Anthony Joshua’s path to Tyson Fury clear after Mayweather pep talk | Donald McRae

Anthony Joshua’s path to Tyson Fury clear after Mayweather pep talk | Donald McRae

“I

t was unbelievable,” Eddie Hearn said just after 1.30am on Sunday as he emerged from the dressing room, a couple of hours after Anthony Joshua had produced a clinical display of heavyweight gravitas and knockout power while ending the brave challenge of Kubrat Pulev.

Hearn was typically ready to talk expansively about the performance and his certainty that Joshua, whom he promotes, will fight Tyson Fury next year. But, first, he savoured the “unbelievable” encounter he had just witnessed between Joshua and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

“They talked tactics for about an hour,” Hearn said. “They were talking about slipping jabs, using elbows in a clinch, it just went on and on. Mayweather loved the fight [between Joshua and Pulev]. He was screaming the whole time: ‘Jab, jab, stay on the outside, beautiful, beautiful.’

“It was fascinating because all fighters are in awe of Mayweather. AJ was just bleeding information out of him about slipping jabs. He is a student of the game. AJ is like a sponge. Any information he can draw out of people, he loves it. He saw that conversation as so valuable.”

Robert McCracken, Joshua’s trainer, had come out a little earlier for a chat. He is as understated as Hearn is voluble. Had McCracken known Mayweather would be a surprise guest at the fight? “I got a call this morning so I knew he was going to turn up. He’s a mate of Josh’s and they’ve been friends for a long time.”

McCracken paused when asked if he was worried that the presence of Mayweather, as great a hustler outside the ring as he was a fighter between the ropes, may distract Joshua. “Maybe four or five years ago, but Josh is very driven. He’s happy-go-lucky on the outside but he’s deadly serious about boxing.”

That consuming drive was obvious against Pulev as Joshua produced a performance McCracken described as “one of his best”. The trainer added: “He showed his experience and stayed calm. Pulev is very experienced and he’s dangerous. Josh tried to finish him off [in the third round when Pulev took two counts], realised he wasn’t ready to go and then just regrouped, got his breath back and found his range and distance in the next round. Then he broke Pulev down. And Pulev’s a top fighter. He had only lost to [Wladimir] Klitschko in his whole career.”

Anthony Joshua celebrates after being officially declared winner of his defence against Kubrat Pulev.

McCracken soon turned his attention to Joshua’s next fight, which is likely to be the long-awaited showdown with Fury. “Of course we’ll take it,” he said. “That’s why Josh is in heavyweight boxing – to fight the best. Him and Tyson Fury are the two best heavyweights.

“It’s when they fight – not if. I wouldn’t have thought they would wait. I think they will definitely fight, and at least twice. That’s what everybody wants to happen. You can’t not let the fans see two great heavyweights go against each other, especially when they are British. So 100% they will box each other, and it will be a huge challenge for both fighters. I know Tyson and he’s a fantastic fighter.”

Hearn was asked about the expectation that each champion will make more than £100m when they meet in the ring. “It depends where it is, but that’s the kind of number both fighters expect for a fight like this. But you wouldn’t get near that number in the UK – that’s for sure. That’s why I say we agree a deal and then we all go out collectively to the market and present the fighters with the offers.

“The only way we get to 50% of the money in the UK is if we get a 100% capacity crowd back. It was so good having 1,000 fans in the arena. It felt like 90,000. But the government could close it all down again in January. London could go to tier three next week.”

It seems inevitable the bout will take place in the Middle East and Hearn said a two-fight deal has been agreed between the two camps. “Everyone is completely in on the finances – 50-50 for the first fight, 60-40 to the winner in the second. We just need to sign an agreement and then go into a conversation about the various sites. That’s what they did for Fury-[Deontay] Wilder – signed the fight and then went to see where they could get the money.”

In a battle to decide the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Joshua will defend his IBF, WBA and WBO belts while Fury enters the ring as the WBC champion. Hearn confirmed that the WBO may insist instead on Joshua defending their title against Oleksandr Usyk first.

But his response was blunt: “If the WBO don’t want to be involved in the biggest fight in boxing then unfortunately we would have to vacate the title. It would be a travesty because all we want, and all boxing needs, is an undisputed heavyweight champion.

“All these governing bodies have a rule that basically says: ‘We can do whatever we want.’ So they need to allow this fight to happen. Coming off the pandemic, this is the shot in the arm the sport needs. AJ is just different. He transcends everything – sexes, ages, religions, countries, and that is the only way we are going to grow boxing. Not many people can do it. So if the WBO don’t want to be involved in this fight then we will have to speak to Mr Usyk and see if we can work that out.”

Kubrat Pulev hits the canvas at the Wembley Arena.

Hearn spoke further about the insidious control that sanctioning bodies exert over boxing. “We all love a pound note but my God! I had a picture with Mayweather and his belts and I said: ‘How much did you pay them in your career?’ He was like … [Hearn pulls a dismayed face]. There will come a time in boxing when we look at that. AJ wants to fight for the undisputed championship. It would take a little away for AJ [should the WBO refuse to sanction the fight] but we would still do it.”

As for the fight itself, Hearn said: “I’ve always felt confident, and styles make fights. I think AJ will knock him out. Tonight AJ got hit once with a right hand and that was about it. Fury and Pulev probably punch as hard as each other. But Fury is a lot better than Pulev.

“It should be the toughest fight out there, as it is an undisputed fight. Fury is at the peak of his powers and so is AJ, which is why it will be so great if we get it made.”