IN CASE you haven’t heard, there is some boxing on this weekend. Anthony Joshua fights Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles at Wembley Stadium tonight and the world will truly be watching.
British boxing has been on the crest of a wave for some time now and Joshua – the gargantuan sponsor magnet with an infectious laugh – has been a vital part of that. Victory tonight would turn him into a global star.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (a big boxing fan, whose brother Sid is an esteemed amateur coach) was instrumental in allowing the capacity at the national stadium to be extended to 90,000, equalling the post-war record for British boxing attendance numbers and, of course, eclipsing the 80,000-strong crowd who watched Carl Froch knock out George Groves in 2014.
The world’s media has descended on London for the fight. Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko and Deontay Wilder are all in town and countless other stars – from the boxing world and beyond – will be a part of the unparalelled electricity created tonight.
Tom Loeffler, of K2 Promotions, has not seen anything like it.
“This is as big as it gets. When you have a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium, breaking Carl Froch’s record [laughs], it doesn’t get much bigger than that,” he told Boxing News.
“Sky’s been promoting this the whole time, RTL in Germany, HBO and Showtime in the States and my understanding is that it’s being shown in over 150 countries worldwide. It’s taken on a life of its own and become an international sporting event.”
That last point is where this fight differs from others that have taken place on British shores. Froch-Groves II was the ultimate grudge match, a vital rematch that gripped the nation. Joshua-Klitschko has seduced the planet.
On paper, Joshua is taking an enourmous step up in class. The 2012 Olympic champion has not fought any world-beaters, but his endearing charm is spliced with a rare appetite for destruction. His superhuman physique completes the whole package. He is already British boxing’s brightest star and America – through a broadcast agreement with Showtime – is rapidly warming to him.
Klitschko is an international phenomenon, a decade-long ruler of the division who has amassed a king’s ransom despite frequently being labelled “boring.” Regardless of what happens tonight he will enter the Hall of Fame upon retirement and will rightfully be considered one of the all time greats.
The towering Ukrainian has an agreement with HBO, meaning – for the third time in history – they and Showtime have had to share the spoils of US broadcast rights. The only time that has happened before is with Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao. Both fights were disappointing in their own ways, mainly because they both happened too late, but there is a sense that Joshua-Klitschko cannot be oversold.
If Joshua wins, he will usher in a new era and heavyweight boxing will continued its resurgence – particularly if Tyson Fury returns. If Klitschko teaches ‘AJ’ a few lessons and prevails, it will be his crowning achievement and we’ll also get a rematch.
The build-up has mostly been a fist-bumping love-in, but this week there were glimpses of menace and venom in the expressions of both men as the cameras flashed and the crowds watched. For once, this is a fight with more substance than hype.
In the UK, all the hallmarks of a big fight are present. Newspaper columnists – most of whom have never stepped foot in a boxing gym – debate whether the sport should be banned. More general sports fans now have an interest in the sweet science. Barbershop owners across London claim to know Joshua in some way (mine insists he is friends with one of Anthony’s best mates) and the BBC is actually talking about the fight on the news. All of this should be embraced.
Around 2,000 staff have been working tirelessly to prepare Wembley for fight night and ticket sales suggest the cavernous arena could have been sold out twice over. Pay-per-view sales in the UK are likely to break the current record. Bookmakers claim over £100million will be wagered worldwide on this fight and some have seen record amounts place on round-by-round betting for a boxing match. Joshua is favourite and the prevailing wisdown is that he will be too young, too strong and too fast for Klitschko – but it is no foregone conclusion.
Boxing is at its most irresistible when there is a story and when there are questions; this fight has both. The story is not an original, but it is compelling all the same: the young upstart taking on the former king. The student taking on the teacher.
The questions are in abundance: is it too soon for Joshua? Is it too late for Klitschko? Can Wladimir stand up to Joshua’s power? Can Joshua get past Klitschko’s jab? Those are just some of our queries and there are plenty more. Tonight, through blood and thunder, we will get our answers.