Anthony Joshua, 27, is inspiring the next young generation of athletes. He unified the heavyweight division by stopping Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of their fight at Wembley Stadium last Saturday.
Freshly crowned and adored after destroying Wladimir Klitschko in front of an audience of 140 countries and 90,000 fans, the humble young champion has perhaps a decade of glory ahead of him, including titles, adulation and wealth.
“Joshua is the finest role model I have seen in sport,” said Hearn, whose son Eddie promotes Joshua for the Matchroom Sport agency.
Saturday’s thrilling victory means former Olympic champion Joshua remains unbeaten after 19 fights as a professional. He is now the WBA and IBF World Champion.
“The Joshua effect is very similar to the Tiger Woods effect. People who weren’t interested suddenly become interested. Young people aspire to follow in someone’s footsteps,” said Hearn. Anthony Joshua will change the face of boxing.
Tiger Woods, 41, won the Masters as a 21-year-old and has since added a further 13 major titles. Meanwhile, Tyson Fury said in a Sky Sports interview: “Styles do make fights but I’m sure I can beat AJ with one arm tied behind my back.”
Joshua called out his compatriot, who beat Klitschko on points in November 2015, after his victory on Saturday. “I don’t even need a warm-up,” said Tyson Fury. However, Fury, 28, is unbeaten as a professional, with 18 knockouts in 25 fights. He surrendered his world heavyweight titles in an effort to focus on his mental health problems and is currently without a boxing licence.
Anthony Joshua says he might fight Klitschko again, although the odds are lengthening.
Hearn says the next defence will probably be in October. It could be at the Millennium Stadium or Madison Square Garden in New York. There is much at stake. By disqualifying the menacing Mike Tyson, the quietly ambling Lennox Lewis and the robotic Klitschko, boxing has not had a properly charismatic and dominant heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali. Joshua is an obvious, if unwilling, heir presumptive, given his world heavyweight belts.
His world heavyweight belts.
Whatever happens to Anthony Joshua, life will never be the same for him. By 2027 Joshua could be a retired billionaire if he continues fighting and winning. As it stands, all looks well for the smiling assassin who still lives at home with his mother in Golders Green. “Can we go back to Wembley?” he wonders. “What more can we do, who can we do it with, and for how long? That’s what I find interesting.”
Joshua once ran a stall at Wembley market, selling “dodgy belts and sunglasses” as his promoter Eddie Hearn put it. “You could buy Wembley market,” Hearn joked. Joshua could probably buy Wembley Stadium.
But Joshua, at 27, has a wider vision and its sincerity is undeniable. Charity, he says, is a priority. “I like to give, for sure, to help people. That’s important. I want to invest because I like business.” After surviving the temptations of street life in Watford and avoiding prison for drug possession as a teenager, he’d like to set an example for those entranced by his fame. “I know for a fact there’s some kid somewhere who’s watched what I’m doing and is, like ‘I can do that’. He’ll find himself in a gym and, somehow, he’ll go on and do better than what I’ve done.” But Joshua is no messiah, he says. He knows he can’t prevent young people ending up in prison, just because he’s the world heavyweight champion and they want his autograph.
“I can’t stop ’em. The issue people have with politicians is, how can you talk about what’s happening in certain areas when you haven’t lived in certain areas? I can definitely relate to a lot of people. I wouldn’t mind doing prison visits, giving people a bit of inspiration, and just helping.”
Joshua wants to instil ambition in those who find his achievements inspiring. “I’d never sit with the kids who’ve had it tough and say: ‘Look, stay where you are.’ You can’t achieve what you don’t see. If you don’t see a Bentley, you’re never going to want to buy one.
It’s important to show them, rather than rubbing it in their face, like, ‘Look what I’ve got. You can look but stay away’. Instead it should be, ‘Come and look, have a feel, be inspired and then use that.’ Money isn’t everything, but knowledge and inspiration is, says Joshua.
The man who owns two of the four main slices of the world heavyweight title, the IBF and WBA titles, is unsettlingly calm.
The new heavyweight champion laughs at the ridiculously premature notion that he could be ranked alongside Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes or any of the fighters from the division’s golden era. “Nah, there’s too many opinions. Realistically, Klitschko, though.”
Anthony Joshua beats Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley
Eddy Hearn speaks about taking him on the road to China, the Middle East, Africa and, of course, the United States, in the way Ali spread his charm and message. Joshua will not be bulldozed. “I’m too excited for that,” he laughs, with a quick glance towards Hearn. “I’m not in a rush to go anywhere. It’s nice to have some handcuffs on it at the minute.”
He concedes the day will come, though. “If it gets to the stage where we want to travel abroad and a promoter links up, or HBO or Showtime does a deal with Eddie, or a government funds it in Dubai or Africa, we’ll definitely go abroad. But it has to be right for my career. If it’s working in the UK at the minute, let’s not rush to change it.”
Anthony Joshua thinks like he boxes: calculatingly. His priceless ability to ride a crisis got him through a sixth-round knockdown that momentarily threatened to wreck the dream on Saturday night. He was there, revived, to finish the job with chilling efficiency five rounds later. For those who might not have been watching him before, they swivelled on their couches and suddenly developed an interest in this engaging new hero. Watch this video:
Joshua can’t escape the clutches of his growing celebrity. Dr Dre and Sir Elton John, rock royalty of different types and eras, spoke to him before the fight. Joshua said, “I was baffled. I was shocked. When I spoke to Dr Dre, he was acknowledging what we’re doing. I thought: ‘How am I speaking to Dr Dre?’ I also spoke to Elton John before the fight. He’s a Watford man. It feels surreal. But he’s following boxing.”