Anthony Joshua: Rejuvenating Prize Fighting

Anthony Joshua (May 29, 2016).jpg

Illustration by Seun Ajibola

There are several sports most informed adults would not participate in competitively because of the recent scientific research on concussion. The three relevant sports are football, UFC and boxing. Boxing is the oldest prize fighting sport of the modern sports era. My understanding of prize fighting and its impact socially and economically came through the highlights of Muhammad Ali formerly known as Cassius Clay. This was back in 1997 or 1998 when the boxing documentary came out called “When We Were Kings”. The documentary followed the journey of the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman on October 30, 1974. I haven’t seen the documentary in a long time but I got a glimpse of the oratory power of Muhammad Ali and imagined what it would have been like to live in that period. Furthermore, it gave me a glimpse of life in Zaire.

Sports like basketball and soccer have moved ahead of boxing in recent years given the risk and reward imbalance in boxing. Fighters are not paid as well anymore, with the exception of a top bill like Floyd Mayweather, boxing has turned into a niche sport.

Back in the late 2011, I was watching the Tavis Smiley Show on PBS and the guest he had on the show mentioned the name Jack Johnson - the first African American heavyweight champion of the world. He was a 6-ft 2 inches. He managed to beat his way through the ranks and become the champion with screams from his racist detractors. While reading “Unforgivable Blackness” – the biography of Jack Johnson, I came across the term “prize fighting”. It was a term fitting for the sport of boxing and over the years its value has declined due to a lack of personalities that resonated deeply with the ringside fans.

I came across a list recently titled - Top 10 Most Marketable Athletes of 2015. Anthony Joshua is ranked 5th in the world and I wanted to find out how a boxer got ranked and find out more about the boxer - Anthony Joshua. Joshua is the current IBF World Champion and has had 16 fights along with 16 knockouts. He is ranked fifth most marketable athlete in the world and has climbed from a 35th place ranking just last year. Born in 1989 to Nigerian parents in Watford, England, he began boxing late in his lift at 18 years old. He previously held the British Commonwealth and WBC titles and was a gold medalist in the 2012 Olympics. This win at the Olympics made him the only other boxer after Joe Fraiser to win an Olympic gold and a heavyweight title belt. Similar to Jack Johnson, Anthony Joshua is an orthodox prize fighter, which means he boxes with his weaker side leading his stance to allow for more power punches from his strong side. At 6-foot 6 inches, he is ready to dominate the heavyweight field lacking any major interest from mainstream casual fans.

Anthony Johnson is not the first Nigerian fighter to gain the heavyweight title. Samuel Okon Peter was a former world champion in the sport, however, Anthony Johnson is the first one with a presence that can bring in new fans and revive the old fans through his social media presence and his global marketability.

The sport of boxing is begging for a heavyweight fighter that can generate interest in the weight class. While the middle and light weight divisions have carried the torch, fans want and prefer the face of boxing to be a heavyweight. Following the reign of Iron Mike, Lennox Lewis, Holyfield and the Klitschko brothers, Joshua is next.