British heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua ponders coming to the U.S.
Anthony Joshua of Britain celebrates after defeating Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine by technical knockout to retain the heavyweight title. (Nick Potts / Associated Press)
Inside a packed Wembley Stadium on Saturday night, England’s heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua delivered heart-stopping drama for a new generation of sports fans.
Turning in a courageous, powerful performance, Joshua revived what for so long has seemed a bygone time by rising from a sixth-round knockdown to stop former longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko by 11th-round technical knockout.
“You get knocked down anytime, you get up,” the 27-year-old Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) said afterward. “That’s what life’s about.”
Until Saturday, his division’s popularity had been on the canvas for an extended period.
The weight class that generated Louis, Marciano, Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Tyson and Holyfield had gripped the world’s attention with each fight, but interest waned with the calculating dominance of Klitschko and his champion brother, Vitali, over uninspired competition since the late 1990s.
Joshua embraces the challenge of enlivening the legacy built by the American greats.
“Sugar Ray Leonard said without showing that character and the ability to go into the trenches, you’ll never go on to do great things in the sport,” Joshua said. “I never want to be in those kinds of fights,” like Saturday’s, “but if I have to, I don’t want to crumble. I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to win.”
The question now is when he’ll do so in the U.S. And the posturing over that prospect began immediately from Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, who noted the largest post-World War II boxing crowd in England of 90,000 on Saturday and said, “I’m not sure you can do that in the U.S.
“I think China’s more likely than America for the next fight. We’ve had some conversations out there. Huge market, huge money,” Hearn said, adding, “Who’s making it in America?”
When Canelo Alvarez was mentioned, Hearn sniffed, “Yes, but … [Joshua’s] looking at everyone.”
The contention is timed perfectly as Showtime’s U.S. television rights deal with Joshua has just two fights remaining. The network’s executive vice president, Stephen Espinoza, said, “We’re in discussions for extensions beyond that. I’m sure the price just went up in the last couple of hours. And deservedly so.”
Espinoza said he understands “that the Brits and other territories resent that the U.S. is the end-all and be-all. … But there are financial and other rewards in exposing Anthony to this vast population of 300 million people, most of whom have not yet discovered him.
“No matter what success he enjoys in Britain, there’s always the allure of the U.S. and the cultural and financial significance that it so enjoys. Anthony grew up listening to American music, watching American fighters, so there’s that ‘conquer the unconquered’ [thinking] to break into a new frontier that’s uncharted.
“For most of the American audience, this was their introduction to him, and you couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.”
It’s uncertain whether Klitschko, 41, will invoke the rematch clause he has with Joshua after being knocked down three times before being stopped late in the 11th round.
After the bout, Joshua touched hands with guest ringside analyst and unbeaten World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and then called out Tyson Fury, the troubled former champion who vacated his three belts after beating Klitschko by decision in late 2015 because of problems with drugs.
Hearn says he anticipates Joshua fighting again during the September-December window.
Espinoza is building toward a Joshua bout with fellow Showtime fighter Wilder, but the unique trappings are that 2012 Olympic champion Joshua is setting pay-per-view and live-gate records at home while Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs) felt so victimized by the extended heavyweight malaise that he’s fought recently at his hometown arena in Birmingham, Ala.
“We could see an undisputed champion within a couple fights, an interesting style matchup between two likable, charismatic personalities, as well as two tremendous athletes. It’ll be a fight that could set a new high watermark in terms of recent history,” Espinoza said.
Until his U.S. debut, Joshua said he wants Americans “to be excited about the division, the characters in the sport. They know we can fight now. We don’t back down, and now we’re back at the forefront.”