Anthony Joshua says “the possibilities of 2018 are great” after cementing a record-breaking year with a dogged win over Carlos Takam.
The British WBA and IBF heavyweight champion built on his April win over Wladimir Klitschko by stopping Takam in 10 rounds at a captivated Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
His promoter Eddie Hearn says a meeting with WBC champion Deontay Wilder “has to happen”, while coach Rob McCracken hopes a bout against WBO king Joseph Parker presents itself first.
“The possibilities are bubbling nicely in the distance,” said Joshua, 28. “I’m not worried about 2018 because of the potential possibilities to come.
“I want the other two belts out there, whether it’s Wilder first or Parker.”
Does AJ’s power stand out? Is he Wilder ready?
Both bouts – but Wilder in particular – would serve to elevate Joshua’s seemingly unstoppable rise through global sport further.
A smooth-talking Briton versus a flamboyant American, both raw in the ring, both powerful. What is not to like? The sooner it happens the better.
Or maybe not. Takam – though well beaten and aided when he damaged the champion’s nose after a head collision – perhaps showed enough resistance to deploy brakes of caution on the Joshua bandwagon when the dust settles.
“This was just the type of fight, experience and adversity that Anthony Joshua needed,” said Britain’s former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.
“He wasn’t at his best, but you won’t always be – and it’s those times you have to find a way.”
Britain has been swept along by the unbroken run of knockouts and belief Joshua can walk through anyone has arguably seeped in. That is ultimately still possible – but so early in his career, it is far from straightforward.
Joshua’s instinctive love for a brawl is still visible. That could prove dangerous against the biggest punchers and, after stopping 36-year-old Takam on Saturday, he admitted he still needs warnings from his corner at points where he simply gets “too cocky”.
There also remains a slightly reckless side which someone like Wilder – with 37 knockouts from 38 wins – could punish.
“He dominated Takam but what we need to understand here is this is a man who has had 20 pro contests on the back of an amateur career that was barely 40 fights old,” said BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello.
“We also saw that, at the highest level, his power is not extraordinary because he landed flush time and again. Takam has a reputation for durability, but he took those punches.
“What we have seen tonight is there are a number of fights out there that potentially could be very closely contested.
“At the top of the list for most would be Wilder next year. I think the odds will have changed. I still think Joshua wins the fight – but maybe now more people will have them a little closer together.”
Time for a UK reality check?
The ascent brings much weight to Joshua’s shoulders. More than 160,000 people have turned out for his past two bouts. A UK attendance record was set at Wembley in April; a global attendance record for an indoor fight set in the Welsh capital on Saturday.
Outside the ring, the public want more of him than ever. In Cardiff, parents freely passed their babies to him for photographs, security flanked his every move and hordes of media stood in line for their five minutes with the champion.
Sponsors have also lined up – 12 major ones in all. That is set to be reduced to fewer brands, while remaining global in its reach.
The headphones, the labels on shirts, the watch – all these things we see on Joshua are strategically placed. Simply thinking of them all requires work and manpower. He embodies an empire and Hearn began the post-fight news conference by talking about the “pressure” his man had been under.
“He’s been thrown into the arenas and he may say he doesn’t feel the pressure – but I believe it is there,” said Hearn. “He can barely leave his house without being mobbed. He’s on every TV show, in every paper.”
Joshua added: “The pressure comes because people want to see who I fight unconscious. But I was delivering. I put Takam down, I cut both his eyes.
“My boots were white now they are filled with blood. I’m happy to win and now crack on.”
Crack on indeed, but perhaps it is time for a tempering of expectation across the country.
In stopping Klitschko after an enthralling contest, Joshua set public ambition alight. But he cannot reach boiling point every night and sometimes we may have to be content to watch him simmer.
“He has always been keen to stop the comparisons with the greats,” added Costello.
“Whoever you talk about – Jack Dempsey, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier – look at some of their title defences. Some of them were routine, some were against men who were barely heard of – but they had to get through them.
“One of the great things to take from the Takam win is he got through it. In all champions’ careers there are fights like this where you just have to get the job done.”
Parker first to set up Deontay…
It is likely Joshua will flee the nest and move out of his mother’s flat in 2018 because work on a lavish home he has already bought should be completed.
And his UK fighting home will possibly be replaced briefly too. Joshua’s comments don’t point to a man bursting to fight abroad but Hearn has stated an international fight is likely.
Such a move ties in with Joshua’s wider management team’s hope to grow the brand they are brilliantly constructing.
“He is on course to become one of the most popular British fighters of all time,” said Costello. “Maybe by this time next year we will be talking about the single most popular British fighter of all time.
“I imagine they would look first to win another one of the belts – the WBO crown held by Parker.
“That would then present Joshua with three belts so the fight against Wilder becomes a history maker – whoever wins becomes the first person to hold all four heavyweight titles since the inception of the WBO.”
Coach McCracken repeated Costello’s logic almost verbatim for the media. Take on New Zealand’s Parker and create a meeting with Wilder which, with so much on the line, would sell out any stadium quicker than it takes to rattle out a 10 count.
Hearn has pointed to a three-fight plan next year, including meetings with Parker and Wilder. However, he has recently been on record in stating Wilder has demanded $7m (£5.3m) to fight Dillian Whyte in February.
It was perhaps telling then that when asked if Joshua-Wilder or Joshua-Parker was more straightforward to make, he replied: “There’s nothing straightforward about putting on a heavyweight unification fight, especially when some people will not like the reality of what they are worth.”
Despite having options aplenty, Joshua maintains a humility and says he sees Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez as the face of world boxing rather than himself.
But many would argue Joshua is the sport’s true star.
Perhaps a simple boxing resolution for 2018 should be to calm ourselves, relieve some pressure and let him shine.
Rugged nights like Saturday make the spectacular wins all the more spectacular – and a true champion must be able to deliver in both instances.
Joshua has now shown he can.