Boxing fans will remember the day that Anthony Joshua became Heavyweight champion with precise clarity. The backdrop was a raucously crowded Wembley Stadium. The combatants were the Ukrainian monarch who presided over the division for a decade, and the young British lion hungry for the throne.
It was a night that thrust the division, and indeed the sport back into the limelight. The last significant action in boxing’s blue-ribbon division was way back in 2002. It was a strikingly similar scenario but with the roles reversed. Vitali Klitschko was the new challenger who was looking to dethrone British boxing royalty in Lennox Lewis. It was a fight that saw Vitali reign over the division relatively unchallenged for years. With Joshua ending Wladimir’s rule, it felt like the stage was set for the hulking Brit to do the same.
After winning all the praise and plaudits that night, however, the feverish hype around Joshua has somewhat subsided. Across the pond, an awkward, unattractive, yet undeniably freakish power puncher named Deontay Wilder beckoned. The two circled their wagons and came close to a deal, but in an all-too-familiar scene for fans, fell through. A challenge closer to home also rose from the ashes. The lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury made an eye-catching return to catapult himself into the elite circle once more, yet has failed to get the attention of Joshua for a bout. Constantly lurking in the shadows, yet perennially ignored is the bogeyman of the division, Luis Ortiz.
Joshua’s popularity now seems to have waned considerably, which is difficult to comprehend given the success of the Klitschko fight a few years ago and an unblemished professional record.
Fury has swung many moderates in his favour by speaking so openly about mental illness. That and an incredibly likeable joker attitude. Wilder is never a fan favourite, but has long sought validation through fighting the best and it resonates on a certain level with the masses. More or less, these two men now occupy some real estate under the bright lights that was otherwise poised to solely belong to Joshua.
Many fans still have the sour aftertaste left by the Pacquiao/Mayweather era, where making the classic fight ran secondary to making the big bucks. Public perception is that now, there are genuine challenges for Joshua and he must take them. Until he does, the grey cloud over his head will only grow larger. As much as he has fought more top 10 opponents, he still hasn’t fought the top 3. They are the ones that matter in all of this.
Joshua takes on Jarrell Miller in his US debut later this year. He should dust Miller with some comfort, but the brash American has already managed to reveal a side to Joshua that we have seldom seen. He was disgruntled with Miller’s talk, and sat there stewing and cursing across the table as if he was a man starting to feel the public pressure. It was almost as if he has something to prove again.
He does. And should he stroll past Miller like we are all expecting, next in line must be at minimum Ortiz, but preferably Wilder or Fury. Only then will he become the true unified champion.
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