05302017

‘Unquestionably world boxing’s biggest star’ – what next for Joshua?

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I know I can knock anyone out – Joshua

A glorious night answered so many questions.

Anthony Joshua is the real deal. Wladimir Klitschko is far from done. Heavyweight boxing can prosper through brilliance. There was no need for insults here.

Yet there will be no pause for breath after a breathless Joshua stoppage win. The questions simply evolve.

Tyson Fury took mere moments to stir the pot, Deontay Wilder likewise. Will they get their shot at a man now hailed as “the biggest sports star in Britain” and tipped to become boxing’s richest ever fighter?

Who next? ‘Fury believes he beats AJ’

In stopping the most dominant heavyweight of this century in front of a record post-war UK boxing crowd – in a fight which had everything – Joshua has everywhere to go and yet nowhere to go.

Matching an event as iconic as this – delivering a pay day to beat the £15m he was expected to earn and finding an opponent capable of competing – looks a tall order in the short-term. Yet the big names will champion their cause.

“Fury, where you at baby?” Joshua said. The Gypsy King was busy tweeting: “You had life and death with Klitschko, I played with the guy. Let’s dance.”

Tyson Fury<!–

Former world champion Tyson Fury looks keen to fight Joshua, although he is currently suspended

Joshua did hit the canvas hard before toppling Klitschko. Fury ducked, weaved and earned a comfortable points win by comparison in 2015.

“Tyson Fury will be watching that and thinking I haven’t even got to lose six stone to beat AJ,” said 5 live boxing analyst Steve Bunce.

“Could Fury have beaten AJ when he beat Klitschko? The answer is yes.”

Substantially overweight and devoid of a boxing licence, former world champion Fury will likely need time and a warm-up bout before meeting the IBF and WBA champion.

WBC champion Deontay Wilder warned Joshua not to get “comfortable”, while Klitschko confirmed he holds a rematch option, adding that he believes the champion is “vulnerable” at times.

“I could have done more to finish him off,” said the 41-year-old.

Deontay Wilder<!–

WBC world champion Deontay Wilder is also keen to take on Joshua

The options are plentiful on paper but timing is the crucial factor. Fury will surely happen one day but not soon, meeting Klitschko swiftly before age robs him of further edge is a challenge and Wilder’s lack of appeal in the UK also presents difficulty.

Bunce added: “Wilder needs at least one more fight – he is not at the pay-per-view stature yet.”

‘The richest boxer ever’

Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua<!–

Joshua connected with a huge uppercut in round 11 to end Klitschko’s resistance

Joshua’s rise, after being all-but beaten in the sixth round, to administer a devastating uppercut and finish in the 11th, wowed the world of boxing. American viewers tuned in and lapped up the destruction.

Legendary boxers Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield were just some of those tweeting praise, while promoter Eddie Hearn believes his fighter’s profile is now “stratospheric”, adding: “He is unquestionably world boxing’s biggest star.”

Hearn is just a piece in the jigsaw of a team which has made Joshua a juggernaut in world sport. His standing as a marketable asset for more than a dozen global brands brings closer his ambition to become boxing’s first billionaire, while it also heaps pressure on his broad shoulders.

“The win accelerates him to be one of the world’s most sought-after major properties,” said sports marketing expert Alun James, UK chief executive at Four Sports and Sponsorships.

“A YouGov survey showed 20% of the UK population have a favourable view of him. That is a very good number for boxing, which is not a mainstream sport.

“Because he’s a young black man, he also allows brands to extend into demographics they haven’t worked in before. He’s already working with brands from Asia to the US, the UK and Dubai.

“I think he will certainly be the richest boxer ever and probably surpass Floyd Mayweather, who set the benchmark.”

What we learned – a raw fighting machine

Klitschko is no stranger to being knocked down – he hit the deck three times in beating Samuel Peter on points in 2005 and such resistance subsequently spawned an 11-year unbeaten run until 2015.

The fact Joshua has now tasted being decked and briefly humbled may well be viewed as a positive behind closed doors. No longer will doubters wonder about his heart. The world now knows what will is hidden beneath those pectorals.

Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua<!–

Joshua was knocked down for the first time in his career in the sixth round

“There comes a time where it comes from within,” said BBC Radio 5 live pundit Richie Woodhall. “It is DNA or whatever you want to call it. Those punches came from the depths of his soul. That is what being a world champion is all about.”

This great British hope showed transitions, boxing admirably early on, taking punishment in the middle rounds, and then switching things up to power punching, seizing his moment with killer instinct.

“There were times where he showed his inexperience but he learned and showed he isn’t just a prospect,” said Joshua’s trainer Rob McCracken. “He can turn around fights and that will help him so much in his career.”

Just 19 fights and now 55 rounds into his career, Joshua has every right to remain green in parts. Smiles at his opponent and celebrations after knockdowns will perhaps be stamped out. Indeed Klitschko said afterwards he felt his rival “lost focus” at times.

In truth, the grand surroundings of Wembley are fit for a fully developed fighter. Joshua beat one, though both he and his team will admit he is not himself one yet, even if he did answer questions.

“He was raw at times which he is, and at times he was probably exposed but to get exposed in front of 90,000 people, to bite down on your gum shield, and to knock out Klitschko in the 11th round, you can’t buy that heart,” added Hearn.

A show of temperament

The chin has been tested, as has Joshua’s heart, but what about the mind?

Celebrities fell over themselves to engage with him within minutes of his win, A-list names on Twitter jumping on the expanding AJ bandwagon.

Joshua v Klitschko<!–

Joshua has won all 19 of his professional victories inside the distance

He handled an expectant 90,000 crowd and surely no fight to come can be bigger from a stadium perspective?

Yet heavyweight boxing can provide a slap of reality. Mike Tyson ran into Buster Douglas, Lennox Lewis fell to Hasim Rahman.

But the focus and creative nature of his training drills – visible in their droves on Instagram – seem to showcase a desire to keep striving and try different things in pursuit of excellence.

Away from the ring, Joshua talks about different cultures in a studious way. He has a mind which seems unlikely to fall lazy and such drive will be critical.

There were moments where he visibly took deep breaths when under fire from Klitschko, and expect him to find solutions in the gym. As hype and distractions mount, it is reassuring to know he finds comfort there.

The champion said: “I showed that fights are won in the gym. It gets tough and boxing isn’t easy. You have to have the whole package.”

With every passing punch, he looks just that.

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