Athletes from across the world have been ranked according to their marketing potential over a three-year period from this summer.
- Value for money
- Home market
- Willingness to be marketed
- Crossover appeal
British, 27, Boxing
The people’s champion making heavyweight boxing great again
Representatives: AJ Boxing and Commercial, Matchroom Sport
Key partners: Under Armour, Beats By Dre, Lucozade Sport, StubHub, Dafabet, Jaguar, Lynx Audemars Piguet
2016 ranking: 5
Over decades, boxing has honed the art of the let-down. Promise is taken for hyperbole. Big fights only happen when nothing is at stake, not when it all is.
So fans can be forgiven for having withheld judgement on Anthony Joshua, the knockout prince of the heavyweight division with a reputation chiselled from Olympic gold. Each professional achievement, even his 2016 IBF world title win, has been viewed through a prism of tempered excitement, if not opaque scepticism.
Until, that is, one April night this year at Wembley Stadium. His stoppage win over the great Wladimir Klitschko was transformative, 11 full-blooded, high-class rounds that had seasoned observers wondering aloud when they had last seen a better heavyweight title bout. Against a veteran opponent inspired to his best performance in years, the 27-year-old Briton showed he could stand and deliver – or at least resume his feet and win – in front of 90,000 fans.
For the first time in a long time, a world heavyweight champion is one of the most exciting figures in sport. The pugilistic tools at Joshua’s disposal would always have made him a draw, but it is his personal qualities that have made him a star. He is in love with boxing, believing it saved him from the youthful misdirection that threatened to frost into wasted life. Beyond his natural charm, what defines his public image is respect: for the people he encounters, his opponents, his craft.
“As a star, his potential is almost limitless. He’s got the pedigree. He’s got the boxing skill. He looks like a comic book hero – he looks like a superhero – and is articulate, and good-looking, and humble yet confident at the same time.” – Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president, Showtime Sports.
So far, the Watford man has proved a more than capable ambassador for a growing range of sports and lifestyle brands, even if most of his activities have been domestically centred. A viral spot this year with Dr Dre, founder of headphone sponsor Beats, seemed a trial run for bigger things.
Joshua has a tight-knit team around him, with commercial manager Freddie Cunningham leading a group of trusted advisors and long-time friends. Their challenge may not be in keeping their man grounded – he expects to take his mother with him to a luxurious new home – but in turning a British hero into a globally relevant figure.
Promoter Eddie Hearn will have his role to play there, too. Joshua embarked on a UK speaking tour after beating Klitschko but a world tour might be next. Fights in major centres around the world – New York, Nigeria, China and the Middle East have been mooted – are a likely step.
Klitschko has the final say on any rematch but there are options everywhere for Joshua. Deontay Wilder would be an appealing opponent for a US audience; a meeting with the difficult and unbeaten Tyson Fury would thrill fans at home. But whoever is in the other corner, Anthony Joshua will be the main attraction.
He is a champion, in every sense of the word.