Tyson Fury may be the world's top heavyweight courtesy of his win over Wladimir Klitschko, but the excitement in boxing's heavyweight division is centered around another Briton in Anthony Joshua (16-0, 16 KOs). The 2012 London Olympics gold medalist is set to defend his IBF title* against Dominic Breazeale (17-0, 15 KOs) on Showtime, from a sold-out O2 Arena in London, England. In the immediate picture, despite what the records say, Breazeale is highly likely to get thrashed, but this fight could be one of many that showcases the talents of Joshua, whose promoter is seeking to make him a hit in the United States.
* - Fury won the IBF belt from Klitschko, but was stripped of it when he opted for the Klitschko rematch instead of facing his mandatory challenger. Charles Martin then won the vacant belt, then was dusted by Joshua. Boxing, everyone!
Joshua is already a proven draw in the United Kingdom. His last fight, a 2nd round KO win over Charles Martin, garnered a reported 600,000 PPV buys on Sky Box Office. This is a very impressive number when you consider that the biggest selling PPV (Mayweather vs. Hatton) did just about double that total -- this includes PPVs based in the UK, like Froch vs. Groves -- and their pay-per-view market is considerably different than in either the United States or Canada. Outside the ring, he's secured a sponsorship deal with Under Armour, and is listed by SportsPro as one of the 50 most marketable athletes in the world. Last month, Showtime formally announced a multi-fight deal with Joshua, starting with the Breazeale fight.
Why should you be excited about Anthony Joshua? Because he's 26 years old and very entertaining to watch, two things heavyweight has desperately needed. He's fast, accurate, powerful, charismatic, and has a terrific physique. Does he have any wins against actual elite heavyweights? Nope, and Breazeale doesn't figure to be in that category, but with just 4 years experience as a professional, the rush to the top may not necessarily be the best career move. Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn, Joshua's promoter, has developed a fairly deserved reputation for making laughably one-sided fights involving his stable of boxers. He's done a brilliant job of promoting Joshua, whose hype traces back to his Olympics success, but taking the extra step and setting up higher caliber matchups is of paramount importance to his development.
Joshua's established fanbase clearly exceeds that of his American counterpart Deontay Wilder, whose disadvantages include being under the sinking ship that is Premier Boxing Champions, as well as hailing from a country where MMA quite clearly garners more media attention than boxing presently does. While Joshua was raking in big PPV numbers in the UK, Wilder was a few months removed from sub-par numbers on primetime network television. In an ideal world, Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder would become reality within the next year or two. I've largely neglected Tyson Fury as having any American appeaI, primarily because I can think of a few things that would instantly shut down such interest. New Zealand's Joshua Parker (19-0, 16 KOs) is another heavy who is on the boxing radar, but the 24-year-old has fought almost entire career in his home country, so he's a good ways from major television exposure in either Europe or North America.
Heavyweight has been much-maligned since the precipitous decline of American talent and the rise of Eastern Europe, spearheaded by Wladimir Klitschko's 9 year reign. HBO didn't bother airing several of Klitschko's title defenses, some of which were aired on ESPN Classic or Epix TV. Even outside of Klitschko, Oleg Maskaev's dramatic KO win over Hasim Rahman in 2006 didn't even clear 100,000 buys on HBO. What Joshua provides is reason for optimism. If he continues to improve, knock off increasingly tougher competition, and wins in his usual exciting fashion, then it could reignite interest in a weight class that has been a shell of its former self. Watch for yourself later today what the hoopla is all about, because boxing needs new stars, and Joshua is lined up to be one of them.
Showtime Boxing's coverage of Joshua vs. Breazeale airs live at 5:15 PM ET/PT. Bloody Elbow will have post-fight results and highlights for this event.