Poise may decide whether Anthony Joshua is the last heavyweight standing among improving group

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If the long-repeated maxim from Teddy Roosevelt is true about comparison being the thief of joy than there is no reason to compare the heavyweight boxing renaissance of today with what fans saw in the 1970s and 1990s. No, the three heavyweight kings of the moment -- unified champion Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) and lineal boss Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) -- won't likely be confused historically with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis or Riddick Bowe, just to name a few. 

But what we do have at the moment is an exciting group of personalities and, in the cases of Joshua and Wilder, murderous punchers who have already done well to reignite the dormant division (and arguably the sport) over the past year simply by talking a great game and backing it up with entertaining fights as they inch closer to facing one another. 

What was lost on how painfully boring the Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko era was in the aftermath of Lewis' 2004 retirement was just how few truly great eras the division has actually ever known throughout the sport's history. And if the last 14 years of heavyweight boxing will be best remembered for just how inept the rest of the field was outside of the Hall of Fame Ukranian brothers, one can only assume today's era will be known simply for how fun it has been and can be.

In an era of social media changing the way athletes connect with fans, both Wilder and Fury (who will square off Dec. 1 on pay-per-view) are among the most captivating communicators in all of sports. Meanwhile Joshua, with his striking looks and NFL-ready sculpted body, is on his way to becoming one its biggest stars by regularly playing in front of crowds that are nearly pushing 100,000 in the United Kingdom and turning prize fights into a fusion of concert and party. 

Joshua, 28, played maestro once again on Saturday as nearly 85,000 filled Wembley Stadium to see him enter the arena to flames and dance on a riser that elevated him like a god before he rallied to finish mandatory opponent Alexander Povetkin in spectacular fashion in Round 7. 

Despite the exhilarating showcase of seeing Joshua play the hits in front of an adoring crowd to preserve his April 13 return at the same stadium (hopefully to face the Wilder-Fury winner to declare an undisputed champion), the performance wasn't without its flaws. Joshua, an overwhelming better favorite, was rocked in the opening round and overcame a bloody nose to figure out Povetkin's awkward timing and stop the hungry, tricky veteran. 

In many ways, it was just another night at the office for Joshua, who has been forced to learn on the job after coming into a world title in 2016 much quicker than expected when he knocked out Charles Martin for the IBF belt in just his 16th pro fight. Since then, criticism has largely been equal to the praise Joshua has received, including a breakthrough 2017 knockout of Klitschko in which Joshua was forced to overcome both a knockdown and stamina dump that nearly cost him the fight. 

But if we're being honest, a big part of what has made this new era so much fun, featuring three super heavyweights all standing above 6-foot-6 and all currently claiming at least a piece of the heavyweight crown, has been how incredibly vulnerable each can be despite their obvious talent. 

Not only has the heavyweight division been long defined by how much one punch can change fortunes at any given time, both Joshua and Wilder in particular have been forced to rally to keep their unbeaten runs alive. Yet even though all three current champions have their obvious flaws -- from Wilder's raw technique to Fury's weight, inactivity and mental state -- it's Joshua who seems to absorb the most criticism. 

Some of it has certainly been warranted, including the fear of a suspect chin after dust ups with Klitschko and Dillian Whyte and issues with stamina. Yet Joshua has quietly grown from each performance in ways that may not have been fully realized until Saturday when he held off Povetkin's attacking style by boxing from distance and used quick combinations in close to work his way out of trouble. 

In the two fights after his wild affair with Klitschko, Joshua was criticized for allowing the much smaller Carlos Takam to pressure him and for how much his decision win over Joseph Parker in their unification bout lacked excitement as Joshua preferred to work from distance. Yet through each experience, Joshua has slowly molded the one skill that may take him the furthest in his career and that's poise. 

Not only did he keep his composure after nearly having his nose broken in the opening around against Takam, Joshua avoided getting rattled after blood began to pour from it in the opening round on Saturday against Povetkin. 

Joshua likely doesn't get the credit he deserves as a boxer with a smart IQ and DAZN announcer Sergio Mora spent much of the Povetkin fight commenting how Joshua's fluid combinations resemble more of a middleweight than anything heavyweight has recently seen. 

The most impressive of Joshua's tools, however, may be his ability to finish opponent's once he has them hurt. He showcased that brilliantly by flooring Klitschko three times with flush hooks and uppercuts and he did so again by drilling Povetkin with flush and efficient shots that brought an end to the fight. 

If boxing fans could have their way, Joshua's unification fight with Wilder would've already happened late last year or at worst in the first half of 2018. But the extended build has allowed both to grow and may end up making the expected April 13 date (regardless of whether Joshua faces Wilder or Fury) an even better classic than had it taken place earlier. 

Boxing is certainly at a much different place in terms of public consciousness than it was during the last two great heavyweight eras and the lack of refined skill among the current elite certainly is a byproduct of that fact. But the division is slowly becoming the shot in the arm that the sport needs in the post-Floyd Mayweather era to bring the casual fans back in and Joshua appears as comfortable and poised as ever to be the last one standing as the face of the new era. 

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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