After Anthony Joshua lost a second time to Olexander Usyk on Saturday night, a reporter asked Eddie Hearn how the promoter was feeling.
"Proud," replied Hearn, noting that Joshua had fought his hardest and lost to a truly great boxer. There's no shame in that.
As for Joshua's post-fight reaction? Throwing the belts and claiming the microphone? Here, again, AJ should be afforded more grace than many will offer him.
How many of us would offer the best version of ourselves a mere seconds after experience such crushing disappointment? How many of us have even known such crushing disappointment – nearly a year spent dedicated to a single goal only to fall short in agonising fashion?
And while grabbing the microphone before Usyk may have been ill-advised, Joshua still used his speech to congratulate the champion and accept his loss – rather than rail against the scorecards or offer a litany of excuses like so many defeated boxers (several within recent months).
Factor in the likely concussion caused by 12 rounds of heavyweight boxing and, yeah, maybe cut AJ a little bit of slack.
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He'll fight again – and why shouldn’t he? Losing twice to a man already a lock for the Hall of Fame hasn't turned Joshua to no-hoper overnight. Tantalising fights abound: three of them against his countrymen Joe Joyce, Dillian Whyte and Daniel Dubios. And while a meeting with the fearsome Deontay Wilder won’t ever recapture the lustre of 2018, rest assured that it would be a massive event with the winner almost guaranteed another crack at the title.
Indeed, the undisputed heavyweight championship isn't as far beyond Joshua’s reach as many will claim. Let’s say Tyson Fury decides to unretire and face Usyk for the undisputed championship (crazy thought but bear with me). Let’s say he wins. Let’s say Joshua returns and defeats one of the names listed in the above paragraph. The clamour for Fury vs Joshua will once again be deafening.
But Joshua has lost to Usyk twice! He won't touch Fury! Well, Mike Tyson couldn’t beat Evander Holyfield (twice) but you better believe the world was watching when he fought Lennox Lewis a few years later. Joe Frazier had nothing for George Foreman (twice) but he took Muhammad Ali to hell in Manila. Just because Usyk has proved Joshua’s kryptonite, there’s no guarantee that AJ couldn’t look like Superman against Fury. You can guarantee the fight would bring the nation to a standstill.
Big fights are still out there because every Anthony Joshua fight is big. Arguably ever since he headlined the O2 Arena against Dillian Whyte in 2015. Certainly since his epocal defeat of Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley two years later. Two, three, five years down the line, heavyweights will still be lining up to fight Anthony Joshua – you’re guaranteed a mammoth payday and a blockbuster event.
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Counting Klitschko, Joshua has fought five stadium fights in his career. He’s brought British boxing back into the mainstream. This is evident not only in blockbuster events such as Fury’s own trip to Wembley against Whyte – does that happen without the Joshua effect? – but also the sellout crowds and record viewing figures for domestic dustups such as Chris Blliam-Smith vs Isaac Chamberlain, Linus Udofia vs Denzel Bentley, Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams. The rising tide lifts all boats and Joshua has risen to levels never before seen in this country.
Former cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew recently posted a tribute to Joshua on Instagram: “You single handily Changed the game/business in this country for EVERY single fighter who fought after you and ones like myself who where here before you but was also here with you! All you’ve done is back your own throughout every step of your career! Helped people and supported them!”
Ten years ago, British boxing was in a dark place. Today, the sport is thriving. Some credit for that transformation must go to Eddie Hearn and Adam Smith, the men who took boxing to Sky and the stadiums. Credit also to the generation of talented and charismatic fighters who have thrilled us over the past decade: Fury, Bellew, Carl Froch, George Groves to name but four of many.
But it is Joshua who has been the central protagonist in this story. Joshua whose fights have grossed the multi-millions, whose face has stared down from billboards, whose name is recognised by your mum.
He has been a class act ever since winning gold at London 2012. He has lost three times and owned all of them. He may well lose more in the future – if so, I’ve no doubt he’ll own those losses as well. Anthony Joshua has already won something few athletes attain: a legacy.