Boxing: Joshua has route to top mapped out

Anthony Joshua. Photo / Getty Images
Anthony Joshua. Photo / Getty Images

The warrior in Anthony Joshua is focused on one thing on Saturday night: defeating unbeaten challenger Dominic Breazeale to retain his International Boxing Federation heavyweight belt at the O2 Arena in London. But given his growing reach and mainstream appeal, behind the scenes the 26-year-old's promotional team are already mapping out a route towards unifying the heavyweight titles over the next two years, in what could be five to six fights.

Two of those could be title bouts, two money-spinners, and two of those learning fights. The key will be the match-making. The order and timing of those contests - against the likes of heavyweight No?1 Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Wladimir Klitschko, David Haye and IBF mandatory challenger Joe Parker, of New Zealand - will dictate whether the Londoner's inexorable rise and popularity continue. He has been earmarked as a potential saviour for boxing's heavyweight division, breathing new life into what was an interest-deficient weight class until Fury consigned Wladimir Klitschko's reign to dust seven months ago.

Right now, Joshua has the perfect resumé: London 2012 Olympic super-heavyweight gold and, after 16 professional victories, all by knockout, a world title.

"I want to be Britain's new 'Golden Boy'," said Joshua this week. The bottom line, though, is that it must be backed up in the ring. So far, Joshua has done just that in a business, and division, in which one mistake can destroy a career.

Fury, holder of the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organisation and The Ring Magazine titles, is the legitimate divisional No?1 and regards Joshua as a 'paper' champion. Yet it is Joshua who holds the popular vote. The pressing debate for a young man who is still a work-in-progress is whether he can learn quickly enough on the job, and keep the winning column running. Can Joshua be the first man to unify boxing's blue-riband division since Lennox Lewis in 2003? Or has it all come too quickly for a neophyte champion who admits that he is "a work in progress as a boxer"?

It will come down to match-making, former world cruiserweight champion Glenn McCrory, who sparred 96 rounds with Mike Tyson when he was just emerging as the youngest heavyweight champion in history, said yesterday. "One hundred per cent Joshua can unify the heavyweight division, but he will have to be matched with the right people at the right time for the next 12 months. He has to get through Breazeale first, and he will be a bigger test than Charles Martin [from whom Joshua won the IBF crown 10 weeks ago]. Breazeale hasn't seemed phased this week in London. But I haven't been as excited as this about a heavyweight since Lennox Lewis or Mike Tyson.

"There is something special about Joshua. After sparring with Mike Tyson, I walked out with him for the Tyrell Biggs fight and the atmosphere and interest Joshua generates feels like that all over again."

Johnny Nelson, also a former world cruiserweight champion, who works alongside McCrory with Sky Sports boxing team, concurs. "Absolutely Joshua can unify the belts. There's something about this guy, and the great thing about him is that he loves being in the gym and he lives the life and he always has his finger on the pulse. I agree completely that the key will be the matchmaking from now for the next two or three fights. I can see him beating Fury, Haye and even Klitschko, but for me that is in a few fights' time. That's why they all want to fight him now, they want to fight him before he grows in experience.

Eddie Hearn, promoter for the 6ft 6in, 17st 5lb behemoth's promoter, sees Joshua unifying the belts by the end of next summer.

For Hearn, the route is clear: Breazeale on Saturday night in London, Parker late this year or early spring next year and then Fury and Wilder, if they still both hold the belts.

"There's no reason I can't do it," said Joshua, "but I just have to keep building my experience. Breazeale is the most dangerous man in my life right now. I have to deal with him."

There is Klitschko, too, if the opportunity arises. "If I had to pick someone to follow, and a role model, I'd definitely follow Klitschko's regime. But it's a good time to be here. And I aim to make the most of it." Joshua should get into his stride early on the night and I expect him to stop the American inside four rounds.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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