The awaited ring return of Anthony Joshua will take place in front of a live audience.
Authorities in the United Kingdom have granted clearance for up to 1,000 fans to attend the December 12 show at Wembley's SSE Arena, headlined by Joshua's unified heavyweight title defense versus mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev. An announcement made on Wednesday by event promoter Matchroom Boxing confirmed the good news of the sport's largest live draw not having to fight behind closed doors.
"I can’t tell you how happy I am to see fans returning to our live boxing events," said Eddie Hearn, Joshua's career-long promoter. "Whilst the team have done an incredible job over the last 10 months we live and breathe through the energy and atmosphere that a live crowd generates.
"It’s so fitting that they can return for an AJ fight, when through the last few years he has broken all kinds of attendance records in the U.K. and beyond. This is such a positive move for boxing and all sport. Welcome back!"
The announcement marks the first boxing event in England to take place with fans in attendance since the initial wave of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in March.
The crowd on hand will be a pittance compared to the size of events which Joshua (23-1, 21KOs) has headlined throughout his already illustrious career. The hulking Brit has served as a huge draw since coming out of the 2012 London Olympics where he captured a Gold medal for hosting Great Britain. His first career title fight—a 2nd round wipeout of unbeaten Charles Martin in April 2016—sold out within minutes, as was the case for subsequent knockout wins over Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina in separate title defenses to round out the year.
Joshua's legend began to grow beginning with his off-the-canvas, 11th round knockout of former lineal heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, which came in front of a record-breaking crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium. The bout marked a four-fight stretch where Joshua's fights amassed more than 320,000 fans in attendance before taking his act stateside.
A packed house came of the night at Madison Square Garden, albeit in a shocking 7th round knockout defeat to Andy Ruiz last June. Joshua righted the ship in their rematch, claiming a decisive 12-round win to regain his slew of alphabet belts last December in a makeshift outdoor stadium in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
Joshua's mandatory title defense versus Bulgaria's Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) was due to take place June 20 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a North London stadium which can accommodate more than 62,000 in attendance. Those plans were shut down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the sport as a whole returning but largely with only essential personnel permitted on site.
That changes next Saturday, much to the delight of the hosting venue.
“The SSE Arena, Wembley is delighted to have our customers back for its reopening event, and it does not get any better than the return of fans to see Anthony Joshua in action," notes John Drury, vice president and general manager of The SSE Arena, Wembley. “The SSE Arena, Wembley will open its doors with best-in-class procedures from ASM Global’s VenueShield programme. VenueShield is a comprehensive, industry-leading programme deployed at more than 325 ASM Global facilities around the world, providing the highest levels of enhanced cleanliness and safety.
“As a response to the coronavirus pandemic, ASM Global has partnered with medical professionals, industry leaders, and public health officials to create a welcoming, secure environment while providing the most advanced hygienic safeguards for anyone visiting the building. We are following all government and local authority health guidelines in order to reopen, and look forward to bringing fans and events back in a Covid-secure way.”
With the permitted crowd also comes conditions which will be strictly adhered to in terms of ticket purchases and fight night protocol:
- The lead booker can only attend with members of their own household (ID including address will be required on entry).
- Matchroom Boxing are participating in the NHS Test and Trace scheme. Lead booker details will be collected and shared for this in line with legal guidelines, and NHS Track & Trace check-in codes will be in place for fans to scan at entrances.
- You must not attend an event if you have tested positive for Covid-19, are required to self-isolate or have suffered from Covid-19 symptoms within 14 days of the event.
- You must wear a face covering at all times during your visit to The SSE Arena, Wembley (if you’re medically able to do so and aged 11+). They can be safely removed when you’re seated to eat or drink.
- Tickets must not be resold.
- No refund policy
According to the release, tickets will be priced at £100, £200, £300, £500 and £1,000 (VIP). Tickets will be available to purchase via AXS (www.axs.com) and StubHub (www.stubhub.co.uk) on Friday December 4 at 10.00am.
The event also featured a vacant cruiserweight title fight between 2016 Great Britain Olympian and unbeaten contender Lawrence Okolie (14-0, 10KOs) and Poland's former two-time titlist Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2, 19KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox