Boxing is in need of some new superstars, and Mookie Alexander believes that England’s Anthony Joshua is on course to be one of them.
The state of boxing’s pay-per-view market is rather bleak. There is of course the possibility of Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, which is laughably non-competitive from a sporting perspective, but it’d no doubt perform spectacularly at the box office. Apart from that, however, there’s a steep drop-off.
Manny Pacquiao’s HBO contract was dropped, so Bob Arum has placed him on a world tour against lesser names. I can’t imagine too many fans caring about him fighting Jeff Horn in July. Canelo Alvarez has enough star power that his PPVs won’t perform below 300,000, and his May 6th bout against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. should pull in strong numbers. The obvious marquee matchup for him is against Gennady Golovkin, whose two PPVs as an A-side attraction have pulled in less than 400,000 combined buys. Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev I was a legitimately high-level booking between two pound-for-pound elites, and it failed to break 200,000 buys.
Could it be? Have all of the “boxing is dead” predictions finally come true, leaving MMA as the victor in their fictitious war? The answer, of course, is a resounding no. That said, boxing is in need of some new superstars to replace the outgoing Mayweather and Pacquiao. Canelo is a given, but who else can step up to the plate?
Enter Anthony Joshua.
The Brit won gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London (however dubious that medal may be) and holds a perfect 18-0 record, with all of his victories coming by way of knockout. It only took him three years as a professional to capture a major heavyweight title, quickly disposing of Charles Martin to win the IBF strap last February. The caveat here is that … well … Martin won the IBF title vacated by Tyson Fury, and did so only because his opponent Vyacheslav Glazkov suffered a grotesque mid-fight knee injury, so Joshua’s path to dethroning a champion wasn’t exactly a difficult road. His fans certainly don’t seem to care.
Nevertheless, Joshua is a day away from a title defense against Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs), in what has been billed as the most financially lucrative boxing match to ever take place on British soil. A crowd in excess of 90,000 is expected to pack London’s Wembley Stadium, shattering the previous record set by Carl Froch’s 2014 KO of George Groves. It is distinctly possible that Joshua vs. Klitschko could break the UK record for most pay-per-view buys, which stands at 1.2 million buys for Floyd Mayweather’s KO of Ricky Hatton.
Joshua is already a huge star and pay-per-view draw in his home country. His last four fights have ranged from a reported 300,000 buys for his title defense against Dominic Breazeale to 600,000 when he beat Charles Martin. Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has done a marvelous job of building up his career and turning him into a domestic sensation, but now he has his sights set on the American market.
Last May, Showtime inked Joshua to an exclusive U.S television deal, and truth be told, that’s the main reason why American rights to Joshua-Klitschko took so long to be sorted out between Showtime and HBO. Joshua recently said that he wanted to fight in the United States in 2017, echoing the plans that Hearn had for him a year ago. As MMA and boxing fans should know extremely well, UK and Irish fans travel in droves to see their favorite stars, and a Joshua-headlined event in Las Vegas or New York would be no different.
The Klitschko fight represents far and away the biggest test of Joshua’s career. Wlad sat atop the heavyweight division for nearly a decade — not coincidentally, the Eastern European stranglehold set off a sharp decline in American interest in the division — and presents a skillset that Joshua hasn’t dealt with before. There’s not been this level of intrigue for a heavyweight boxing title fight since Lennox Lewis’ bouts against Mike Tyson in 2002 and Vitali Klitschko 2003. A win for Joshua, and more importantly a knockout, would signal a changing of the guard and elevate Joshua’s profile to an even higher status.
As evidenced by his fight week interviews with the media, Joshua is aware of the vital characteristics that bode well for him making it big across the pond.
“I need to get my buns out there and fight, for sure,” Joshua said (via LA Times). “It’s the mecca of boxing. If we can cross over into the States [and] keep the fan base in the U.K., that’s mega-stuff, that’s global boxing.
“I’m a young guy, a heavyweight with a name that’s easy to pronounce, can speak English well. I can relate to the U.S. market. All I have to do now is come out there and fight and show them what my trade is so they’ll appreciate it and then we can set up fights that will have the same amount of attention in the U.S. as the U.K. That would be phenomenal.”
That line about “can speak English well” is an important one; nearly every major boxing or MMA pay-per-view draw in the United States has come from an English-speaking nation. The exceptions would be Manny Pacquiao (whose English is far better than it was when he first became prominent in the US) and Mexican or Puerto Rican superstars such as Canelo Alvarez or Miguel Cotto.
To add to Joshua’s comments, his sturdy physique is more aesthetically pleasing and marketable than someone like Tyson Fury. He delivers glorious violence to a blood-thirsty audience while possessing legitimate, technically sharp boxing skills and isn’t one to look like a flailing lunatic, such is one of the worst habits of Deontay Wilder. Without ever stepping foot on American soil he’s amassed sponsorship deals with thirteen companies, including Beats by Dre and Under Armour. He has aspirations of becoming boxing’s first billionaire, and by the time the Klitschko fight is over, he’ll have amassed somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million in career earnings. Sound familiar?
There is, of course, a very realistic chance that he loses to Klitschko. It wouldn’t be a career killer, but it would perhaps validate those who believed he was being rushed too quickly to the top without facing a seriously credible challenge. That’s part of the risk-reward factor in making such a massive leap in caliber of opponent. It’s also what makes Joshua so captivating. Saturday night promises to be a fascinating spectacle, and it could end with Joshua firmly establishing himself as boxing’s next global megastar in a weight class that’s in desperate need of revitalizing.