AJ'S RETURN SHOWS BOXING'S HEART BEATS ON
Anthony Joshua will defend his heavyweight titles against Ukrainian southpaw Oleksandr Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium later this month, marking the champion’s return to a major stadium fight. But this fight is more than just AJ's return, it holds greater significance for the sport in this country.
It’s been great to see fans making their way back to sporting events across the country in recent weeks. I’m sure all sports fans can agree that competition that takes place “behind closed doors” just isn’t the same. Even when viewing from home, a raucous, full capacity stadium can make even the dullest contest immeasurably more enjoyable to watch. So, the prospect of over 60,000 fans in attendance for a major heavyweight clash adds a layer of excitement to an already intriguing clash.
AJ vs Usyk also says a lot about the health of boxing in Britain. Tickets for the fight sold out in just 24 hours. Although some criticism has surfaced regarding secondary markets, on the whole this shows there is a real desire for fans - from devoted boxing heads to semi-interested ‘casuals’ - to get back to watching major fights in the flesh.
And when the big stars like AJ are drawing huge crowds, it helps boxing in general. The sport benefits from the additional eyes, column inches and tweets about the heavyweight superstar.
This comes at a pivotal time for boxing on these shores. Team GB collected a record six medals at this year’s Olympics, surpassing the previous record of five at London 2012 - where both Joshua and Usyk secured golds at super-heavyweight and heavyweight respectively. Seeing professional boxing back on a grand stage will only benefit the new crop coming through into the paid ranks. If managed correctly, they can ride this wave and endear themselves to a captive audience looking for their next favourite boxer.
It also shows just how important the big stars are in the sport. Boxing fans obviously know about Usyk and his pedigree and his fight with Bellew has helped to boost his profile more widely. But make no mistake, AJ is the draw here. There will be tens of thousands in attendance and many more around the country tuning in because of his crossover popularity.
Events like AJ vs Usyk are good for British boxing. When mainstream stars are selling out stadiums it not only shows the sport’s popularity, but also provides a context for the next crop of stars to reach similar heights.