Every fight’s a big fight for Anthony Joshua and Saturday, September 22nd will be no different. Presented by Matchroom Boxing, he’ll be facing former gold medalist and world champion, Alexander Povetkin, live from Wembley Stadium, exclusively on DAZN (4PM CST). The problem is, after being expertly moved, presented and positioned as Boxing’s marquee heavyweight, Team Joshua has squandered a bit of that goodwill, with no one else to blame but themselves. As a result, the most anticipated heavyweight scrap of 2018 won’t even include the man one belt shy of being undisputed champion.
Brick by brick, Eddie Hearn carefully constructed Anthony Joshua's (21-0, 20 KO’s) professional career, so it's probably fitting his fingerprints are all over the recent deconstruction of it, ensuing negativity and backlash included. Fresh off winning gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Joshua aligned himself with Hearn's Matchroom outfit and appeared on high profile British undercards from the outset. Before long, 5-0 turned into 10-0 (all by KO) and by the time he was 15-0, “A.J.” was vying for the IBF heavyweight championship of the world. He seized the title via 2nd round stoppage and became a certified crossover British star, simultaneously.
The potential for global appeal became feasible three fights later, when more than 90,000 packed Wembley Stadium to witness Joshua retire Wladimir Klitschko in RING Magazine’s “2017 Fight of the Year”. Very quietly, the WBA Heavyweight strap was added to the collection and very loudly, “A.J.’s” name was imagined in the same breath as Ali and Tyson, regarding those with limitless fistic allure. Sitting at 19 wins, no losses, no draws, 19 knockouts, you almost couldn’t blame referee, Phil Edwards, for preserving Joshua’s perfect record. He prematurely ruled Carlos Takam unfit to continue just as it seemed 12 full rounds were on the menu. Seemingly for the greater good, “A.J.’s” KO streak remained intact, but it ended in March against Joseph Parker. A dispassionate Parker fought to survive, meekly relinquishing his WBO laurels and all that was left for Joshua to claim was the WBC’s version.
This is where the storybook fistic existence of Anthony Joshua encountered turbulence. “A.J.’s” one clear roadblock is the “Bronze Bomber” Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KO’s), knockout artist and bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympics. Wilder’s held a claim to the heavyweight throne longer than Joshua has and made no secret of his desire to unify, up to and including clashing on British soil. After Wilder’s stunning KO of Luis Ortiz (a man Hearn promoted for the sole purpose of preventing a matchup with Joshua), negotiations began. A multitude of lies, fabrications and disingenuous offers commenced but once light was shined upon the proceedings it was clear Team Joshua wasn’t keen on finalizing the deal just yet. Hearn talked a good game, but the transparency of Team Wilder’s side of the coin revealed Matchroom’s motives; DAZN.
All along, Hearn’s plan was to showcase Joshua’s talents on DAZN sooner rather than later. Despite “A.J.” being a mainstay on pay-per-view, the streaming service was a financial coup for his promoter. And knowing Wilder was already affiliated with American networks, Hearn coerced the WBA to enforce a mandatory defense on his fighter in lieu of the pairing we all want; Joshua vs. Wilder. In steps Alexander Povetkin, as dangerous and aggressive as mandatories get. This could all blow up in Hearn’s face, leaving his fighter flat on his. Not only will Povetkin apply relentless pressure, Joshua’s undoubtedly feeling the pendulum shifting out of his favor, dwindling ticket sales, more and more whispers of him ducking Wilder, etc. Compounding this downward slide is the likelihood of Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury, this winter. The biggest, most meaningful heavyweight fight of 2018 won’t even consist of the holder of 3/4th’s of the division’s belts.
We’ll learn a lot about Anthony Joshua on Saturday the 22nd. His back is to the wall, stakes have never been higher and the dearth of positivity is snowballing. He’ll need to make an example of Povetkin to get the court of public opinion back in his favor. And he’ll need his promoter to think more about the sport than his own pockets.