LONDON – Anthony Joshua has the weight of a country on his shoulders, and a fighter with true heavyweight pedigree in the ring across from him.
Add to that 90,000 screaming fans watching outdoors Saturday night at Wembley Stadium, and there’s plenty of potential trouble for a fighter born the same year that Wladimir Klitschko began boxing.
The fact Joshua is taking it so all so calmly says a lot about his chances of becoming boxing’s next biggest thing.
“It’s not complicated,” Joshua said. “It’s not rocket science. I’ll win.”
Just five years after winning the heavyweight gold at the London Olympics, Joshua meets Klitschko in a classic matchup that has boxing fans eagerly anticipating what could be the future of the heavyweight division.
It’s youth against experience, ring savvy against speed and pure power. It’s also the biggest heavyweight fight in more than a decade, a bout so attractive that not one, but two, U.S. television networks are broadcasting it.
Another fighter might be caught up in the moment. Joshua just seems to be enjoying it — along with the promise of many to come.
“It’s just me and another man coming to blows and the best man will win,” the British fighter said. “April 29th is just another stepping stone to greatness.”
Oddsmakers believe that to be true, making Joshua a 2-1 favorite in the third defense of his piece of the heavyweight title. Only 18 fights into his pro career — all won by knockout — Joshua is already a huge star in his native land and potentially on the fast track to the greatness he aspires to.
“I think it’s just destiny,” Joshua said. “I’m meant for this. I’m built for this.”
It’s the first time that the 41-year-old Klitschko can remember being an underdog in a fight, though with good reason. He reigned unbeaten for 11 years, winning 22 fights in a row before Tyson Fury upset him in a desultory fight in 2015.
Joshua, on the other hand, is coming off a spectacular third round knockout of Eric Molina and has never gone beyond seven rounds in any of his fights. At the age of 27 he’s also 14 years younger than Klitschko, who looked every bit his age against Fury.
“Youth is a great thing to have,” said Freddie Roach, who once trained Klitschko. “This is Joshua’s biggest test. If he passes this one, he’s on his way.”
If the test is big, so are the fighters. Both stand 6-foot-6 and both have the kind of power that could bring the fight to a quick halt before the 12-round limit. Joshua weighed in Friday before thousands of eager fans at 250.1 pounds, while Klitschko was 240.5.
Joshua’s potential weakness is that he’s never been in the ring with a fighter the caliber of Klitschko, who is a remarkable 64-4 with 53 knockouts in a career that began after he won an Olympic gold of his own in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate with having Joshua as my opponent,” Klitschko told a news agency. “He’s either great or I’m still great. The question marks on both fighters make this a fight for the fans.”
The fans in this boxing-mad country have responded, quickly snapping up all 90,000 tickets for the bout. The fight is on pay-per-view in England and on premium cable in the U.S., where Showtime will show it live Saturday afternoon and on HBO later that night.
Though the fight has drawn massive hype in England, Joshua said he is treating it just like any other bout.
“I simplify it,” he said. “I practice boxing. Long range jab, jab to the body. I think I’m very capable of hitting someone continuously until they break down. So I think I’ll keep on plugging away, round six or seven, I should have him in a bad place. I just have to take the fight and break it down round by round.”
Klitschko, who has long been criticized for the defensive posture he adopted after being knocked out by Lamon Brewster 13 years ago, says he realizes now that many boxing fans never warmed up to him despite his dominance of the heavyweight division for a decade.
He vowed to change his ways against Joshua, and spent weeks in training camp in Austria obsessing about winning what he says will be his signature fight.
“It got more exciting since I left the top,” the Ukrainian said. “It’s not as boring as it was with me during all these years. You can like me or hate me, but when one person conquers it is boring. I totally get it.”