On Saturday, March 31, hundreds of thousands of boxing lovers and enthusiasts stayed up late to catch the world heavyweight boxing unification contest between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker. The fight took place at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales but it reverberated across the world as two of the sport’s unbeaten fighters clashed in a winner-takes-all with four belts on the table.
Joshua put his three titles – the International Boxing Federation (IBF), the World Boxing Association (WBA) (Super) and International Boxing Organisation (IBO) – on the line while New Zealander Parker staked his World Boxing Organisation (WBO) belt. It was the biggest heavyweight fight in terms of titles on offer for a long while since the division lost its lustre in the days after Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. With the coming on board of the Klitschko brothers and loss of the titles by the dominant US-UK fighters to Eastern Europe, interest in the division fell across the West and in many parts of the world.
The smaller weight category became more interesting and is attested to by the global fame and money that followed Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao among others. Mayweather’s earnings dwarfed all of the heavyweights as he maintained a streak of victories throughout his career and underlined his crossover appeal by making a big money final splash in fighting the MMA’s Conor McGregor last year.
All this time, the heavyweights struggled to make a global impact with David Haye and Tyson Fury failing to live up to expectations until the arrival of Joshua on the scene. Born of Nigerian parents in the United Kingdom, Joshua has become the most exciting heavyweight fighter since Mike Tyson and his good looks have been compared to Muhammad Ali. As he has won in the ring, so has his following grown outside of it. I calculated that he earned more than 220,000 new followers on Twitter in April 2017 after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko at the Wembley Stadium, London. On social media he is widely followed even though he still falls far behind Mayweather, he towers above the other heavyweights.
And he has added to that top brand sponsorships like Beats by Dre, Under Armour, JD Sports, Sky Sports, Apple, Range Rover, and Bulk Powders, to become a marketing sensation. While the other heavyweights struggle to earn seven figures, he is easily bagging eight digits and has his sights set on becoming the first billionaire boxer.
On Saturday night he defeated Parker via a unanimous decision to unify the belts. It was the first 12 rounds of his career but he handled his 21st fight in a classy manner. A fight against undefeated Deontay Wilder, holder of the World Boxing Council (WBC) title, is expected to happen this year. And another with Tyson Fury, if he ever gets back into shape, Joshua is truly looking set for several big paydays.
As the fame of the young man, who has never hidden his Nigerian roots, grows, one begins to wonder how Nigerian brands will take advantage. Only the Ogun State government that sent representatives to his fights in the past and whose governor attended last weekend’s contest, as well as the sports minister, have reached out.
The biggest benefactor of the rise of Joshua in Africa yet is Kwese TV. The pan-African broadcaster hit good fortune when it signed an exclusive long-term agreement with Matchroom Sports, Joshua’s promoters, in 2016. That deal has seen the company benefit from Joshua’s last three fights, including the victory against Klitschko and the win against Parker to promote the sale of its decoders and position itself as a high-quality sports and entertainment brand in the African market.
Anthony Joshua should have a long reign at the top of the heavyweight division. His next fight with Wilder would become the stuff of legend as he attempts to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, the first since 1999. He could make history by being the first boxer to have the four recognised titles (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO) for the first time. There were only three recognised titles when Lewis held the undisputed accolade in 1999. Success will make him a global sports icon in the mould of modern day athletes like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt and LeBron James.
How will Nigeria make use of its ties to the brand Joshua?
Usually, the first thought will be how the Nigerian government can benefit from his success. However, this article also poses the question to Nigerian brands; what will you do with the brand Joshua before he becomes astronomically out of reach? The 28-year-old once mooted the idea of bringing a fight to Lagos. This is one idea that can be followed up and brought to fruition by brands that are forward thinking. AJ has thrown down the gauntlet, what will you do with it?
By Lolade Adewuyi, Contributor, The Guardian