He’s back. And back in style.
More than two years after he last boxed on home soil, Anthony Joshua put on a fantastic show on his return to the United Kingdom.
The WBA, WBO and IBF world heavyweight champion stopped Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev in the ninth round at Wembley Arena, London.
Going into the fight, many of us were wondering which ‘AJ’ we would see.
The explosive, powerful combination puncher who raced to a world title in just his 16th professional fight?
The vulnerable, dazed fighter who was stopped and shocked by Andy Ruiz in June 2019?
Or the technically astute boxer who demonstrated his ring intelligence to avenge that defeat six months later?
The fans return
When AJ beat Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, a post-war record of 90,000 fans crammed into Wembley Stadium. On Saturday night, just 1,000 fortunate spectators were allowed inside Wembley Arena.
Hand sanitising, face marks and social distancing – it was a whole new experience for the boxing fans in attendance…
An echo of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline bounced around the arena, cheers and jeers greeted every punch and cries of ‘Ohhh, Anthony Joshua’ were frequent – those who were lucky enough to bag a ticket certainly made their voices heard…
Even the Mayor of London was pleased to see the return of boxing fans…
Explosive Joshua in round three
After a cagey opening, in which both fighters sized each other up, Joshua sprung into life in the third round.
A barrage of punches and Pulev turned his back, giving the referee no option but to start the 10 count. A Joshua uppercut followed, this time Pulev hitting the canvas.
Fighters past and present were loving it…
Slipping jabs, unleashing with vicious uppercuts, Joshua was unquestionably on top.
But Pulev, in an almost sinister manner, just smiled throughout…
Joshua couldn’t find the finish, however, as Pulev settled in the middle rounds…
But it didn’t take the champion long to find that second wind.
Another onslaught floored Pulev in the ninth. Somehow, he got back up. But a stunning and accurate Joshua right ended the Bulgarian’s quest for a world title.
It was a statement finish against a top-level contender. And Joshua earned his plaudits…
‘I’ll knock Joshua out in three’ – Fury
So Joshua has got past a potential banana skin. And the stage is now set for what would undoubtedly be the biggest – and probably richest – all-British heavyweight fight; Joshua v Tyson Fury.
Over the past few weeks, there has been speculation that WBC champion Fury would be in attendance on Saturday night. But the ‘Gypsy King’ had already dismissed those rumours…
Although there was always that little bit of wishful thinking Fury would still rock up. Remember, this is the man who once turned up to a news conference dressed as Batman.
As expected, straight after Joshua’s win, attention turned to the potential Joshua-Fury mega fight in 2021…
It didn’t take Fury long to address his rival’s performance.
“I want the fight next. I’ll knock him out in three rounds,” he said in a video.
But will it actually happen? Both fighters’ promoters are sending out all the right signals.
Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, who represents Joshua, said: “Starting from tomorrow, we make the Tyson Fury fight straight away. It’s the only fight to be made in boxing. It is the biggest fight in British boxing history.”
And American Bob Arum, who co-promotes Fury, had this to say…
Mayweather’s surprise appearance
Despite Fury not gracing Wembley with his presence, there was a suitable replacement.
Floyd Mayweather, one of the greatest boxers of all time, hopped on his private jet from Las Vegas and made a surprise appearance in London to cheer on Joshua…
This fan couldn’t resist having a pop at Mayweather for his planned exhibition bout against YouTuber Logan Paul…
And BBC Radio 5 Live’s Mike Costello also had a bit of a laugh while on air with pundit Steve Bunce.
“Just walking into the arena is a man wearing a baseball cap saying ‘TBE’ – the best ever,” said Costello.
“Floyd Mayweather is in the house and it’s very kind of him to take time out, Steve, because he has got that ‘massive’ fight coming up against Logan Paul in February.
“Stop laughing Steve..”