SHEFFIELD, England — If 2017 for Anthony Joshua was about becoming the world’s No. 1 heavyweight, 2018 is all about creating his legacy. “No one is on the journey anymore,” Joshua said Wednesday. “We’re at the destination.”
Bold words for someone with just 20 professional fights to his name. Then again, Joshua is no normal boxer. Potentially within four months, the 28-year-old Brit could be the first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000, and the first boxer to hold all four belts in the division — WBA, IBF, WBO and WBC.
Stage 1 comes on March 31 when Joshua, the WBA and IBF champion, fights WBO titleholder Joseph Parker in front of around 80,000 spectators in Cardiff. If all goes to plan in the Welsh capital, the fight the world wants to see should be next — Joshua vs. WBC champion Deontay Wilder, a meeting of heavyweight boxing’s two most destructive punchers.
“It will be in 2018,” Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, promised. Joshua knows Wilder is the big one, the fight that will define him even more than last year’s epic victory over Wladimir Klitschko before 90,000 at Wembley that rocketed him into boxing’s global consciousness.
When the American’s name was brought up at a media session at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, northern England, on Wednesday, Joshua sat up straight in his chair and moved forward. He spoke of Wilder being an unrealistic negotiator — “he has to stop living in a fantasy land” — but Hearn, sitting alongside him, said it is a fight that somehow will get made.
First of all, however, Joshua has to deal with Parker, a tough New Zealander who arrives in the U.K. with a 24-0 record — 18 of them knockouts — but the least envied of the four belts. Parker will be in uncharted territory, having typically fought in front of crowds of around 10,000 in his native country.
Since becoming heavyweight champion in April 2016, Joshua has fought at four different British venues — London’s O2 Arena (16,000 fans), Manchester Arena (21,000 fans), Wembley (90,000 fans) and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium (78,000 fans) — and filled out each one.
Joshua believes his big-arena experience will count in his favor, especially in Cardiff — a place he calls his “winter home.” “I know the ring walk, I know the changing room. I just know what it is like to be victorious, I know how to deal with a lot of distractions of being in an audience so big and how to entertain people,” Joshua said.
“I know my way around the ring: I spar in a ring the same size as the fight ring. A happy fighter will perform a lot better.” Joshua, who says “definitely there’ll be blood,” is set to come in at 112 kilograms (246 pounds), compared to the 115kg he weighed for his last fight — a 10-round win over late replacement Carlos Takam in October that made it 20 straight stoppages for the Londoner.
“I should be a lot quicker and outwit him,” he said. Laughing and joking, Joshua couldn’t have been more laid back 10 days out from heavyweight unification fight as he put on a show for the media in the gym used by Britain’s Olympic boxers, his body looking as chiseled as ever.
To freshen up his latest training camp, he has been getting up later in the mornings to give his body more rest after training sessions. He said he feels in great shape. And he is happy to laugh off the “king of steroids” jibe made by Parker in the build-up.
“A happy fighter is a good fighter” is his motto of late, and he is living up to it.