Eddie Hearn, who is almost never at a loss for words, was searching for the right way to describe IBF-WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s position among the fan base in the U.S.
“We’re not,” he said with a grimace, “exactly a household name in America just yet. We still have work to do.”
There is an air about Joshua and he fills a room when he enters it, and it’s not just because at 6-feet-6, with a massive chest and biceps that dwarf Hulk Hogan’s, he’s one of the most physically imposing figures you’ll ever see. No, there is a presence to Joshua in the way that he carries himself.
There was a time, a generation or more ago, when the heavyweight champion of the world was a household name on every street, in every city all across the world. Muhammad Ali was once the most recognized face on Earth.
That time has long since passed, though Hearn said Joshua, a 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist and one of boxing’s brightest stars, has difficulty going out in public in the U.K.
The same, he said, is true of Canelo Alvarez, who fought Rocky Fielding on Saturday in the main event of a card at Madison Square Garden.
“Canelo, if you dropped him in Times Square, he’d be recognized, people would stop him, but he wouldn’t be mobbed,” Hearn said. “And that’s how it would be with Anthony. In the U.K., he can’t walk down the street. He just can’t do it. But in America, it’s not the same.”
The 29-year-old Joshua is 22-0 with 21 knockouts and has the potential to be the biggest thing in heavyweight boxing since Ali was in his prime. Along with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, the three could make a series of fights that would make the sports world stop, even in the U.S.
Joshua, though, hasn’t fought in the States and shrugged Saturday when pressed on when that would be. He’ll fight on April 13 at Wembley Stadium in London, most likely against the winner of next week’s bout between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora.
After that, perhaps, Joshua said. Perhaps in 2020. The fact that he’d flown to the U.S. to meet American media and watch the Alvarez-Fielding bout was a step in the right direction.
“Why not next year? Why not the year after?” Joshua said when asked about making his U.S. debut. “They’re all options. They’re all options and all of interest.”
Wilder and Fury engaged in a compelling bout in Los Angeles on Dec. 1 that ended in a split draw. They fought because each of them said they couldn’t get a bout with Joshua.
Wilder’s team said it offered the first $50 million to Joshua off the top and then 50 percent of all revenues after that. Hearn rolled his eyes upon hearing it.
“You know what the $50 million offer was? You want to know the truth about this?” Hearn said, sounding indignant. “I got an email from Deontay Wilder. That was it. He said he was offering us $50 million. I didn’t have his email address and I didn’t know if it was him or a joke. I didn’t hear from the manager. I didn’t hear from Al Haymon [of Premier Boxing Champions]. I didn’t hear from the network. If you’re making me a legitimate, valid offer for a fight, show me where the money is coming from.”
Wilder’s team, of course, has repeatedly insisted the opposite, and what happens is that it divides the fan base. Joshua fans will side with he and Hearn, while Wilder fans will side with his team.
That does nothing.
This, though, is beyond that. American boxing fans surely want to hear Joshua not only say he wants a fight with Wilder, but to demand it. They want to hear him tell Hearn and DAZN and whoever else is involved in no uncertain terms that he’s interested in one fight and one fight only as his next option.
But even given plenty of opportunity to do that on Saturday, he declined. He was engaging, thoughtful and made a lot of business sense as he discussed his career and how it intertwined with those of Wilder and Fury.
He never, though, showed that passion that the fight matters to him more than anything. But he already has a date (April 13) and a venue (Wembley Stadium) for his next fight. It’s a tough place for one to start negotiations when two of the most important factors are already determined.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to break it down and see who’s leading the pack, in my opinion,” Joshua said. “That’s an important statement to make, as well. I think we’ve added a lot of value to the heavyweight division. We’re not trying to lowball anyone, either. In terms of the date being booked, that’s just stating, ‘We are ready. We are available. There is one of the best stadiums in the world available for us to fight in front of a big audience.’ If we had to pinpoint stadiums around the world, I think Wembley would be in my top three. That’s where that came from.
“We don’t have an issue with the date. We don’t have an issue with the venue.”
He watched the Wilder-Fury fight, but not live. It started in the wee hours in the U.K., after he’d gone to bed.
“I’m an athlete,” he said, noting he needs his rest and to take care of his body.
He didn’t watch it carefully, he said, and didn’t scout either man as a potential opponent.
As you spend time with him, you realize this is who he is, and you either accept him or move on. He’s never going to be the guy foaming at the mouth, vowing to smash an opponent’s nose into his brain, the way Mike Tyson once did.
He’s going to be more reserved, more analytical and more businesslike. That may not sit well with the American fan base, who look at potential Wilder-Joshua or Fury-Joshua bouts as a license to print money, but he’s not going to change.
“From a fan perspective, it was good entertainment,” Joshua said. “It’s needed in the heavyweight division. I haven’t analyzed it or broken it down, because I’m not fighting either one of them yet. When I’m in a position to fight them, I’ll break it right down. From a fan perspective, it was good entertainment and with all the conversations that have been happening around, it’s showing that people want to see who is going to come out on top.”
But the fact that Wilder-Fury seemingly reignited interest in the heavyweights in the U.S., isn’t necessarily going to push Joshua to jump into a fight with either of them. Listening to him talk, it’s clear if it happens at all, it will be later in 2019 and most likely in 2020.
“It’s not impossible,” Joshua said. “But I know what it takes to make a good fight.”
So get ready to wait. This one seems headed down the dreaded Mayweather-Pacquiao path. That’s never what a hardcore boxing fan wants to hear, but there are few indications that a fight is imminent.
It’s going to be a long, drawn-out process.
Hopefully, they’ll get it done before one or more of them loses and the luster their fight would carry is lost.
Source: Kevin Iole| Combat columnist