LONDON — It is three days before the biggest fight of his career and heavyweight world titleholder Anthony Joshua could not be in a more carefree and relaxed mood.
Where: Wembley Stadium, London
When: Saturday, April 29
TV: Showtime, 4:15 p.m. ET (live); HBO 11 p.m. ET/PT (tape delay)
Before going out for his open workout for fans and media on Wednesday night, Joshua is sitting in his dressing room and entertaining a pair of American boxing writers who have made the trip to cover his hugely anticipated showdown with former longtime world champion Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday (live on Showtime at 4:15 p.m. ET with HBO airing a taped replay at 11 p.m. ET/PT) at Wembley Stadium, which will rock with a sold-out British-record boxing crowd of 90,000.
They will come to see if Joshua, the young lion and already a national star, can defeat the respected 41-year-old former champion/future Hall of Famer as he defends his title for the third time and also vies for a vacant belt. The fight is being hailed as the biggest in British boxing history and it is a big deal in the United Kingdom. A really big deal.
“I win. It’s not complicated. Let’s not over think it. This isn’t rocket science. This is just a fight. Let’s strip it right back to what it is — a young lion, ferocious, hungry, very determined. I left no stone unturned in training camp. We do talk about experience, but even when I was fighting guys with lesser experience I was preparing for this.”
There was a one-hour preview show on national network television the other night and it has been covered in excruciating detail for weeks in the many national newspapers. Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn anticipates it will do the kind of mega pay-per-view numbers on Sky Box Office in the U.K. that have previously been the domain of the biggest fights of British heroes Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton.
Joshua, however, doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. He is talking freely with the American duo and when he shoots out a playful jab it comes a bit too close to one reporter’s chin, and everyone let’s out a hearty laugh.
Joshua knows he has a chance to lose. He said so. Klitschko is by far and away the best opponent of his career and it’s not even remotely close.
Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) didn’t begin boxing until he was 18 and has had as many pro fights as Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs), of Ukraine, had title defenses during his title second reign before losing a decision to England’s Tyson Fury in a major upset in his last fight 17 months ago.
In fact, Klitschko, between his amateur career — which he capped with the 1996 super heavyweight Olympic gold medal — and his pro career, has been boxing for 27 years. Joshua is 27 years old.
Many look at the fight and believe it has come too soon for Joshua, but this is what he says he has wanted since he first laced up gloves and dreamed about becoming heavyweight champion.
“There’s only failure in not trying. I’m looking forward to (the fight). This is my job and it’s a fight,” said Joshua, who was invited by Klitschko to one of his training camp a few years ago and sparred around 25 rounds with him. “If this is what it takes for me to progress in my career and I’m going to head in the right direction to get my billboards up let’s keep it going. I never shy away from any opponent.
“I could have stayed British champion and defended the belt, took the European (title) route and maybe waited until Wladimir was gone. My opportunity came up to fight him and I said, ‘Let’s go.”
England’s Joshua, the 2012 London Olympics super heavyweight gold medalist, sure does not come across as though he feels an ounce of pressure going into a fight that will define his career for years to come.
“Definitely not,” he said. “I knew the significance of this fight before I took it. So I would never put that pressure upon myself if I didn’t want to deal with this pressure. I would have taken another route. But I want to fight guys in the division who are good. I don’t want to wait like eight years, nine years before I start making a move on the heavyweight division – let’s get it on now.
“So if this is what comes with stepping up a level I’m all for it.”
It is an attitude that Hearn loves. He too knows there is danger in this fight but Hearn also knows what a Joshua victory can do for his career and how it can lift the already the red-hot British boxing scene that Hearn has been so integral in helping build.
“This is the perfect time for the fight because of the risk. It’s a gamble. If it wasn’t a risk, if it wasn’t a gamble do you think we’d break pay-per-view records? Do you think we’d have 90,000 in Wembley. No. To make a great fight the timing has to be perfect and there has to be risks on both sides.”
Eddie Hearn, Anthony Joshua’s promoter
“He doesn’t see beating Wladimir Klitschko as even anywhere near where he wants to go,” Hearn said. “I think that’s very encouraging. He shows you his confidence, he shows you his expectations in regards to what he’s capable of. If he was looking at this fight now as, ‘Ohhh, if I win this…’ No, he expects to win this fight.”
Hearn understands that making a fight like this for Joshua at this stage of his career — he’s not even in his prime yet — is unusual.
“It’s definitely too soon,” he said. “In the standard promotional procedure we wouldn’t take a risk like this with a product like Anthony Joshua at this stage because he can fill out any arena in the U.K.,” Hearn said. “He can deliver unbelievable pay-per-view numbers for any opponent. So why fight Wladimir Klitschko? Because he wants to be great. He believes he can beat him and we want to gamble.
“We want to give the fans what they want legitimately. We’re in an age now where you can’t hide as a promoter and as a fighter. It’s not like we’ll just have another four or five easy fights. People get bored, the product starts diminishing, the profile starts devaluing.
“This is the perfect time for the fight because of the risk. It’s a gamble. If it wasn’t a risk, if it wasn’t a gamble do you think we’d break pay-per-view records? Do you think we’d have 90,000 in Wembley. No. To make a great fight the timing has to be perfect and there has to be risks on both sides. It’s boring otherwise, isn’t it? Anthony Joshua can lose and that’s exciting. We know this is a massive gamble.”
Joshua said he took the fight so early in his career not only to test himself, but for the sake of the division and for boxing as a whole.
“I felt the division needed it. I’m not doing it just for myself. I’m always about the industry,” Joshua said. “A lot of my friends from the amateur system have a chance to express their skill on the undercard, and it’s a massive platform. I think, as I said, the division needed it. Wladimir Klitschko, (titleholder) Deontay Wilder, let’s keep it going. Let’s start mixing it up because we’re in the same division, and it’s our era.
“What type of era are we if we don’t come together and have some trilogies and bring some excitement? So I’m all for it and that’s why I really wanted to take the fight.”
Joshua tries not get caught up in all the hoopla. He boils it down to the basics and tries not to think of the enormity of the moment and the gargantuan hype that has enveloped the event.
“Even though this is such a great event, I always try to strip it down to what it really is and just focus that it’s just me and this man coming to blows and the best man will win,” Joshua said. “I’m not only prepared physically but mentally as well for any battle. (Saturday) is just another stepping stone towards greatness.” As for his prediction on the fight, it’s simple.
“I win, it’s not complicated,” he said. “Let’s not over think it. This isn’t rocket science. This is just a fight. Let’s strip it right back to what it is — a young lion, ferocious, hungry, very determined. I left no stone unturned in training camp. We do talk about experience, but even when I was fighting guys with lesser experience I was preparing for this.
“I’ve prepared since Day 1 for this.”
By “this,” Joshua, relaxed as ever, is talking about the biggest moment of his career.