Anthony Joshua’s incredible world heavyweight title success over Wladimir Klitscho at Wembley on Saturday has already broken a host of records and got almost everybody talking.
Mission accomplished for a young champ looking to reach the next level, an old veteran looking to redeem his reputation and a division hoping that the next 10 years will be much more watchable than the 10 before it.
So, where do we go from here?
The future both inside and outside the ring for the heavyweights should be interesting, and if we start with the straight-up boxing path, it appears all roads lead to an eventual unified division – if politics allow.
First and foremost, Joshua is now the WBA and IBF champion, as well as a couple of titles held in less regard than the ‘main five’ (WBA, WBO, WBC, IBF, The Ring). The WBC belt is held by Deontay Wilder. WBO is with Joseph Parker. The Ring still recognise former undisputed heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, and have agreed to continue to do so if Fury returns to the ring within 30 days of AJ-Wlad (that clock is of course now on).
AJ and promoter Eddie Hearn have both expressed a desire to unify every belt, giving us some leads as to which fights Matchroom will pursue in the short-to-medium term. However, obstacle number one is a rematch clause Wladimir had written into the April 29 contract (an impressive feat, considering he was the challenger going in). He will have every reason to believe he can get Joshua the second time based off the Wembley drama, and may well trigger the clause after he takes some time to weigh everything up.
If AJ and Wlad fight again, that gives Wilder and Parker time for a unification bout of their own. Parker’s defence vs Hughie Fury is off, and the battle of the unbeaten American and New Zealander could be arranged sooner rather than later. The winner, of course, would be on a collision course with whoever wins AJ-Wlad 2 (or simply Joshua, if Klitschko decides it’s time to walk away).
If Joshua performs like he did on Saturday, there’s a strong chance he could be the only heavyweight champion of the world by this time next year. It’d be music to the ears of old school fans, who never liked the concept of multiple titlists in the first place.
Of course, if AJ got this far and realised he and Hearn’s ultimate goal he would have to make mandatory defences along the way. And then, perhaps in late 2018, we could get the ultimate end-game: a bitter and jaded Tyson Fury, hopefully back to good physical and mental health, chasing the belts he never lost in the ring against the man who got the hero’s reception he feels he never did.
Joshua-Fury is the fight that could replicate the commercial success and mainstream buzz of the Klitschko clash. It’d have the marquee heavyweight value of Saturday’s bout, with a little touch of the Froch-Groves 2 animosity – especially if Tyson taps into that simmering angst over the fact his win over Wlad didn’t make him a national hero, but so easily did for AJ.
It hinges on Joshua remaining on his dominant course, and on Fury being able to stay clean this time. If that happens, we could have yet another Wembley blockbuster in a year or two.
As for who would win – the smart money will be on Joshua, but it’s worth remembering that while Fury’s win over Klitschko was tough to watch, that was all by design from Team Fury. They exposed Wlad’s age and made him look weak without his usual defensive strategy. Joshua went on his own strengths – his deadly power punches – but almost fell on his sword when Wlad threw some of his own with nothing to lose.
Fury would aim to school Joshua in boxing academics such as footwork, ring generalship and dodging key punches. He’d need to do it for 12 whole rounds but he’s done it before. However, if glorified cruiserweight Steve Cunningham can knock down Fury, it’s safe to assume one successful onslaught from Joshua like we saw in rounds five and 11 at Wembley would finish ‘The Gipsy King’ off.
Whatever happens, here’s the biggest positive to remember: for the first time in ages, there’s actual enthusiasm about debating what will unfold in the heavyweight division. When was the last time that was the case?