Alan Hubbard

Anthony Joshua now has a real fight on his hands – not in the ring but for the title of Sports Personality of the Year.

The 2012 Olympic super-heavyweight gold medallist, and now unbeaten world professional champion, had seemed a cert until the last couple of weeks.

Not that his recent laboured victory over stubborn stand-in Carlos Takam did his chances much harm but Lewis Hamilton’s celebrated acquisition of the Formula 1 world motor racing championships seems to have thrust him towards pole position for the annual BBC award which takes place next month.

Or has it?

For sport is nothing if not perverse. This week Hamilton’s name has been linked with an alleged tax avoidance scheme which has attracted political opprobrium. Mind you, he is in exalted company, with the Queen, among notables, being dragged into a controversy over investments into offshore tax havens.

Quite what this will do to Hamilton’s hopes of emulating his achievement of three years ago in topping the public poll remains to be seen. Does the average punter give a damn about the financial – or even sexual - peccadilloes of sporting stars? 

No doubt petrolheads still will be voting en masse for Hamilton.

But will fights fans get behind Big Josh? We shall see. Boxing hasn’t had a Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) champ since former world super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe a decade ago, and only five in all since the awards’ inception in 1954: Henry Cooper- twice - Barry McGuigan, Lennox Lewis and Calzaghe.

Athletics easily tops the list with 17, with Formula 1 in second place with seven.

Joshua is by far the most attractive candidate in a field which includes Hamilton, four times Tour de France winner Chris Froome, double world champion swimmer Adam Peaty, England cricketers James Anderson and Moeen Ali, world gymnastics champion Max Whitlock, supreme distance runner Mo Farah, prolific Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane  and Paralympian favourite Jonnie Peacock, whose popularity surely has been enhanced by his exotic performances on Strictly Come Dancing.

Interestingly, it is hard this year is hard to nominate a sportswoman for the top ten list as in individual terms it has not been a vintage year for them.

Lewis Hamilton may have secured a fourth Formula One world title but his popularity could be hit by recent tax avoidance revelations in Britain ©Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton may have secured a fourth Formula One world title but his popularity could be hit by recent tax avoidance revelations in Britain ©Getty Images

However, in a less male-dominated year Bianca Walkden, who successfully defended her world taekwondo title in South Korea, ace wheelchair racer Hannah Cockcroft, who collected a brace of golds at the world Para-championships and England footballer Jodie Taylor and cricketer Tammy Beaumont would be worthy short-listers.

The last sportswoman to take the SPOTY title was equestrian star Zara Phillips, back in  2006.

What Joshua has going for him is image, both personally and in terms of his sport. While co-contenders Froome and Farah may suffer, somewhat unfairly, from being born overseas and the doping issues that still besmirch their sports, boxing has undergone a resurgence in popularity spearheaded by a British world heavyweight champion with an imposing presence and a cross-over appeal to all factions of the community.

In many ways he is the ideal candidate, overcoming an errant past in his youth, coming from an ethnic minority community and hugely successful to the extent that he is arguably the most personable figure in British and world sport; charismatic, telegenic, articulate almost to the point of eloquence, and essentially media and fan-friendly.

Perhaps most importantly, he has luck riding high on his broad shoulders.

He was lucky, many argue, to win the Olympic title on what seemed a home-town decision in London, lucky that the opponent from whom he first acquired the world crown, the hapless and hopeless American Charles Martin (surely the worst heavyweight champion ever), and lucky to meet and beat Wladimir Klitschko when the Ukrainian had turned 40 and had been spiked by Tyson Fury.

Having said that Joshua is great for boxing, great for sport and great for Britain.

He deserves to hold aloft the SPOTY trophy.

Just for argument this is my top ten list list for 2017:

1, Anthony Joshua; 2, Adam Peaty; 3, Chris Froome; 3, Lewis Hamilton; 4, Mo Farah; 5, Max Whitlock; 6, James Anderson; 7, Moeen  Ali; 8, Harry Kane; 9, Jonnie Peacock;10 Hannah Cockcroft.

Lennox Lewis, seen here in action against Evander Holyfield in March 1999, would have the better of Anthony Joshua in the ring ©Getty Images
Lennox Lewis, seen here in action against Evander Holyfield in March 1999, would have the better of Anthony Joshua in the ring ©Getty Images

However much as I like and admire Big Josh I can’t go along with the latest "Skyperbole" that decrees he is the already the best British heavyweight of all time.

Indeed, I can think of four others who I believe would have beaten him at this stage of his career: Lennox Lewis, Joe Bugner, Frank Bruno and Tyson Fury - certainly the fit and fast Fury who lifted the title from Klitschko. 

Meantime the promoter Frank Warren has gone out on a limb and predicted that his sensational young heavyweight Daniel Dubois is the one who will terminate Joshua’s reign – perhaps even by the end of next year.

I tend to agree.

True, we’ve yet to see anyone clump man mountain Dubois on the whiskers but the fiercely aggressive way he fights from the bell suggests not even Josh will get the chance.

I also believe that Dubois may be the biggest-punching British heavyweight of all time.

So you can bet Joshua, having had a free taste of Dubois’s leathery power, will fend him off as long as possible.

It is now an undisputed fact that he was knocked cold in the gym by 20-year-old Dubois before he became world champ. Though the persistent rumour that he had to have medical treatment afterwards remains unconfirmed as all lips are sealed.

Talking of Olympic boxing champions it was good to see James DeGale and Frank Warren sharing a press conference top table again last week prior to the talent-packed Copper Box show on December 9.

I have known and liked Chunky since his amateur cays. He was the first Olympic gold medallist Warren signed.

They made a good team and is now back as a world super-middleweight champion after his globetrotting. DeGale is poised, along with newly-recruited fellow world kingpin Lee Selby, Anthony Yarde, Daniel Dubois, Carl Frampton, Josh Warrington, Nicola Adams and a whole other fistful of great prospects to set the world alight alongside Joshua, Katie Taylor and co in what is potentially one of boxing’s best-ever New Years.