Joshua back ‘home’ to face Povetkin for heavyweight titles
This was supposed to be the week Anthony Joshua completed his whirlwind boxing journey from Olympic gold medalist to undisputed world heavyweight champion.
Deontay Wilder should have been the opponent, Las Vegas potentially the venue. There was talk of $50 million being on the table.
Instead, Joshua has to take a detour.
The 28-year-old Briton was back home in London on Thursday, ready to fulfil his mandatory obligations by facing Russian fighter Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium.
It's not the fight he wanted — Wilder, the WBC champion from the United States, remains his No. 1 priority — but Joshua knows it's a necessary step toward his ultimate goal of unifying the division.
The last time Joshua fought at Wembley, it was in front of about 90,000 spectators in April 2017 when he beat Wladimir Klitschko to become boxing's new superstar virtually overnight.
A similar-sized crowd is expected on Saturday.
"I feel relaxed and calm," said Joshua, the IBF, WBO and WBA titleholder. "It's not new to me anymore. I feel like this is home, where I'm going to perform."
Joshua strode onto the field at English soccer's national stadium Thursday and looked around the cavernous arena, a wide grin spread across his face.
This will be his fifth straight stadium fight. More than 300,000 spectators have watched his last four, leading Joshua's promoter, Eddie Hearn, to call his man a "phenomenon."
Povetkin is not used to fighting in such an atmosphere but, at the age of 39, he does arrive in London with plenty of experience.
Like Joshua, Povetkin is an Olympic champion — at super heavyweight in the 2004 Athens Games — and was the WBA's "regular" champion from 2011-13. His only loss in 35 fights came against Klitschko in 2013, and that was on points.
More recently, he made headlines for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs twice in a seven-month period in 2016. It stalled his career but he has won eight straight fights, the latest being a brutal fifth-round stoppage of David Price on the undercard of Joshua's win over Joseph Parker in Cardiff, Wales, in December.
Joshua said Povetkin is "definitely" his second-hardest fight after Klitschko. Joshua's trainer, Rob McCracken, said that unlike Parker, "Povetkin comes from the top tier in boxing."
"I am just as strong (as Joshua) and in good shape," Povetkin said through a translator. "When I fought Klitschko, I was much weaker and in much worse shape than I am now."
As the two fighters squared off after the pre-fight news conference, the size difference was noticeable. Povetkin has the build of a cruiserweight and also the speed of one.
Joshua said he has been sparring with amateur boxers of a similar stature, while his fight with Carlos Takam — another smaller heavyweight with an awkward style — will stand him in good stead.
"Skills apart and technique apart, I think we've both got a big heart, we can dig deep and that turns out into a good fight," Joshua said. "We both showed that against Klitschko — we both stayed in there, and we're going to do that again on Saturday night. I think the one who is toughest will come out on top."
It is a dangerous 23rd professional fight for Joshua, who has been pushed into the shadows somewhat in the heavyweight scene in recent weeks with Wilder agreeing to a fight against former champion Tyson Fury in the coming weeks.
A big knockout will be a timely reminder of who the box office draw is in the sport's most glamorous division.
"One punch can change the course of history so that's what keeps my eyes on the prize," Joshua said. "Like 'Snakes and Ladders,' one foot wrong and you slide back down to the bottom of the pecking order."