THE prospect of Anthony Joshua fighting in Nigeria greatly appeals to the head of Showtime Sports, the heavyweight champion’s US broadcaster.
Showtime screened Joshua’s latest defence of his IBF and WBA heavyweight titles, when he halted Carlos Takam at the Principality stadium in Cardiff, and broadcast his epic scrap with Wladimir Klitschko live in the USA.
Stephen Espinoza, the general manager of Showtime Sports, told Boxing News how he wants to see Anthony Joshua going global and particularly fighting in Africa, just like the world’s greatest heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali did. “You want to hesitate before you start comparing Anthony Joshua to Ali, but it’s undeniable that he has a very special appeal. The way he speaks, his ability to connect personally, his humility. I think there are a myriad of ways that he invokes that spectre. Personally, as a television programmer, when he mentions a possible fight in Nigeria, in Africa, I think it’s fascinating and I’m salivating at the thought. It will put him on another plane. It’s one with a personal significance to him, it’s not just a commercial decision. Even in the context of what’s going on in the world politically, in terms of race and immigration, creating a fight in Nigeria not only makes sense for his career, but you begin to invoke the spectre of Ali. There hasn’t been a big heavyweight fight in Africa for 40 years but it’s not just a case of ‘Follow in the footsteps of Ali, and I’ll become Ali’ there’s actually some personal meaning there,” Espinoza said.
The Showtime Sports boss continued, “He’s doing the right thing by going on something of a barnstorming tour and creating events with the opponents that are available. Getting out of London and going to other areas, and other global areas, is a wise choice.”
He sees fighting even Carlos Takam as part of that. “Anything [after Klitschko] would have been a letdown. It’s not just the scale of the Klitschko fight, it was the way it played out. It was so cinematic, so thrilling. There’s very little you can do to match that. It’s always going to be a challenge to keep raising the bar for the public. It’s difficult to keep delivering that novelty, that spectacle,” Espinoza said.
The champion’s profile continues to grow internationally and time is on his side when it comes to boxing in America. “Anthony Joshua is getting bigger in the US. The audience is parochial in that they want to feel and touch, and they do expect a local experience, but Anthony is young and we haven’t seen a sports figure like him in quite some time. By that I mean one that has the level of popularity in the UK – and even worldwide – without ever having touched the US in any meaningful way. Certainly within the sport of boxing there is no parallels,” Espinoza said. “Ricky Hatton was certainly popular before he went to the US, but not at this level.
“There’s plenty of time for Joshua to go to the US and it will come in time and it is a necessary step to go there. It’s true that you’re not a true boxing superstar until you’ve headlined in Las Vegas, and that is something that I know he will cross off his list fairly soon.
“The good thing is he’s so young, and so accomplished, that there is still plenty of time left to get to these big mega events, whether they be in Africa, or in Vegas, or otherwise.”