Anthony Joshua, who has joined Andy Murray as one of Britain’s most globally recognisable sporting celebrities, admits his next big fight is “keeping it real” as the power-brokers, hangers-on and grassroots fans jostle for a piece of the most bankable asset in boxing.
“I can’t go to certain places,” the quietly spoken world heavyweight champion said in the incongruous surroundings of a rented St John’s Wood mansion he used as London a base while preparing for his epic contest against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Arena, where victory in front of 90,000 fans on Saturday night established him as the world’s unchallenged boxing star.
“Everyone I smile at isn’t going to smile back at me,” said Joshua said in a rare quiet interlude before he retreats to the embrace of his close-knit family. “I’ve got to stay away from any problems, any trouble. You are who you are. A leopard don’t change its spots. I am what I am. I’m keeping it real.”
Looking ahead to what he hopes will be a decade at the summit of the division to emulate Klitschko’s 11-year reign, he said: “It’s good to achieve it now but what would be better for me is to maintain it. That’s what I said to Klitschko: for me this was not a defining fight. It’s just part of my journey.”
Joshua, who says he is a “not bad” tennis player, is already an unbackable 11-1 on favourite to displace Murray as the BBC’s sports personality of the year, paid tribute to the Scot’s longevity and hard work.
“He is a really good guy, dedicated. We talked boxing [at the Rio Olympics]. I think he would have enjoyed that fight, where ever he is in the world. He’s done it for a long time so he definitely does deserve the credit he receives. I think that speaks volumes. It’s not just, like, arriving. And it’s not just so much what you do inside, it’s how you conduct [yourself] outside, because that determines whether you go back on the same level or not.”
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has been hitting the phones since Saturday night to make sense of a complicated landscape. The odds are Joshua will not fight again until October, possibly in Madison Square Garden against a lesser challenger, or at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff against the WBC champion, Deontay Wilder – or even the still-suspended former champion, Tyson Fury, who is Joshua’s preferred option and who claimed on Monday: “I can beat AJ with one arm tied behind my back. I don’t even need a warm-up.”
It could be a rematch against Klitschko – although Joshua thinks the Ukrainian’s elder brother, Vitali, and his partner, the American actress Hayden Panettiere, will counsel against his continuing in the sport at 41 after taking a heavy beating in the 11th and final round.
Hearn, clarified the remaining options (none of which will be nailed down for at least a month): “[Joseph] Parker [who defends his WBO title against the obscure Razvan Cojanu in New Zealand on 6 May] is an interesting pawn in this because he’s looking for that big fight. Parker might fight Wilder and he may fight [David Haye’s recent conqueror, Tony] Bellew. Bellew’s not a future opponent for Josh.”