CARDIFF — It was not as easy for Anthony Joshua as many thought it would be as he disposed of the resilient Carlos Takam in a 10th round TKO in Cardiff.
With the WBA and IBF champion looking to unify the heavyweight division in 2018, what can we take away from Saturday night’s card?
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn excitedly announced in the ring afterwards that he wanted the IBF-WBA world heavyweight champion to fight Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker and Tyson Fury in 2018.
Hearn also said, perhaps trying to appeal to the crowd after he had just been booed when the interview began: “I don’t think we should go abroad, I think we should stay right here [in the U.K.].”
Later, at the post-fight press conference, Hearn had a different stance and said he wanted the English boxer to have at least one international fight next year.
“It’s about sitting down and seeing what he wants to do,” said Hearn. “He’s capable of fighting in any territory, we need a clear plan moving forward.”
Asked where AJ could make the most money, in the U.K. or the U.S., Hearn said at the post-fight press conference: “At the moment, here, but if you get it right, America. It’s also about growing the brand internationally. So far every decision he has made has been correct.”
Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs), who confirmed his nose was not broken at the post-fight press conference, seems genuinely determined to continue fighting in the U.K. as part of his desire to stay connected to the general public and to feed back to grassroots amateur boxing which, as a 2012 Olympic gold medallist, he feels passionate about.
But while the 28-year-old may not be driven by the need to go overseas to earn more money — the Takam fight was worth £15m to him — he may have to fight in the States if he wants the unification fight against WBC titleholder Wilder, from Alabama.
“It has to happen for sure,” said Joshua about fighting Wilder.
After beating Wladimir Klitschko in April, Joshua knew his next fight had to be a mandatory defence of his IBF belt against Kubrat Pulev, who pulled out injured two weeks ago and was replaced by Takam.
And after Joshua beat Eric Molina in December last year, Klitschko walked into the ring and their fight was announced.
There is no such clear path ahead this time, but the priority is to keep the governing bodies happy before a world title unification fight can be made.
“Providing I’m free,” said Joshua about fighting WBC titleholder Wilder or New Zealand’s Parker, the WBO champion.
Parker (24-0, 18 KOs) has yet to announce his future plans after an unimpressive points win over England’s Hughie Fury in Manchester last month, which did nothing to whet the appetite for a fight with AJ.
But Joshua wants the belts and a fight with Parker could be made for the U.K. in early 2018.
Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) defends his WBC title against Haiti’s Bermane Stiverne on Nov. 4 and Wilder remains AJ’s No 1 target.
A fight against Tyson Fury, who beat Wladimir Klitschko for three versions of the title in Nov. 2015, is unrealistic since he has not fought for two years and is awaiting the outcome of an investigation into a positive drugs test.
Having made a mandatory defence of his IBF belt, Joshua will have to wait and see who the WBA order him to face next after Cuba’s Luis Ortiz failed a drugs test.
Next in the WBA rankings after Ortiz are Russia’s Alexander Ustinov (34-1, 25 KOs) [who fights Germany’s Manuel Charr (30-4, 17 KOs) on Nov. 25] followed by Puerto Rico-born U.S.-based Fres Oquendo.
If Joshua has to fight the winner of Ustinov-Charr, it could happen in the UK in early 2017, even back at the O2 Arena on Feb. 3.
The Principality Stadium in Cardiff is unavailable early next year due to it staging rugby union’s Six Nations competition and if Joshua is free to make a voluntary defence next, making a U.S. debut might be considered his best next move.
That could be against Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller (19-0-1, 17 KOs). The 29-year-old who faces Poland’s Mariusz Wach on Nov. 11 on a show co-promoted by Hearn.
Joshua against Miller could be easy to arrange for a U.S. venue early in 2018.
But don’t expected Joshua-Wilder yet — that fight is further down the road, likely for Las Vegas or Wembley Stadium in London, for next summer at the earliest. If promoters and broadcasters want it outside side of the summer, a U.S. venue seems more likely.
Hearn also wants London-based Dillian Whyte to fight Wilder in London on Feb. 3.
In April, 90,000 saw Joshua fight at Wembley Stadium to equal the British record for a boxing event and in Cardiff an estimated crowd of 78,000, if confirmed, will beat the 63,315 global record for an indoor boxing event set when Muhammad Ali fought Leon Spinks at the New Orleans Superdome in 1978.
It was an astonishing crowd for an English boxer in Wales. Ten years ago, 50,000 turned up to see Joe Calzaghe — perhaps Britain’s best boxer since the Second World War and Wales’ best boxer since the days of Jimmy Wilde and Freddie Welsh — fight Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler in a world super-middleweight title unification fight.
Despite the lack of profile of his opponent, and without the usual spectacular finish, Joshua was still the No. 1 sports story in the UK the day after he had disposed of Takam.
While venues like Wembley Stadium or soccer stadiums can generate big revenue from large gates between May and July, only the Principality Stadium — which has a roof — can house large attendances in the colder months in Britain.
The challenge now is to make Joshua as popular in overseas markets.
Takam was brave, fighting on from the fourth round with a badly cut eye that impaired his vision. But that did not stop him bouncing forward and throwing shots at a careless Joshua in the seventh round.
Takam, 36, complained about the stoppage but he had become a static target for Joshua and referee Phil Edwards’ decision seemed sensible.
The France-based Cameroonian asked for a rematch, which seems unlikely, but Takam will get more opportunities after giving such a good account of himself at just 12 days’ notice.