Anthony Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr in the desert on Saturday night to prove the doubters wrong and reclaim the heavyweight crown he lost so emphatically in New York on June 1.
The Brit controlled proceedings from the off and quelled the threat of the Mexican to take home the WBA, WBO and IBF belts and set up a mouth-watering 2020 for heavyweight boxing.
In the aftermath of the bout, AJ was unwilling to talk about the future, with much of the past three years involving talk of a unification mega fight with knockout artist and loudmouth American Deontay Wilder.
Joshua is keen to fight three times in 2020, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘Yes (I want to fight three times next year), I don’t know how quickly Eddie (Hearn) can turn around these shows, but I would definitely want to continue to fight. Old school is the best school.’
A stadium fight is being lined up for Spring next year, with Wembley, the O2 Arena and the brand new Tottenham Hotspur stadium touted as potential venues.
Since Saturday’s win, AJ has been ordered by the WBO and IBF to fight Oleksandr Usyk and Kubrat Pulev respectively as mandatory opponents.
Perhaps no man presents more of a mystery in heavyweight boxing than Usyk. The Ukrainian is not the first to tread the path from the cruiserweight division to the heavyweight ranks, following in the footsteps of the likes of Evander Holyfield and David Haye.
Usyk opted to move up a weight class after clinching the WBSS cruiserweight title against Murat Gassiev before defeating Tony Bellew late last year, and made his heavyweight debut in a routine, albeit unconvincing, win over American Chazz Witherspoon.
An accomplished amateur, Usyk, like AJ, is an Olympic champion, having won gold in the London 2012 games at cruiserweight.
After amassing 335 wins and just 15 losses as an amateur, Usyk turned pro and became the first man in history to hold all four major belts in the cruiserweight division after just 15 professional bouts.
The 32-year-old is close friends with countryman Vasyl Lomachenko and shares a similar style to the elusive lightweight. Usyk is nicknamed ‘The Cat’ and is an awkward customer, taking a southpaw stance and displaying a knack for catching his opponents on the counter with his booming left hand.
Usyk pretty much destroyed everything in his path at cruiserweight but in terms of his heavyweight pedigree, AJ will only have one fight to study. Against Witherspoon, Usyk retained the slick southpaw counter punching traits we’re so used to seeing, but he looked far smaller at 15st 5lbs and that had an effect on his power.
Joshua will be wary of the speed of the 32-year-old but, having just schooled arguably the quickest man in heavyweight boxing in Diriyah, he should feel confident should he meet Usyk next year. With a three-inch height and four-inch reach advantage, this fight has all the makings of a technical matchup.
AJ on Usyk: ‘It’s just a name. You know we take on all challengers. Usyk, cool. No problem.’
Kubrat Pulev (IBF Mandatory Challenger)
Arguably a more favourable fight for AJ, should he have to decide between the two, would be Kubrat Pulev. At 38 years old, the Bulgarian surely doesn’t have many bouts left in a 10-year career that boasts 28 wins, 14 coming by way of knockout, with just a sole defeat.
Pulev does not boast the amateur career, nor the professional success, of Usyk but he is a wily fox that is well aware of the ins and outs of the heavyweight game. The Bulgarian has wins over the likes of Dereck Chisora, Alexander Dimitrenko and Hughie Fury to his credit, earning him another shot at the IBF belt.
The first came against former unified champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2014, but in truth, it was an easy night’s work for Klitschko, beating Pulev to a pulp before sealing the win with a fifth round knockout. Pulev had been knocked down three teams before the decisive KO.
Pulev has long been a man in the shadows of heavyweight boxing but grabbed headlines earlier this year after forcibly kissing a female reporter following his win over Bogdan Dinu in Costa Mesa.
The California State Athletic Commission ordered the Bulgarian to attend a sexual harassment prevention class before reinstating his boxing licence.
Standing at 6ft 4in tall, Pulev presents a more traditional challenge to AJ than that of Usyk. He is an orthodox fighter and is the brawler to Usyk’s elusive counter-punching style.
Joshua and Pulev were scheduled to fight in 2017 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff but was forced to withdraw with an injury. Carlos Takam stepped in and Joshua won by technical knockout.
Pulev on AJ (before the 2017 scheduled fight): ‘Anthony is a formidable opponent,’ he said. ‘But we will not hug and hold, we will not run; we will stand and fight. His style fits mine perfectly and in boxing, styles make fights.’
Tale of the tape: Usyk and Pulev
Nickname: The Cat
Height: 6ft 3in
Wins by KO: 13
Nickname: The Cobra
Height: 6ft 4in
Wins by KO: 14
Who is most likely to get the shot at AJ’s throne?
Eddie Hearn, AJ’s promoter, has hinted that Pulev is leading the chase to secure a title shot in Spring next year. This is owing to the fact that the IBF has the strongest case in arguing that their mandatory challenger should get the first shot.
‘I’ve got to speak to the IBF and the WBO and see who goes first,’ Hearn told Sky Sports.
‘I think it sounds like it’s the IBF, but we’ll wait for confirmation of that. AJ will want to maintain the belts and if that’s the case, I think it will be Pulev, and then Usyk.
‘I think April or May, that’s a realistic kind of date (for Joshua’s next fight).’
In the meantime, Usyk may face Chisora to strengthen his bid to challenge Joshua for the heavyweight crown.