For Anthony Joshua, the easy nights are over. His third-round blowout of the reluctant Eric Molina in Manchester on Saturday night to retain his IBF world heavyweight title, while again disappointing fans who want to see him in a proper fight, has nevertheless thrust him into boxing’s stratosphere.
Doc Holliday, a seasoned boxing face from America who accompanied Molina in the absence of the Texan’s promoter, Don King, predicted Joshua, would “earn a billion” from boxing. Well, extrapolating from the £15m he and Wladimir Klitschko might have earned had the Ukrainian been his opponent on Saturday night (as originally scheduled), their showdown at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 fans on 29 April could bring them between £30m and £40m apiece.
As the champion’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, confirmed later: “There will be no steps back. Once you have a fight against Wladimir Klitschko and you earn what you earn in that fight, you can’t go back to a voluntary defence against somebody, or even a [sub-standard] mandatory. It will be very difficult to maintain all the belts.”
That is good news for fight fans – who will hope this extravaganza does not collapse the way Klitschko’s rematch with Tyson Fury did, or fail to materialise like Fury’s two big fights with David Haye. They are getting sick of being promised the earth and ending up with Willesden.
There are reasons to be confident Hearn will deliver. For a start he trusts Klitschko’s man, Bernd Bönte – certainly more than some British promoters, managers and fighters, who have found him and the Klitschko brothers difficult negotiators. In the mayhem of the press conference brawl in Munich four years ago that followed Dereck Chisora’s brave losing effort against Vitali, Haye, stirring from the cheap stalls for a shot at the champ, and his then coach and manager, Adam Booth, had a memorable exchange with Bönte.
It led to a wild brawl that swirled around your humble correspondent for several minutes. That’s no way to do business. So Hearn is taking a softer route. He revealed the Klitschko deal was brokered two weeks ago, finalised shortly before Saturday’s show and Joshua signed his contract as soon as he left the ring.
The fight will be for Joshua’s IBF belt, the vacant WBA title (as Klitschko insisted on), the peripheral IBO championship and probably The Ring magazine trophy. Tickets will go on sale before Christmas, although the wolves of the secondary market will be lurking.
“We’re looking to go to 90,000, if the Mayor can improve it from 80,000,” Hearn said. “He said at the Boxing Writers Club dinner how much he wants to bring major fights to London.”
Sadiq Khan’s brother, Sid, incidentally, trains the Olympic super-heavy silver medallist, Joe Joyce, a close friend of Joshua’s, so that path could be smoothed. But it is Bönte that Hearn has had to do the main business with – and, predictably, there is one unticked box.
“We haven’t announced the US broadcast partner yet,” Hearn said, “but obviously we’ve been working with Showtime, and they work with HBO. We’d like to continue our relationship with Showtime. It will be something we work on together with Bönte. They’re not difficult to deal with, but obviously they’ve been burnt, so they’re very, very diligent, and that’s why it took so long.
“I feel sorry for Klitschko. He’s wanted to fight since the Fury fight was cancelled, but he hasn’t been able to [because of injury]. He seems hugely excited and he’s been very friendly. But that’s a trap Josh mustn’t fall into. He’s got to have the same ruthless streak he’s had against everyone else. But he’s a ruthless individual, so I don’t see that being a problem. I don’t know how Molina got up.”
A ludicrous suggestion was doing the rounds on social media on Saturday, incidentally, that Joshua would leave Hearn after the Klitschko fight. Seriously?
For a start, their contract has two years to run. Also, Joshua has in Hearn a promoter and negotiator who has a strong grip on the Sky boxing contract and, whatever the fighter’s growing international appeal, the big money is still made at home. Hearn acknowledges Joshua has global sponsorship deals that underline his marketability – especially if he flattens Klitschko – but he has done everything he’s promised him so far.
There is another reason Joshua would be ill-advised to leave. “After Klitschko it is Deontay Wilder,” Hearn said, in reference to the American holder of the WBC belt who also boxes on Showtime. That fight can be done in a phone call.
Meanwhile Joshua and Klitschko, who exchanged pleasantries in the ring after the fight on Saturday night, will meet again in London this week for the ritual launch of their multi-belt spring showdown. What could possibly go wrong?
Parker solid but not spectacular
Andy Ruiz Jr did not look anything like a professional athlete when he stepped through the ropes in Auckland at the weekend to contest the vacant WBO version of the heavyweight title with local favourite Joseph Parker.
Junior’s pale white back shook like jelly, a belt of flab circled the top of his shorts and the tattoos spread across his upper torso might have been a thin wire bra.
You finally get your shot, in a diminished market, you fly 6,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean and you perform in front of a hostile audience.
But here’s the thing: Ruiz finished way stronger than Parker, the 24-year-old unbeaten aspirant who has the sheen and mien of a dedicated champion, which he now is after a close points win.
Ruiz has impressively quick hands and occasionally exposed the supposedly fitter Parker. Had he been able to move his feet, Ruiz could have gone home with the belt. Inside every fat heavyweight is a potentially decent cruiserweight. Ruiz could easily shed two stone, and fit that bill.
Parker looked OK: well schooled, solid chin and heavy hands but he’s a box-by-numbers fighter. As his trainer, Kevin Barry, said later: “He followed the game plan.”
Joshua would not be drawn when asked about the winner’s showing. “He’s a champion,” he said. “Not for me to judge.” That was the faintest of praise.
I could not see Parker getting past halfway against Joshua. Ruiz, though, might get into the later stages. Certainly he is a better heavyweight than the polite but hapless Molina.
Chisora and Whyte all right on night
Finally a word or two on a couple of fighters for whom subtlety is a foreign concept. Dereck Chisora and Dillian Whyte will never be friends but, for 36 minutes of relentless punch-swapping on the Manchester undercard, they entered into a unique bond only boxing provides.
They were not fighting for Whyte’s British title because he played his part in the pre-fight table-throwing that cost Chisora a two-year suspended sentence and £30,000 in fines and costs. What they were fighting for was, as Whyte said the morning after, “pride and London bragging rights”.
It was one of those rare occasions, a contest that took every ounce of spirit the combatants could muster and brought long-time villain Chisora something he might have thought he’d never get in his adopted country: the love of the fans.
They might do it again: perhaps on the Joshua-Klitschko undercard. “It was one of the best heavyweight fights I’ve ever seen,” Hearn said. But Chisora could yet get squeezed. Hearn also likes Whyte against Wilder or David Price. Whatever the sentiment on the night, it’s business in the end.