Anthony Joshua was making his way through the heavyweight ranks, establishing a reputation as a potential world champion of the future, when he fought unheralded Matt Legg at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 2014.
It was the first fight on the undercard of Carl Froch-George Groves II. Shortly after 5:30pm, in broad daylight and with fans drifting into a mostly empty stadium, Joshua won in 83 seconds for his sixth straight win since turning pro.
There were much bigger fights to come that night but it didn’t stop Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, sending a reminder to the sparse Wembley crowd: “In two or three years’ time, Anthony could be headlining here himself.”
Turns out Hearn was spot on.
On 29 April next year, Joshua will be at the other end of a card at England’s national stadium, fighting Wladimir Klitschko for three world titles in front of an anticipated 90,000 spectators.
Now possibly the most feared heavyweight around, Joshua retained his IBF belt by stopping Eric Molina inside three rounds in Manchester in the early hours of yesterday morning – and has won all of his 18 professional fights by knockout, without being extended beyond seven rounds.
The fight against Klitschko will be a defining one, though. Either confirmation of a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division, or a reminder by the 40-year-old Klitschko that the old champ is still alive and well. “I don’t think he needs the dough, but there’s no cap on what you can make,” Joshua said in the bowels of Manchester Arena, two hours after dismantling Molina with the minimum of fuss. “But to own the division again? How long is he going to be around for? Maybe this is to stamp his mark, his last hurrah.”
The WBA had already sanctioned a “super” fight between Joshua and Klitschko for the spring of 2017 but the date and location was confirmed minutes after Joshua’s win over Molina. Hearn entered the ring, to be followed soon enough by Klitschko, and the 29 April fight was announced.
It will be the biggest payday of Joshua’s career, potentially earning the 27-year-old Briton more than £10 million.
Joshua said he won’t let his respect for Klitschko stop him attempting to end the Ukrainian’s career. They have been sparring partners in the past and there appears to be a genuine bond between them.
“I love you, you are awesome,” Klitschko said after embracing Joshua in the ring after the Molina fight.
“I think there are different breeds of animal in this sport but we’re all predators, all lions,” Joshua said. “I think we come together as one and represent the sport of boxing. We have that mutual respect.”