What’s next for Anthony Joshua?
There you have it. Question answered. Case closed.
Or perhaps not.
It’s the obvious answer to a complicated question, but, in an ideal world, Joshua, the WBA and IBF and now WBO world heavyweight champion would, in his very next fight, meet the man who holds the final piece of the heavyweight title puzzle (the WBC title). He’d fight Deontay Wilder.
Yet, just as the notion that a heavyweight champion must hold not one, not two, not three but four heavyweight belts is a ridiculous one, so is the idea that Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder, he of the green and gold strap, is somehow going to organically – and, at this point, magically – come to fruition in the next few months.
No. This is boxing. Things are rarely ever straightforward, much less correct, and where there is money involved, there are myriad options, and more than one way to slip and slide and delay the inevitable just long enough for it to hit maximum earning potential.
It’s a risky game, of course, one that backfires the moment either of the two champions involved suffer a defeat – this is heavyweight boxing, after all – but, get it right, have your public screaming for it, begging for it, down on their knees for it, and you stand to get filthy rich.
That’s the plan. It’s also the problem.
I’ll start with this option because it’s the most logical and sensible one. Also, the reasons for it happening are blindingly obvious: Joshua has three belts, Wilder has one; Joshua is the biggest name in the heavyweight division, Wilder is the most thrilling fighter in the heavyweight division; Joshua doesn’t excite at the mic, Wilder most certainly does. They are opposites – therefore totally compatible in boxing terms – in every conceivable way. They are also both unbeaten, boast eye-popping knockout ratios, and are built like comic book superheroes.
The fear, though, is that roadblocks are being put in the way from both sides.
Firstly, Deontay Wilder should have been in Cardiff this weekend. The fact he wasn’t speaks volumes not only in terms of how far away the two camps are to agreeing this thing but also in terms of the American’s desire for it. His reasons for not attending are valid, sure, but since when has boxing ever been organised or professional to such an extent that a six-foot-seven WBC heavyweight champion would have difficulty getting to the ring to call out and goad a six-foot-six WBA, IBF and WBO champion? Where there’s a will, there’s a way, Deontay.
Moreover, one of the knocks against Wilder is his lack of profile, not only in his native America but also in the United Kingdom, a key market for a Joshua blockbuster. So for Wilder to miss this priceless opportunity, on a weekend when the eyes of the nation, if not the world, were on Joshua vs. Parker, is an ill-judged move, one that could come back to haunt him (worse, haunt those who want to see him fight Joshua).
The other roadblock concerns the alternative fights being proposed for both, none of which make sense, nor sound all that appetising. Deontay Wilder vs. Dillian Whyte, for example, is the sort of fight enjoyed only by those who look forward to England football friendlies.
While a decent enough scrap on paper, and one that works under any other circumstances, Wilder vs. Whyte would, at this point, be a painful reminder of what could have been. And nobody likes that feeling.
Alexander Povetkin didn’t just decide he fancied a trip to Cardiff on Easter weekend and, once there, cherry-pick a British heavyweight to flatten in between bouts of sightseeing. His appearance on last night’s undercard, positioned just before the main event, was no mere coincidence.
Instead, it was planned, the idea being that Povetkin, Joshua’s WBA number one contender, would stir things up a bit, make some noise, KO a recognisable name, and do so in a fashion that got people amped about the prospect of him soon fighting Joshua.
Whether it worked or not remains to be seen. Povetkin certainly got the knockout he was after. He finished poor David Price with a devastating left hook and the knockout, if nothing else, will be shown over and over again and become of a fixture of this year’s highlight reels.
But he also showed clear weaknesses and, at 38, is seemingly past his best. There was a vulnerability to him last night, as well as a lack of speed, that now makes him less of a threat to Joshua – and that fight less appealing – than it was 24 hours ago.
A better fight for Povetkin might be Dillian Whyte, who seems to want to challenge just about everybody right now. Indeed, last night, while providing insight for radio, Whyte could be seen shaking his head and mocking Povetkin’s work throughout. Then, once the fight was over, he walked past press row with every intention of baiting the Russian, telling us, “Easy money. Easy money with the jab. And I’ve got a much harder left hook than David Price.”
Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller is essentially Deontay Wilder-lite. He’s a brash, outspoken American who lacks the danger of Wilder – a major plus point for Joshua – and has no profile in the UK, but is willing to market and promote and talk the fight into something it probably isn’t. That’s crucial to his value as an opponent.
What’s more, by virtue of the fact he’s American and Joshua – despite claiming otherwise – will venture to the States at some point, Miller could hold the key to unlocking that particular door (perhaps around August time). He looks all nice and shiny on paper – 20 wins with 18 knockouts – and can sell it in a way Joseph Parker couldn’t. In 2018, that’s good enough for any pay-per-view booking, even if your career-best win happens to involve a washed up Mariusz Wach.
It’s the rematch nobody particularly wants – not yet anyway – but one that will no doubt happen at some point either this year or next.
Should they keep winning, and should Joshua remain the man with the most belts, there’s every chance Whyte will get the rematch, and payday, he so craves and will do so for three simple reasons: one, because he wobbled Joshua in round two of their 2015 encounter; two, because Whyte has, to be fair, since improved and scored a couple of decent wins; three, because Whyte is British and volatile and would stick it on Joshua verbally for two months preceding any rematch.
That’s it. We’ll ignore the fact Joshua dominated Whyte for much of their first encounter, stunned only momentarily in round two, and then brutally knocked him out in the seventh. We’ll forget, too, that there are many more appealing options out there for both at this stage. Because, let’s face it, Joshua vs. Whyte II is the easy fight to make. They’re both signed to the same promoter, they both want to make big money, and they have a history that means you can get lazy on the whole storytelling process beforehand.
If it was unappealing first time around, when scheduled to happen last October, you can be certain the prospect of Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev is one nobody wants to entertain in 2018.
A good fighter in his day, Pulev fought only once in 2017, winning a decision over Kevin Johnson, and seems far removed from his prime at the age of 36. He’s also best-known for being chewed up and spat out by Wladimir Klitschko in 2014.
Alas, there’s absolutely zero selling point with this one. He doesn’t have form on his side, he doesn’t engage in trash talk, he has no history whatsoever with Joshua, and he’s had his chance gifted to him once already and couldn’t follow through with it.
So, given all that, expect Joshua vs. Pulev to be made for this summer.