Could Anthony Joshua be the first billionaire boxer? He must first follow the Mayweather model to crack America

Joe Hall
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Joshua: "Why not go for the billion?" (Source: Getty)

It was the most exciting and momentous heavyweight world title bout since Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson did battle two decades ago.

That, at least, was how many pundits depicted Anthony Joshua’s dramatic defeat of Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night.

Joshua’s triumph in front of a British post-war record crowd of 90,000 fans at Wembley recalled an age when heavyweight contests crossed into the cultural consciousness, when Tyson’s promoter Don King could confidently predict he would make the fighter the world’s first “billion dollar athlete”.

In the end, Tyson’s reported fortune from the ring barely reached a third of that goal and in the intervening barren years for heavyweight boxing, only welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr have climbed higher with respective earnings of approximately $500m (£387m) and $700m (£541m).

Read more: Anthony Joshua - In boxing it's hard, even if I beat someone like Wilder they’ll say he’s s**t

Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Cristiano Ronaldo have all reportedly claimed the mantle King desired for Tyson, from basketball, golf and football respectively, but no billionaire has yet emerged from the ring.

According to Barry Hearn, whose company Matchroom promotes Joshua, the first man to do so could be the Briton, who has himself talked up the idea.

“When I first started, the aim was to become a multimillionaire,” Joshua told GQ last month. “But now there are ordinary people, grandmas and granddads, who are worth millions just because of property prices.

"So the new school of thought is that I need to be a billionaire. Being a millionaire is good, but you have to set your sights higher. If I’m making £10m from my next fight, my next target has to be making 10 times that. And if I get £100m-£150m, why not go for the billion? I know self-made billionaires. It’s hard, but it’s possible.”

The Joshua-Klitschko fight set a new British pay-per-view sales record, surpassing the 1.5m who purchased the “fight of the century” between Pacquiao and Mayweather in 2015, says Matchroom boxing chief Eddie Hearn.

In Germany, 10.4m watched on the free-to-air RTL — an increase on the 8.9m who watched Klitschko’s previous fight against Tyson Fury on the same network — while on US subscription channels, Showtime’s live broadcast pulled in an average of 659,000 viewers and HBO’s replay later that evening attracted an impressive 738,000.

Combined with gate receipts estimated to be around £8m, that is all said to have earned Joshua a total take home of £15m — exceeding even his own expectations.

The case for staying on home soil to repeat the revenue boon is strong. After all, Joshua’s unequivocal capture of the heavyweight torch on Saturday night was just the latest spike yet in British boxing’s booming stock.

Joshua is the leading man to a well-regarded ensemble cast of elite fighters that includes Carl Frampton, James DeGale, Kell Brook, Lee Selby, Amir Khan and Billy Joe Saunders.

David Haye, Tony Bellew, Hughie Fury, Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora are all home-grown heavyweights who can command the kind of crowds that could convince other names in the division to more regularly fight in the UK.

So, British interest in boxing is unlikely to peak any time soon and Joshua in particular is guaranteed support from huge numbers of adoring fans who will pack stadiums and buy pay-per-view showings whenever he fights.

Yet as Eddie Hearn alluded to even before the ring had been cleared on Saturday night, the Mayweather-level treasure chest surely lies beyond these shores.

“The plan, rather than just keep going in the UK, is to explore and break new markets,” he said.

“Like the Middle East, China — I could see him fighting in the Bird’s Nest stadium — and Africa.

“He talks very strongly about taking the title around the world. We’re already making big progress in China. And America, although I don’t believe they’re building stars there at the moment, of course it’s a market we need to be in.”

Read more: Making a mega-fight - Wembley and Matchroom bosses reveal the manpower, months of planning and sleepless nights behind Joshua v Klitschko

If Joshua is going to reach his 10-figure goal, he will need to conquer the US pay-per-view market as he has in the UK.

The £15m earned from his historic encounter at Wembley is still only a fraction of the £140m Mayweather earned from the Pacquiao bout and less than half of the American's purse guarantee from fighting Saul Alvarez in 2013.

Pacquiao, meanwhile, has demonstrated the potential of China as a boxing hub by pulling in more than £20m for fights against low-profile opponents Brandon Rios and Chris Algieri in Macau.

Handsome, mild-mannered and charming, Joshua may possess the personal qualities to win over audiences in America and beyond.

Hollywood director Peter Berg, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and UFC president Dana White all know how to spot a star and all publicly took note of the fight on social media last weekend.

The impressive Showtime figures were a channel record for an afternoon broadcast and a 75 per cent increase on the 390,000 who watched his previous fight against Eric Molina, suggesting the wider audience is already taking notice.

And unlike Mayweather, whose divisive character and chequered history outside of the ring put off potential partners, Joshua appears to be something of a sponsorship magnet having tied up deals with Under Armour, Beats, Lynx, Dafabet, Jaguar and StubHub.

A stake in BXR London, a new line of boutique boxing gyms and registered “Anthony Joshua” trademarks on everything from headphones to towels to tofu point to the 27-year-old’s own eye for earning potential outside of the ring.

Inside the ropes, Joshua is now the biggest draw in the heavyweight division. Yet in order to become boxing’s first billionaire he needs more fights capable of matching the magnitude of the Klitschko bout.

A unification bout with America’s premier heavyweight and WBC champion Deontay Wilder offers the chance to crack the US, a reemergence of Tyson Fury could boost British interest even further, while few fight fans would turn down the chance for a repeat of the Klitschko clash should the Ukrainian activate a rematch clause written into the pair’s contract.

Beyond that, Victor Ortiz, Joseph Parker, Kubrat Pulev and Andy Ruiz could all prove tough tests to the still relatively green Joshua, but are hardly headline-grabbing names capable of generating similar buzz.

When King plotted Tyson’s path to billions, he had the likes of Larry Holmes, Buster Douglas, Lennox Lewis and Michael Spinks to pit him against.

Joshua has now demonstrated he has the fan pulling power, sponsor-winning smile, international appeal and pugilistic prowess he’ll need to become boxing’s first billion dollar fighter.

The missing ingredient may be finding a fellow heavyweight who can say the same.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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