By Cliff Rold
America’s Charles Martin captured one of the major belts in the Heavyweight division, IBF variety, in January with a win over Vyacheslav Glazkov.
The win didn’t make him the best heavyweight in the world. One could fairly say a win over Glazkov is barely enough to register into an objective top ten, especially with nothing else of note to go with it. That’s typically not what matters in the reality of the sport.
There is often only one real objective and one objective reality: money. When Martin (23-0-1, 21 KO) won that belt, he had his big ticket to the pay window. He’s cashing in shortly.
Martin didn’t look particularly good against Glazkov. The 29-year old looked like the work in progress he is. The easiest prediction to make following the Glazkov win is that a line was going to form quickly to get a crack at Martin. He is perceived, fair or unfair, as vulnerable.
Other fighters were going to want a chance to punch his pay ticket and create one of their own.
The team around 26-year old 2012 super heavyweight Olympic Gold Medalist Anthony Joshua (15-0, 15 KO) paid up to cut in line. Social media was buzzing Wednesday about just how much Team Joshua forked out for the showdown this Saturday. A report of approximately $8 million US had jaws dropping.
Whether that is the real number or not is hard to assess. Various reports have much lower numbers for Martin. Even the lower numbers are in the several-million-dollar range. Martin would be hard pressed to command a similar purse on his side of the Atlantic. There is simply more money abroad in the heavyweight division right now.
The better known American Deontay Wilder, who has held a WBC belt for over a year, will have to travel to Russia for his toughest fight (Alexander Povetkin) and biggest purse later this spring. Wilder and Martin could fight each other in the states right now and have a hard time generating the income they’re getting to travel.
Whatever the purse this weekend, it’s not really about Martin. Joshua’s people aren’t paying for a fighter. They’re paying for a belt, maybe even overpaying for it.
But not really.
This isn’t just about Saturday night. The development of Joshua the fighter has been well under way. This is where the investment in Joshua the business goes into overdrive.
The hype around Joshua has been enthusiastic for a couple of years. One never knows how good a fighter is until they face other real guys but a blue chip prospect isn’t hard to notice. Joshua is as blue chip as any young heavyweight in a generation.
He’s got the size, speed, power, and footwork of a star. That we don’t know yet if he has the chin makes Martin more than just an opponent. There is some intrigue here. Martin is big, he’s a southpaw, he’s fairly fluid for his size, and he can punch.
Joshua isn’t without risk here.
It’s managed risk. To get Martin right away, there was going to have to be an incentive. Joshua could have waited a little longer to be a mandatory but, if Martin is as vulnerable as he looks, he might not have been there anymore.
Joshua’s team is betting their man is a gold mine. Heavyweight gold mines aren’t like those in other divisions. There has always been big money all over the scale. It’s always been the most consistent among the big men. It pays to be the king and heavyweights are always the kings. There might be occasionally bigger draws in lighter classes, but if there is another objective reality that is unavoidable, a dominant heavyweight king is objectively the best boxer in the world.
Joshua has a long way to go to get to that status. He has some of the tools to get there. If he wins this weekend, he’s still not the king. Tyson Fury beat the man in Wladimir Klitschko. He’s the heavyweight champion of the world no matter what belts he holds.
Joshua-Fury would likely be a major stadium affair in the UK right now. Give Joshua a belt, slap a unification label on it, and there is a multiplier effect. They’re already jawing at each other. It will get louder if Joshua wins this weekend and louder still if Fury wins his rematch with Klitschko later this year.
All have heard the idea that spending money is a key to making money. Whatever Martin is being paid this weekend, in that light, is an investment in potentially much larger returns. Team Joshua thinks they might have the real thing on their hands.
If they’re right, this weekend is a wise investment indeed.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]