. Nick Friend spoke to Sprott ahead of Joshua’s showdown with Takam to find out what kind of threat the late replacement poses, as well as what it’s like to step into the ring with ‘AJ’.
When Anthony Joshua and Carlos Takam step into the ring at the Principality Stadium on Saturday night, Joshua will be an overwhelming favourite. The Englishman holds the IBF, IBO and WBA heavyweight titles. Takam, a late replacement for the injured Kubrat Pulev, is a rank outsider.
Michael Sprott, however, knows the pair of fighters better than most, having fought both in consecutive fights – Joshua in 2014, before taking on Takam in 2015. The 42-year-old fighter from Reading was defeated in both.
Yet, with an intimate knowledge of both men’s qualities, he is well-placed to weigh up a fight that many have dismissed as a straightforward first defence for Joshua, on the back of his extraordinary Wembley victory over Wladimir Klitschko.
Sprott, though, quashed any question of Takam rolling over against the favourite.
“It’s a tough one. Takam could cause Joshua problems. He can be tricky. He could hurt him but Joshua has a good team behind him, he’s very professional. It’s not a walkover for Joshua at all.”
Indeed, much of the challenge that Joshua faces comes in the withdrawal of Pulev, the IBF mandatory challenger, a week ago. Standing three inches taller than Takam, Joshua’s training camp had focused on a similarly built opponent. Takam, one of the slightest heavyweights going, poses an entirely different threat.
“It can be a problem because Joshua’s been preparing for Pulev,” Sprott – of similar stature to Takam – explains.
“If I give you an example, it’s like Lennox Lewis when he fought Vitali Klitschko. He was going to be fighting Kirk Johnson, who is probably the same height as Takam. And then he had a last-minute switch and had to fight Vitali and he struggled. Obviously, he won the fight but if that had gone the distance and gone on points, he’d have lost. It can make a big difference.”
On top of his awkward physique, Sprott highlights the Cameroonian-born French fighter’s mental fortitude as a major attribute.
“I think it’s his biggest strength,” he says. “He’s not one to go down easily. That’s for sure.”
“He has nothing to lose. Knowing him, he’s very game, he wants this and he’s going to really want to take those titles off Joshua. He’s not going there with the mentality of laying down or doing a few rounds. He will go there believing he can win.”
Takam arrives with previous experience of having held his own against the best in the business. He comfortably went twelve rounds with Joseph Parker, the New Zealander and current WBO heavyweight champion, while he lost in the tenth round to Alexander Povetkin, the highly-rated Russian whose career has been marred by a failed drugs test.
“He put a really good fight with Povetkin,” Sprott explains. “And then in his fight against Parker, he fought really well again. In that fight, I thought he let off the gas a bit towards the end which gave Parker the points win. If he’d kept doing what he’d been doing early on, he could have won that fight.
“He can hold his own against the best in the world.”
On whether he can beat Joshua, however, Sprott is doubtful.
“No, I don’t think he will,” Sprott acknowledges.
“In the first few rounds, Takam might do well. But I think Joshua will have too much. He’s going to be hitting down on him. I think Takam will last four or five rounds. Joshua isn’t stupid. He’ll have studied Takam.
“But Takam will be a tougher test than Pulev, I would think. Definitely.” And Sprott should know. He fought the Bulgarian in 2012, retiring in the ninth round of their encounter.
“Takam is mentally tougher and a bigger puncher than Pulev,” he tells me, having experienced both.
Having fought Joshua himself in 2014, Sprott is well aware of the damage a big puncher can do. Joshua – in his tenth fight at the time – took out a 39-year-old Sprott inside the first round.
“It was like any other fight, to be honest,” he tells me, before going on to praise him. “I’ve been in with some of the best around. He’s strong and very heavy-handed. And for a big guy with so much muscle, he was very quick!
“He’s like [Frank] Bruno but with more ability.”
“I knew he was going all the way to the top. I thought: ‘he’s going places.’ The only one I thought might be able to stop him was Klitschko, with all his experience.”
Yet, despite his respect for Joshua’s achievements since their meeting at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, Sprott maintains that he’s been hit by harder punches.
“He does punch hard but I wouldn’t say he’s my hardest,” he says.
That gong he saves for the late South African boxer, Corrie Sanders – one of five men to defeat Wladimir Klitschko.
And for that reason, he says, Takam will remain a danger on Saturday night, despite the huge disparity in stature.
“It only takes one punch,” he emphasises. “Lennox Lewis fought Hasim Rahman [Lewis was knocked out in the fifth round], you know what I mean. When you’re a strong puncher, you’ve got a puncher’s chance. Takam can punch, there’s no doubt about that. He’s a strong man, he’s always in good shape. We will see.
“This will be Takam’s hardest-hitting opponent yet, that’s for sure.”
Featured photograph: Wikimedia Commons