LONDON (AP) — Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko drew the kind of crowd for their final news conference that most fighters would be happy with once they got in the ring.
Everything is supersized in their heavyweight title fight, including the fighters themselves.
The two big — and big punching — heavyweights meet Saturday night in England’s national stadium, where some 90,000 fans are expected to watch the most anticipated heavyweight fight in more than a decade. Most will be screaming for Joshua, but the loudest voice may be that of Klitschko’s brother, Vitali, in his corner.
“My prediction is that Wladimir will knock him out,” said Vitali Klitschko, a former three-time heavyweight champion himself who is now the mayor of Kiev in his native Ukraine. “I’ve never seen my brother so confident, and Joshua doesn’t know he’ll be fighting against two fighters — Wladimir and myself.”
Unfortunately for Klitschko, there will be no tag team match as he enters the ring an underdog for the first time of his career. He also enters it without a title belt for the first time in more than a decade after losing to Tyson Fury in his last fight in 2015.
And, of course, he enters it seen as a villain by English fans who are hoping for Joshua to have the kind of heavyweight reign Klitschko has enjoyed — if not even better.
“It’s his fans, I totally get it,” Klitschko said. “But it’s my night, my fight, my win.”
Joshua’s popularity in his native country was evident Thursday at the news conference in the Sky Sports building, where hundreds of employees left their desks to line the balconies and stairwells to get a glimpse of the two fighters. The fight quickly sold out Wembley Stadium when announced and will be on pay-per-view in England as well as both HBO and Showtime in the United States.
It comes at a time when the heavyweight division is suddenly attractive again, with American Deontay Wilder holding part of the title and Joshua owning another piece. Wilder will be ringside and is expected to push for a bout next year against Joshua should he beat Klitschko.
Joshua, who seemingly came from nowhere to win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, is a powerful puncher who has knocked out all 18 of his opponents but has yet to face anyone near the caliber of Klitschko.
“I don’t know if it’s stupid or smart,” Klitschko said of Joshua fighting him with so little experience. “I’m just comfortable and confident.”
Klitschko will be fighting for the heavyweight title for the 29th time, a remarkable feat all by itself. With his brother, Vitali, he has dominated heavyweight boxing for the last decade, much to the displeasure of many avid boxing fans who don’t like his conservative style.
But he has vowed to change his ways and be aggressive against Joshua, knowing that at age 41 this very well could be his last hurrah. The fact Klitschko got the fight at all had a lot to do with his poor performance in losing the title by decision to Fury.
London bookies favor Joshua in the fight, which matches two 6-foot-6 boxers who are impressive knockout punchers. That is a big selling point, but part of the appeal is also to see if Joshua can beat a great — but 41-year-old — heavyweight and establish himself as boxing’s next big attraction.
“It’s just me and another man coming to blows and the best man will win,” Joshua said. “April 29th is just another stepping stone to greatness.”
Joshua is a former sparring partner for Klitschko, who used him in 2014 when Joshua had only seven pro fights. Klitschko said the two know each other well after working together for about 20 rounds.
Until watching Joshua at a public training session on Wednesday, though, Klitschko saw something different.
“I have never seen AJ as big as he is now,” he said. “He’s as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger.”