Ryad Merhy doesn’t appear close to a tough fight for Jared Anderson. He’s a blown-up cruiserweight who’s Anderson’s opponent because he beat Tony Yoka, but Tony Yoka’s in decline. Anybody capable of troubling Anderson is a bonafide, modern-day heavyweight.

Charles Martin, who Anderson beat in 2023, was one such opponent. Merhy, simply, isn’t, so I’m not sure how much of Anderson’s abilities we’re likely to see on Saturday night. 

Being active is good for him, given the wider picture of his life outside of his career. Boxing has been losing athletes like him to the NFL for some time; he’s athletic enough that he could compete in the NFL, because he’s fast; he’s explosive; he’s powerful, and he’s 6ft 4ins tall. Tyson Fury told me years ago that when they sparred Anderson also showed incredible head movement and good reactions. We’ve not really seen that in his 16 fights so far, because Martin’s the only opponent who’s managed to hurt him, and he’s also been walking through opponents and willing to risk getting hurt to knock his opponents out. But that’s also made him exciting. I’m a big admirer.

We saw a sense of the pressure Anderson feels under when that footage of him, emotional in conversation with Roy Jones Jr, was released, but I don’t think that footage should have been made public. Opinions were formed off the back of his perceived vulnerability, but I saw it as little more than a momentary weakness for a 24-year-old man – and one that was probably exacerbated by being next to Jones Jr, who for fighters is a god among men. 

It might be that same pressure that has contributed to the fact he’s due in court two days after the fight with Merhy, having been charged with third-degree felony fleeing a police officer in Huron Township, Michigan. Perhaps he was self-destructing that day in February when he allegedly led police on a six-plus-mile car chase, at speeds exceeding 130mph. 

Because all fighters, to different degrees, are self-destructive. Perhaps that even applies to heavyweights more than most. But I’m not convinced that what emerges from that date in court is a reflection of what lies in Anderson’s future. Instead I see his youth, and a generation of fighters who too rarely can grow up behind closed doors. Poor decision-making is worsened when the spotlight’s on you. Anderson’s never asked for the intensity of the spotlight being shined on him; he’s not even said he loves boxing; he sees it as a means to an end. Maybe it’s that lack of love for his profession – compare that with a young Mike Tyson in the Catskills – that leads to him seeking satisfaction elsewhere. 

It’s also not uncommon for professional fighters to thrive off an element of chaos. Teofimo Lopez, in 2024, is prominent among them – it’s when he feels threatened that he performs to his best. Who’s to say Anderson doesn’t have a similar streak?

One of the biggest victories of 2023 came when Gervonta “Tank” Davis stopped Ryan Garcia when he was due to be sentenced for a hit-and-run crash. The very best fighters – the very best performers in any context – are effective at compartmentalising the wider picture that exists beyond their fights. Davis produced one of his most disciplined performances that night. Fighters, generally, often have personal issues to cope with; some allow those issues to bother them more than do others. But the reality is that that goes with the territory. “You’re a fighter. Leave all that other s*** behind.” That night in Las Vegas, Davis showed something we hadn’t seen from him before; he out-fought and out-thought Garcia, a dangerous opponent, on the biggest stage. 

The greatest test for Anderson on Saturday isn’t Merhy, but how he compartmentalises everything else. Top Rank will have made this fight because of everything else he’s dealing with – he’d otherwise have been matched with a better opponent. 

There’s significant money to be made from successful heavyweights – particularly in 2024. The smart matchmakers at Top Rank – those who’ll drop fighters who don’t perform – will be watching with particular interest. An impressive performance will show that, psychologically, Anderson’s stronger than some have been tempted to suggest. It could even prove a turning point in his career – which can still show him to be the future of the heavyweight division.