Having 1,000 rabid fight fans in a British boxing arena for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic all but shut the sport down, certainly has its perks. One such perk was the extra level of intensity it added to Anthony Joshua's ninth-round knockout of Kubrat Pulev to retain the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles Saturday night.
It has its other uses as well, it seems, as the champion used the socially-distanced crowd to conduct post-fight market research on who his next opponent should be.
"I fight for the fans," said Joshua, now 24-1 with 22 knockouts, when asked if he wants WBC champion Tyson Fury next. "I'll fight who they want me to fight. You should be asking them."
So, "AJ" did exactly that. He gauged those 1,000 diehards willing to pay a considerable fee to get back into the thick of the action for their reaction to names of possible opponents for Joshua.
When Fury's name finally escaped Joshua's lips, you would be forgiven for thinking the SSE Arena had broken coronavirus protocol and had in fact allowed the venue to fill up.
Joshua vs. Fury has been the absolute heavyweight end game for almost a year now, ever since Fury himself eliminated Deontay Wilder from the debate with a seventh-round stoppage in their February rematch in Las Vegas to win the only major belt in the division not currently owned by Joshua.
That was emphasized when the duo's respective promoters agreed in principle to the financial terms of a fight with a rematch clause for both parties. And even more so when Wilder embarked on a massive excuse-filled rant, while allowing his rematch clause to apparently expire (according to Bob Arum) and letting slip that he did indeed sidestep a fight with Joshua in the process.
All that was left in the way was a fight apiece for the two British world champions, plus the small matter of finally being able to pack a stadium again. And this fight will pack whatever stadium it lands in.
Fury, in fact, opted not to fight again this year when the Wilder trilogy peetered out. Joshua, of course, dispatched of a game Pulev. And with 1,000 fans on site, plus a vaccine on the way, one would like to think that we aren't a million miles from the pandemic no longer being an issue, either.
Of course, there's always the chance that fight sport politics could once again rear its ugly head, as it has countless times throughout history. But Hearn vowed to give it his all and deliver the fight when he spoke after the main event.
"There’s been a lot of talk over the years," the Matchroom Boxing chief said. "Like Joshua says, we need less talk, more action. We’re going to be friendly and nice, we know what we have to do. From Monday, we will try to make Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury happen. It’s the biggest fight in British boxing history."
Former cruiserweight world champion Johnny Nelson, serving as a pundit on the Sky Sports Box Office coverage in the U.K. and Ireland, admitted he was worried the fight wouldn't actually come together.
"It’d be the biggest fight I’ve ever been around," he said. "It’s what boxing wants, it’s what the fans want and it’s what the fighters want. Unfortunately this is show business, and it’s always the business that spoils the show. Hopefully, we get at least one Joshua-Fury fight, but I think it will take time to make."
It did not take Fury long to weigh in on the matter, either, posting on social media that he would halt Joshua in two or three rounds.