BY STEVE DOUGLAS
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — The Anthony Joshua roadshow is about to go global, and it’s going to be a wrench for the British boxing superstar.
Joshua cemented his status as a sporting icon in his native land by attracting 78,000 fans to watch him fight an unheralded mandatory challenger for his IBF belt. Where “AJ” goes, people follow — and on Saturday it was to the Welsh capital Cardiff, where Joshua ground down Carlos Takam to force a 10th-round stoppage.
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), London’s Wembley Stadium (90,000 fans) and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium (78,000 fans) — and filled out each one.
He is 20-0 (all by knockout), owns the WBA and IBF belts, and is resetting his targets as he heads into 2018.
“We were at a learning level when we first started,” Joshua, who turned pro in 2012 after winning gold at the London Olympics, said in the bowels of the Principality Stadium early Sunday. “Then we went British level — a bit tougher, all about reputation and pride — and then we entered into the world level. Now, we are at the level where we want to own the division.”
And that likely means growing his “brand” — a term used by Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn — by fighting abroad, most likely in the United States.
Joshua’s epic victory over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley in April rocketed him into boxing’s global consciousness, with two U.S. television networks broadcasting the fight. His style of boxing — spectacular, explosive — is proving a big pull and should win over U.S. audiences when he eventually crosses the Atlantic to fight there for the first time.
Expect that to happen next year.
“At the moment, here,” Hearn said, when asked where the money is in heavyweight boxing. “But if you get it right, then in America. I think we need a clear plan moving forward.
“Every show is iconic with Anthony. There are images and footage that go to people all around the world … I don’t think it’s really been done before. To go to another country, and maybe into a 3,000 or 4,000-seater arena, just for a bit more money? AJ has always wanted to put on shows. There isn’t a show like an AJ show in world boxing and we don’t really want to walk away from that.”
Joshua has said repeatedly that the UK scene is where heavyweight boxing is really thriving, with fellow Brit Tyson Fury having initially shaken up the division by beating Klitschko in November 2015 to win the WBA, IBF and WBO titles.
“In British heavyweight boxing, it’s hard to get that respect,” the 28-year-old Joshua said. “There was always USA and now we have fighters wanting to come here and fight. That’s nice. I do like that.”
Yet he also knows, long term, he has to crack America.
Having dealt with the awkward challenge of Takam, a squat, durable fighter from France who took Joshua to the second-longest bout of his professional career, the champion has a vague plan for 2018 that could involve three fights.
Fulfil his obligations by taking on a mandatory for his WBA belt — “I’m focusing on keeping my belts, by any means,” Joshua said — potentially in April and then a unification fight in the summer against either WBO champion Joseph Parker or WBC champion Deontay Wilder.
Parker, a New Zealander who lives in Las Vegas, is more likely to be the first one up for Joshua.
“I think it will be a bigger fight with Wilder down the road than it is now,” Joshua’s trainer, Robert McCracken, said. Joshua, sitting beside McCracken, nodded in agreement.
London is Joshua’s home, but Hearn says Cardiff could be Joshua’s “winter home,” and there is no shortage of other venues that would be keen to play host to the biggest boxing show in town.
Joshua is taking it all in his stride, accepting the pressure of a nation and thriving on it. He says he is maturing as a fighter, using his jab more to get control and using the early rounds to work out his opponents rather than going flat out from the opening bell.
That’s what he did against Takam.
“He’ll learn from this, he’ll move on, grow stronger, get a bit smarter,” McCracken said. “And at the end of the journey, hopefully he’ll be the full package.”
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
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