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30th Apr 2017

Boxing the winner as new life is breathed into a gasping heavyweight division

Anthony Joshua is here to stay

Darragh Murphy

It lives!

The eyes of boxing’s heavyweight division have shot open and the man responsible for providing the kiss of life is a fighter with the knockout power of a Rocky Marciano, the hulking physique of a Mike Tyson and the likeability of a Joe Louis.

Anthony Joshua is the real deal.

With an almost obstinate refusal to accept defeat, Joshua left nothing up to chance as he summoned an improbable late burst to rob opponent Wladimir Klitschko of his senses in front of 90,000 at Wembley.

With the result on a knife edge and Joshua exhausted, the 27-year-old declined the opportunity to hear the judges’ scorecards read aloud for the first time in his career as he persuaded referee David Fields to put an end to the thudding misery that was visiting Klitschko’s skull repeatedly in the eleventh round.

We’ve seen knockout streaks similar to and better than the 19 possessed by ‘AJ’. And we’ve seen more mind-boggling displays of heart than Joshua’s too. But every now and then, a fighter comes along who is simply special.

Joshua is special.

Not since Lennox Lewis turned Olympic super-heavyweight gold into an intoxicating professional career have we seen a big man so capable of taking boxing by storm.

But it’s not just the pinnacle of his own division that ‘AJ’ is targeting. No! He’s going straight to the top of the industry.

“I can do more things than Floyd Mayweather,” Joshua insisted in the days leading up to his Wembley showcase.

And if Mayweather is the benchmark against which Joshua is setting his career goals, he’s well on his way to surpassing the 49-0 great.

For his 19th fight, Mayweather took on Angel Manfredy in front of roughly 3,000 people at the Miccosukee Hotel Casino Resort in Miami, Florida.

90,000 packed out Wembley Stadium to witness Joshua’s move to 19-0 this weekend.

The fact that Joshua is a heavyweight also puts him in a terrific position to overtake Mayweather as the most intriguing superstar of the modern boxing era because, traditionally, it’s the big boys who stir the mainstream public’s interest.

It’s at heavyweight where one glancing blow can end it all and it’s that sort of high-stakes drama that saw ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson dominate the pay-per-view market for so many years between the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The momentum and excitement fostered by the likes of Tyson, Lewis, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman was soon halted by a new generation of heavyweights who employed a much more conservative style.

Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko would, for the most part, get the job done but neither endeared themselves to the public at large.

Sure hardcore fight fans splashed out to watch a Klitschko pay-per-view but that was never going to be as lucrative a revenue stream for the Ukrainian siblings as it was for the charismatic risk-takers who came before them and put on shows.

Joshua is a born showman and entertainment value plays just as much a part in his mindset as the ultimate goal of getting his hand raised.

I dare not utter the name of the greatest of all time in the discussion of a fighter whose career remains in its infancy but I would be lying if I said that something about Joshua’s charm didn’t remind me of a young Cassius Clay.

Critics will continue to say that he’s too nice and that his proclivity for showing the utmost respect for opponents in the build-up to fights will inevitably cost Joshua in the pay-per-view department, which could ultimately damage his legacy.

But the most fundamental element of combat sports is the same basis that sees superhero movies continue to shatter box office records – the masses want to watch good triumph over bad.

And while Joshua has most definitely embraced the babyface role in his career, there are no shortage of potential opponents standing in front of him capable of playing the heel.

Tyson Fury, Joshua’s most likely next adversary, would do most of the heavy lifting during media obligations opposite ‘AJ’ while the likes of Deontay Wilder and Tony Bellew have no problems selling fights themselves.

Maybe too much of a spotlight has been shone recently on the need for the powerful to confirm their status by discussing it ad nauseam. In this modern world in which the loudmouthed Donald Trump is the most powerful man walking the planet and the boastful Conor McGregor is the biggest draw in combat sports, peacocking was thought to be key.

But Joshua proved that, while it might be helpful, it’s by no means the sine qua non of a successful prizefight.

Essentially, when it comes to heavyweights, fight fans are going to pay to see you if you’ve got some bit of personality and you keep knocking people out.

And Joshua is showing no signs of stopping to enjoy his handiwork as it continues to be onwards and upwards for boxing’s great hope.

Saturday night had the tangible feel of the torch being handed over as a valiant effort from the old lion was not enough to outlast the steely determination of a maturing cub who is arguably better placed to keep the flame blazing brightly than Klitschko ever was.

But one fight doesn’t make one a boxing great and Joshua must look to the future now, where Tyson Fury awaits the chance to prove that it is he, not ‘AJ’, who is the figure capable of spearheading the new heavyweight boom.

One thing’s for sure after this weekend, the heavyweight division is in safe hands for years to come and those hands are packed with delightful dynamite.