In a league of his own: Why Anthony Joshua has few options for another Klitschko-level mega-fight

 
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King of the world: But could it be lonely at the top for Anthony Joshua? (Source: Getty)

When Anthony Joshua fights, people will watch.

Knock-out punches and personal charisma make for a winning combination that means more than 70,000 fans are expected to attend Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday to catch a glimpse of the world heavyweight champion, despite the late replacement of his original opponent, the injured Kubrat Pulev, with Carlos Takam, a 36-year-old with four losses to his name.

Yet when the film of Joshua’s career is made, it is hard to imagine Saturday night is going to feature prominently.

If April’s passing-of-the-torch triumph in front of a record boxing crowd against Wladimir Klitschko is the perfect stage for a dramatic set-piece in the future Joshua biopic, the Takam fight looks bound for little more than a quick-cut knock-out in a montage of easy wins as the film builds up to the British fighter’s next career-defining event.

The question for Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn is where that next milestone match-up comes from.

Look around the heavyweight division today and you will find plenty of Takams but few Klitschkos.

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

When Joshua won his first belt by dispatching Charles Martin in April last year, a competitive heavyweight career duking it for titles appeared to be on the horizon.

Boxing at Wembley Stadium
Joshua v Klitschko felt like an epochal event but how many more fights can Joshua find on a similar scale? (Source: Getty)

Few were heralding a new golden era to match the days of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, yet there appeared to finally be light at the end of the Klitschko brothers’ long tunnel of dominance.

Former champion David Haye was not shy of telling anyone who would listen that he wanted his belts back. In New Zealand, now-WBO champion Joseph Parker was impressing and closing in on a title of his own. Tyson Fury was eyeing up a second victory over Klitschko in a rematch scheduled for July 2016. In a few months Hearn’s Matchroom stable would snap up the powerful Luis Ortiz. Meanwhile Deontay Wilder had become America’s first heavyweight champion in nearly a decade.

Pit Joshua against any of those fighters 18 months ago and you would have had to think hard when picking a winner.

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

While his star has risen higher and more quickly than envisaged, however, the extra light has not been kind on his contemporaries.

Haye, 37, lost — albeit with an injury — to an unfancied Tony Bellew fighting at heavyweight for the first time in his career. In his first British bout, Parker underwhelmed both at the box office and in the ring during a deathly dull 12 rounds with Hughie Fury.

Boxing at Manchester Arena
Parker and Fury underwhelmed when they met last month (Source: Getty)

Hughie’s cousin Tyson has now been two years out of the ring, tested positive for cocaine and had his British Boxing Board of Control licence suspended. His physical appearance raises questions over whether he will ever fight again and while he has signalled his intent to return to action next year, no promoter will enter into a fight with the eccentric Mancunian without apprehension. And the inclination to steer clear of Fury will be nothing compared to what Ortiz, who tested positive for two banned substances last month, triggers in fight organisers.

That leaves Wilder. The American’s nationality alone would be enough to ensure a bigger television audience than for Joshua-Klitschko, while a record of 39 knock-outs carries enough clout — if low on notable scalps — to pose as a serious challenge to the Briton.

All in all it is not much to work with. For the boxing success story of the era, pay-per-view king Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr, that was of little issue. Even against no-hopers like Andre Berto, Conor McGregor or Marcos Maidana, his outsized character and reputation was enough to convince millions to pay for his fights.

Yet Mayweather’s pay-per-view mantle only followed his taking of the welterweight crown in fights against icons like Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Arturo Gatti.

Hearn and his father Barry have talked up the possibility of taking their prized client out on the road. The United States, China, the Middle East and Nigeria have been touted as potential stops on a world tour that would rekindle memories of Ali’s globe-trotting escapades in the Philippines, Zaire, Germany and the Bahamas.

Beijing’s 100,000-capacity Bird’s Nest Stadium has been cited as a potential future venue. It would certainly make a good backdrop but while they have built the 28-year-old former Olympic champion into a household name at home, there would be no guarantees of sell-out crowds in a boxing-agnostic country like China.

“People just wouldn’t know who he is,” industry expert Mark Dreyer, of China Sports Insider, told City A.M. “He’s quite young in a sport that China doesn’t have much of a pedigree in.”

Awareness would be less of an issue in Joshua’s ancestral home Nigeria, but the country has little precedent for staging world title fights of this size.

It is no surprise, then, that Hearn has launched Matchroom USA to carve out a presence Stateside, where boxing is still good business.

That appears the most likely location for Joshua’s next step. In the meantime he just has to do what he does best and knock out Takam in sensational style on Saturday.

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