Anthony Joshua is the world heavyweight boxing champion, but thus far his professional world has been limited to fights in his native Great Britain.
That will change on June 1 when he makes his American debut at Madison Square Garden against Andy Ruiz Jr., a matchup that on paper should prove to be less of a career milestone for Joshua than the site itself.
“When I started watching boxing, naturally I gravitated toward the history of the U.S.A. — Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, they all boxed out of the U.S.A.,” he told Newsday on Monday at MSG Networks’ studios during a promotional visit to New York.
“So naturally you have a love for the U.S.A. boxing market, the history of it and where they’ve boxed. Madison Square Garden pops up quite frequently. I had to start my career on home turf. I think it was important, which has brought these opportunities. When this opportunity presented itself, I wanted to grab it with both hands.”
There has been “a lot of drama” en route, including a change in opponent. Ruiz is an emergency replacement for Brooklyn's Jarrell Miller, who was slapped with a six-month ban after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Enter Ruiz. Let’s just say a loss would be very bad for Joshua’s career. (“If I lose, you’re never going to see me again,” he said on Monday on ESPN New York radio.)
But Joshua, who holds the WBA, IBO, IBF and WBO titles, said he tends to focus more on himself in training than on his opponent, so this should not require major adjustments.
“If I keep improving within myself, I should be able to defeat anyone,” he said. “The good thing is they’re both quick-handed fighters . . . I’ve got to go in there with the same mindset and same objective.”
As for higher-profile, bigger-money fights against the likes of WBC champion Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury, who knows? So far that has gotten tangled up in the usual intricacies of boxing politics and finance.
Joshua is signed with DAZN, a subscription streaming service, with other big names such as Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.
“As [DAZN’s] profile will grow in the States – which it has when you look at where they started – mine will grow in the States as well,” Joshua said. “It’s a really good time to be part of DAZN . . . You can see we’re heading in the right direction, and I’m in a stable with the crème de la crème of the sport.”
Joshua is wildly popular in Britain, but there is no avoiding the American market if one wants to be a global star.
“Coming to New York, to America, this is a market that I haven’t been involved with, so I have to fight like I did in the U.K. and built my career over the last five, six years,” he said.
“With the Internet, the world has become a lot smaller, so people connect the dots together. It’s a good time to be a part of the game because of the way the markets have become smaller across different countries.”
The Garden is an apt place to start.
“You’re being added to a long list of legends and a lot list of history, so you have to go out there and perform,” Joshua said. “The key to it now is going out there and showing that this is heavyweight championship boxing, and bring credibility to what that is.
“It’s not a game. It’s not glitz and glamour. This is a title that’s been given and earned by some great athletes and great icons of the sport.”