By Nick Parkinson, courtesy of The Daily Star
ANTHONY JOSHUA was a knockout hit in 2017 but will be an even bigger star if he fights Tyson Fury next year, says promoter Eddie Hearn.
The IBF, IBO and WBA world heavyweight champion is the bookies’ favourite to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year at Liverpool’s Echo Arena tonight.
And if the Joshua juggernaut continues to mow down everyone in his way, he will be a regular contender for SPOTY.
AJ, 28, could not have had a better 2017 after adding the WBA belt to his IBF title with a thrilling 11th-round win over former champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The Watford-born boxer, who lives in north London with his mum, then battered Carlos Takam in a 10th-round win to chalk up a 20th knockout from as many professional fights.
Joshua’s Klitschko KO was watched by the biggest British boxing crowd since the World War II – 90,000 at Wembley in April. And the 78,000 who saw him stop Takam at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium was a new world record for an indoor boxing event.
Joshua is up against a line-up which includes F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, who clinched a fourth drivers’ championship crown, Worlds 10,000m gold-winning athlete Mo Forah and cyclist Chris Froome, who claimed his fourth Tour De France in July.
But Hearn, who has guided Joshua since his pro debut after winning 2012 Olympic gold, insists no British sports star is bigger than Joshua right now.
He said: “AJ’s was the standout performance in terms of drama on April 29 and I think that will come across when they show the highlights on the night for the SPOTY award.
“April 29 was on another level to the others. Of course the Takam win was great but this award is based around the biggest night in British boxing history and one of the greatest performances in boxing history.
“If you look at the standout performances in sport in 2017, AJ’s win over Klitschko is it.”
Hearn explained why AJ has achieved such popularity quicker than super-middleweight Joe Cazalaghe, the last boxer to win SPOTY in the final year of his career.
“Number one, he’s a heavyweight,” said Hearn. “Number two, he was Olympic gold medallist in London.
“Number three, he’s extremely likeable.
“Number four, he looks a million dollars.
“Number five, every fight he has is exciting. Number six, his story is incredible and the inner city kids can relate to him.
“I don’t know someone who appeals to so many demographically. People’s grans love him. When I go to pick up my kids from schools kids say, ‘You’re Anthony Joshua’s promoter, I want to be like him’.
“Young men love him. Men my age think he’s the coolest bloke in the world. Women just adore him, I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I don’t think you can find someone who has a bad word to say about him – apart from Tyson Fury – and that’s unique.”
Hearn is working to secure AJ’s next fight against WBO world champion Joseph Parker at one of three UK venues – Twickenham, the Principality Stadium or Old Trafford – on March 31 or April 7.
Cardiff is favourite to host the unification title fight. Hearn hopes AJ will also face American Deontay Wilder, the WBC king, later next year. But as well as unifying the titles against New Zealander Parker and Wilder, Joshua aims to face former WBA-IBF-WBO-IBO champion Fury in 2018 or beyond.
Manchester megamouth Fury is hoping to get his boxing licence back next month after a doping ban was this week backdated and is planning a comeback next year.
Hearn added: “I think there’s a chance for a fight against Tyson Fury for the end of the year. AJ wants to be in the biggest fights and that’s the biggest fight in British boxing. It would be huge.
“In an ideal world, AJ would fight three times against Parker, Wilder and Fury.
“That’s a dream land scene but we must fight two of those so if Fury has to wait, then it will be spring 2019 – and Anthony is fine with that.”