t was a nice try. “Boxing’s about less talk, more action,” an uncharacteristically wired-up Anthony Joshua barked in the immediate afterglow of his finest performance since the night three years ago when he ended Wladimir Klitschko’s career.
Unfortunately, it’s not, AJ. Without the talk, nobody walks. Fighters fight, but only when the deal is done.
Yet, even as Kubrat Pulev’s shredded remains wriggled in front of him on the canvas after Saturday night’s doomed but energetic challenge at Wembley Arena, the old Bulgarian’s conqueror was not in the mood for cliches or platitudes.
There was a perfunctory tap of gloves, brief acknowledgment of their excellent, tense and entertaining struggle, but little more. No smiles or hugs. Nor did the winner give his paymasters the quotes they wanted. Sky Sports was fishing for soundbites about the fight that mattered way more than this one: against Tyson Fury, next door in front of a full house at Wembley Stadium in high summer, with Covid-19 a fading memory – and maybe a second one in Cardiff. This had been an hors d’oeuvre; what everyone wants is la grande bouffe.
The champion was not in the mood. After nearly half an hour of throwing and dodging health-threatening leather, putting his opponent down in the third, jabbing and uppercutting him to shreds then levelling him for a full count in the ninth, Joshua hurled the easy questions back. “I don’t really want to do an interview,” he said.
The most cooperative celebrity in the business, a smiling, friendly guy who asks as many questions of journalists as they ask of him, who opens supermarkets in his sleep, was not going to perform. Not tonight. “I just want the fans to appreciate the hard work,” he said. “Everyone go home and have a lovely Christmas, and we’ll reunite in 2021.”
It was left to Eddie Hearn to fill in the gaps. The Matchroom supremo said of the talk that will make this fight walk”: “We’re going to be friendly, we’re going to be nice, but we know what we have to do. Starting from tomorrow, we make the Tyson Fury fight straight away. It’s the only fight in boxing, it’s the biggest fight in boxing, it’s the biggest fight in British boxing history. I know he wants it. He is the best heavyweight in the world. I promise you, he’ll break him down, he’ll knock him out. We will get it done.”
You could almost hear Joshua saying to himself, “You better, pal.” Within an hour, Fury was on social media to tell the world he would knock Joshua out in three rounds. “Anthony Joshua just shit himself live on television,” Fury said in a video uploaded to Instagram. “He got asked did he want the the fight and he went around the bushes.” At least one of the principals was playing his part in this pantomime.
Whatever Joshua did or did not mean in that emotional moment standing in front of a ringside microphone, he is as desperate to put his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts on the line as Fury is to pony up his WBC title. And that might be the source of Joshua’s post-fight irritability.
Hearn has said Joshua is happy to split the proceeds 50-50, which is a serious carrot to seal a deal. Maybe Joshua is not so keen on that division of a pot that is likely to soar past £200million on the way to creating boxing history – with a bit of help from Sky, Fury and the media.
Perhaps he reckons this hugely impressive win – his 24th, his 22th by stoppage, his 10th as champion, and a statement victory after the doubts that infected his brand when Andy Ruiz had the impertinence to temporarily stop his run in 2019 – entitles him to something like 60-40. “Less talk, more action,” he repeated. Was that a nod towards the negotiating table?
Matchroom do not own Joshua, although Hearn’s involvement has been mutually beneficial beyond anyone’s imaginings since the raw Watford heavyweight turned pro with a gold medal from the London Olympics as his bargaining chip. The fighter will say he has delivered; now it is Eddie’s turn – and he hasn’t let him down yet.
As for the fight, it deserved a stadium audience of 90,000, instead of the thousand allowed in with a nod to briefly loosened restrictions as the virus keeps the country in its grip. It was like everyone had been allowed out for the weekend and were going to make the most of it.
Joshua was thrillingly alive from the first bell; so was Pulev, despite his years. They were scheduled to fight in October, 2017, but went in different directions – like most of Pulev’s early punches on Saturday night. Joshua quickly established dominance. Nobody, surely, throws more uppercuts, and plenty landed on Pulev, who keeled over in the third, yet kept going.
He had his moments. His pedigree was solid, if a little worn. And he grew older and slower by the round. Joshua, eight years younger at 31, tamed his own impetuosity, alive to the perils of his assignment, then constructed his hurricane. As Pulev’s legs weakened and his overhand right swung with diminishing threat, Joshua thrashed his chin repeatedly from under his guard.
Pulev, a keen student of architecture, knows how buildings without solid foundations collapse under the trauma of instant pressure. As Joshua’s long, classical right cross crashed into his defenceless jaw for the last time, Pulev was that building.