Everyone wants a piece of Anthony Joshua. Ideally, they’d like a bit of Tyson Fury at the same time but while we still don’t know who is the best heavyweight in the world – and whether or not the best of British beef will collide this year or next – we do know who is the most marketable, and he is not from Manchester.
For all that Fury is legitimately the British world champion with the best credentials in the sport’s glamour division – an odd thought in itself – by dethroning Wladimir Klitschko in front of his home crowd in Germany last November, it is the quietly spoken Watford fighter who might make more of his new belt.
It may not be fair – and it will seem like that to Fury’s fervent army of fans in the Travellers community but it is the way it is. Joshua will spend the rest of his career as a pay-per-view attraction unless he is derailed, a fate Fury is determined to inflict on him, but why is Fury, who got over the line first, running second now?
Fury is a stick of slow-fuse dynamite, liable to blow people’s minds with a rush of controversy on a range of subjects that have little to do with his sport. And there is something endearingly “Millwall” about him: he says he doesn’t care but you suspect he might. He certainly makes people listen and away from the microphone he is a more sensitive and complex man than most fans would imagine.
It is in the ring he suffers by comparison. Fury is a very clever operator, who has honed his skills diligently under the tutelage of his uncle, Peter. They could hardly have made more of his talent but he doesn’t have many spectacular knockouts on his cv, and that, bottom line, is what moves tickets and pay-per-view sales.
After knocking out one-defence IBF champion Charles Martin in two electric rounds at the O2 Arena in Greenwich on Saturday, Joshua cut a very different figure. As he put it: “I’m just being myself, that way there’s no regrets.” Then he finished with a left hook of a rider: “When I fight, people want to see blood. I have no problem drawing blood from people. I have a good time. I enjoy it.”
Eddie Hearn has no doubts about the dual side of his fighter, whom he will accompany to the United States some time this summer for the big sell to the networks as a stepping stone to PPV on Showtime (who showed Saturday’s fight) or HBO. As long as he keeps knocking opponents flat on their backs, the TV guys will keep calling with offers. On top of that, Hearn has a gentleman heavyweight.
“After the fight he signed autographs for an hour and 10 minutes,” the promoter said. “He’s not doing that to score brownie points. He’s doing that because that’s how he feels people should be treated, fans should be treated. When was the last time in boxing we had a role model that young children wanted to be like? When was the last time you wanted the child to be like a certain kind of fighter? If I had a son and he said: ‘I want to be just like Anthony Joshua,’ I’d be quite pleased by that. If your son turned around and said: ‘I want to be like Tyson Fury,’ what would you say?”
The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was very much like the buzz Frank Bruno generated in the 90s. It is clear Joshua is heading in that direction, a national favourite, but they are different, Joshua and Bruno – considerably so.
His rise has echoed the rise of Bruno in some respects, except “Big Frank” was so entrenched as Britain’s favourite fighter the paying public were willing to watch his serial disappointments as he clambered painfully to the top. Failure is not an option for Joshua in an era of quick-click thrills.
Bruno won the WBC title at the fourth attempt, by hanging on grimly against Oliver McCall, a highpoint that would last only five months before defeat by Mike Tyson and a spiral into depression that lingers to this day. Fans loved Bruno, despite the transparent massaging of his image as a guffawing ingenu who morphed into a pantomime figure in the long tradition of manufactured showbiz heavyweights, because he could punch like a mule and he kept to the script.
Joshua will not be stereotyped as a genial giant knocking out consumable soundbites as well as opponents. He is, as his paymaster Hearn says, very much his own man.
IT’S IN THE BLOOD
Chris Eubank Jr, Conor Benn … and now another warrior son: Tim Tszyu, who sounds like an Italian dessert, although it would probably be as well to get to know him well before cracking that weak joke.
Billy Dib, the Australian who held the IBF world super-featherweight title for awhile, has posted a photo on Twitter of a fighter he clearly rates: “The son of Kostya Tszyu is no Joke. Tim Tszyu could have a great pro career if he choose to.”
Tszyu’s other son, Nikita, also made headlines a few years ago when he said he would forgo the 2020 Olympics, if selected, to turn professional as soon as possible. There has been no sign of him yet.
Tszyu Sr, a stellar amateur, beat Vernon Forrest (later gunned to death in Atlanta) to win gold in the 1991 world championships in Sydney and, after the Soviet Union imploded the following year, he returned in 1993 to begin a new life in Australia that would make him a national hero there. He went on to be the outstanding light-welterweight of his generation, a rock-fisted world champion who beat a string of fine fighters, including a late-career Julio César Chávez, Roger Mayweather (Floyd’s slick uncle) and Zab Judah, who was so disorientated by Kostya’s blows and upset by the second-round stoppage he took a swing at the referee, Jay Nady.
In his last fight in June 2005 in Manchester, Tszyu had nothing left after 11 rounds against Ricky Hatton, which the Hitman regarded as “the Everest” of his career. Not to put the kid off but Tim’s got a bit to live up to.
Tsyzu moved back to Russia in 2012 after marital problems but retained a gym in Sydney and met up with Hatton there in 2014, where the Russian Aussie finally put rumours of a comeback to bed.
Conor Benn made a fast start to his pro career at the O2 Arena with a first-round stoppage of a Bulgarian light-welter whose identity it would be charitable to spread no further, and the winner’s father, Nigel, (another Sydneysider now) looked suitably pleased.
“Junior” Eubank – as his father, Chris Sr insists on calling him – has lost only to the world champion Billy Joe Saunders but would relish a rematch. Sooner or later, he will get one.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell, for theguardian.com on Monday 11th April 2016 17.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010