When Anthony Joshua stepped in to the ring at London’s O2 Arena to face Emanuelue Leo on his professional debut, a soothing breath of fresh air swept through boxing’s heavyweight division.
With the sport’s most distinguished class stagnating somewhat under the dominance of the formidable Klitschko bothers - Wladimir and Vitali - and the egotistical rivalry between Tyson Fury and one-time owner of the WBA strap David Haye, a new face was needed to add extra impetus.
And though early indications are served in fragmented form - with the 23-year-old dispatching his Italian foe in just two minutes and 47 seconds - Matchroom Sport entrepreneurs Barry and Eddie Hearn rarely get it wrong.
Their stable consists of mandatory IBF World Welterweight title contender Kell Brook, Commonwealth Light Heavyweight champion Tony Bellew, WBO Lightweight champion Ricky Burns, WBO Inter-Continental Lightweight title holder Anthony Crolla, English Super Middleweight champion Rocky Fielding, WBA and IBF Super Middleweight champion Carl Froch and future challenger George Groves, European Light Welterweight star Paul McCloskey and WBA super-bantamweight champion Scott Quigg. That’s just a percentage of the pair’s catalogue.
Joshua came in to the professional boxing ranks in the same manner as Lennox Lewis and Audley Harrison, and there’s been convoluted debate as to which British fighter the Olympic champion would emulate.
That’s the spectrum, and those are the extremities, though of course there is the Hinterland that the likes of Fury, Dereck Chisora and David Price fall in.
Though it’s too premature for anyone to audaciously state that the Watford fighter could fall in to the same category as undisputed Heavyweight king Lewis, his paid bow proved he’ll certainly better the much-maligned champion of the 2000 Olympics.
As it stands, Joshua has all the traits to recapture the spirit and imagination of a disillusioned British public.
The discipline, endeavor and humbled nature he showed in winning Gold at London 2012 instantly raised his profile while the part he played among Team GB’s success in front of inspired crowds at London’s ExCel Arena crafted him a ready-made fan base.
Joshua has also drawn attributes from the pantheon of Heavyweight representatives. He’s got the sculpted, almost photo shopped, physique and the likability of affable Englishman Frank Bruno - who harbored a segment of the title in the 90s – plus he has the power, conviction and athleticism of Lewis.
He’s also illustrated an ability to mix his style and approach. He was rugged and economical against tough Cuban opponent Erislandy Savon, dominant and forceful when flooring 2008 silver medalist Zhang Zhilei, economical and resolute versus the imposing Ivan Dychko and slugged it out to overcome Roberto Cammarelle in the Olympic final.
Against Leo, he was sharp, alert and punishing on the front foot as he pierced his opponent’s guard with heavy jabs while cutting off the ring.
It’s fair to say that Joshua fosters a substantial and intelligent skillset which will only be cultivated under the tutelage of trainer Tony Sims. The Hearns will now methodically look to protect their investment without threatening to restrain or impede their protégé’s progress.
However, he can’t be matched as delicately as Harrison who deteriorated after such an auspicious start. Despite winning his first 19 bouts, the standard of opposition was hardly testing. In fact, his outings grew to near tedium.
By the time he suffered a third-round knockout defeat at the hands of journeyman Michael Sprott in 2007, Harrison was officially a flop, a designation that numerous comebacks failed to dislodge.
Although his next hurdle is yet to be named, Joshua will step out at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on October 26th with a contest also provisionally scheduled at Manchester’s Phones 4 U Arena the following month.
We should be able to gauge his talent more accurately by then, but his emergence has definitely been met with hope and optimism.