Joshua adamant Deontay Wilder should be his next opponent
British fighter retains his belts by stopping a determined Alexander Povetkin in the seventh
Alexander Povetkin is knocked down by Anthony Joshua in the seventh round of their world heavyweight title fight at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Getty Images
Anthony Joshua is quietly adamant Deontay Wilder should be his 23rd opponent, at Wembley Stadium on April 13th, a date when sanity would have at least a chance to intrude briefly on the fight game with the crowning of a heavyweight regarded as the undisputed world champion.
The slender odds are that the IBF, WBA and WBO title-holder – who has an iron grip on the direction of his career – will get what he wants, mainly because Wilder, who holds the WBC belt, wants it too. However, trusting professional boxing to move along logical lines is the sporting equivalent of predicting what happens to Brexit.
After the storm on Saturday night at Wembley – where Joshua retained his belts by repelling a determined challenge from Alexander Povetkin before stopping the Russian emphatically in the seventh round – came the inevitable clamour. All the big hitters are jostling for a piece of the champion, the most lucrative cash cow in the history of boxing. Only Tyson Fury is seriously contemplating unseating the dangerous Wilder, and he will know how realistic a dream that is when they meet in the US on December 1st.
As Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, observed: “We’re only scratching the surface of how big Joshua-Wilder can be.”
Whoever it is against, he wants Joshua’s next defence at Wembley and then will consider an American debut in the autumn. But Wembley is the banker.
Not even Muhammad Ali attracted more than 300,000 fans to watch him in four consecutive fights. Jack Dempsey, in the pre-television era, drew 91,613 fans to Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City in 1921 to watch him fight the French war hero George Carpentier, and 120,155 to Philadelphia for his rematch with Gene Tunney five years later.
This, though, is the era of pay-per-view, a phenomenon that has delivered Joshua an estimated £80 million in 22 unbeaten fights in the six years since he walked away from the London Olympics with a gold medal. Boxing careers do not glitter more brightly. Hearn is convinced the well is deep and the possibilities endless. “Even you and Joshua could draw 90,000 to Wembley,” he said, jokingly.
Hearn – alongside his father, Barry – will do all they can to accommodate the fighter’s wishes in their negotiations with Shelly Finkel, who drives deals for Wilder. He has made the mix even more intriguing by offering Fury a shot at his WBC title in either the 7,000-seat Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas, or the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which holds 21,000. (That no venue has been fixed is slightly worrying.)
Wembley holds 90,000. Those digits alone describe the gulf in negotiating clout between the interested parties. Lurking with a menacing grin off-stage is the enigmatic Fury, who wants to reconquer the world he ruled as linear champion after outpointing Wladimir Klitschko nearly three years ago. And he confused everyone when he declared on social media: “Avoid me at all costs. If I were you, Joshua, I’d avoid me.” That is exactly what his promoter, Frank Warren, does not want Joshua to do.
Warren engaged in a fascinating radio exchange with Barry Hearn on Sunday morning when he demanded a 50-50 split for Fury to challenge Joshua. That is an optimistic gambit, one that his old rival flatly rejected.
Nobody in the complex history of heavyweight boxing has held four world title belts at the same time, which is as preposterous a statement as exists in sport. Yet it is the reality that spins off the tiresome political manoeuvrings of the competing and serially discredited organisations.
Nevertheless, if Joshua or Wilder were to rule without dispute, boxing would at least be able to claim temporary harmony in its showcase division. It would not last because anarchy underpins everything in the business. If, somehow, either of them was able to change that dispiriting scenario, he would deserve the universal gratitude of millions of long-suffering fans.
While the rain cut the crowd to an estimated 75,000 on Saturday night, Joshua’s reception was deafening, before and afterwards – with a lull in the early rounds as his estimable Russian challenger pummelled him with sharp hooks, left and right. But when the champion began to move more adroitly and switched his attack from head to body the mood shifted.
There had been little in the contest coming towards the middle stages, even though the three judges had Joshua ahead at the halfway stage, one of them a purblind 5-1 up in rounds. The Guardian saw it pretty much even, but there was no arguing with the finish.
Joshua hurt Povetkin inside, and as his 39-year-old challenger retreated he caught him with a leg-stiffening left hook and felled him with a peach of a right hand. Povetkin – who got up four times to survive 12 rounds against Klitschko five years ago in the only previous loss of his career – rose, only to be dumped in similar fashion, and the job was done, a sixth challenger despatched.