The plan was clear. Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder were boxing on the same bill on Saturday, with a view to matching them against one another next year, potentially as soon as March.
All they needed to do was win. Joshua did that when he battered and outclassed Otto Wallin, who was hauled out after five rounds of the fight.
America’s Wilder though suffered an upset defeat at the hands of Joseph Parker.
“Throughout the whole build-up I was telling everyone I need to focus on the man in front of me because I respect what he’s bringing to the table,” Joshua pointed out after his victory over Wallin.
Wilder was taking on a tougher assignment with his fight, boxing a fellow former world titlist Joseph Parker.
But where the American surprised was with the lack of urgency in his performance. He let Parker chalk up round after round and, rather than doing the damage with his famed power-punching, if anything it was Parker who landed the more hurtful shots overall.
Wilder ultimately lost a wide unanimous decision. Joshua’s representatives had been in talks for two potential fights with the American next year. Now Joshua, twice previously a unified WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight champion, has seen his 2024 plans upended.
But in the year ahead Joshua could still win back one of the world titles he used to hold.
That might seem unlikely when in February Tyson Fury, the WBC title holder, is fighting Oleksandr Usyk for all four of the major belts in the undisputed championship clash.
But Fury and Usyk are also expected to box in a rematch in 2024. That would mean the winner of their fight would be unable to box IBF mandatory Filip Hrgovic and would likely be stripped of that belt.
Hrgovic would then be looking for an opponent for a fight for the vacant IBF heavyweight title and after beating Wallin, Joshua will be the next most highly-ranked challenger after the Croatian.
Eddie Hearn all but confirmed Joshua’s next opponent, saying: “It was a tough decision between the championship and Deontay Wilder. We signed for Deontay Wilder, he lost tonight. That’s okay, that happens in boxing. But maybe it’s a blessing, because really this guy [Joshua] is about championships.
“He wants to become a three-time heavyweight world champion. Now Otto Wallin was number two in the division, it’s gonna be Hrgovic against AJ for the world title.”
Joshua’s goal is to become a three-time world champion. That would be a way to realise that dream.
“I’m one step at a time but that would be great,” he said. “This game’s a treacherous business. It’s like Snakes & Ladders. One win gets you up the ladder, and a loss takes you all the way back down.
“Every fight leads towards the final destination so if I continue to be victorious, it just happens naturally. And if you don’t, you just go straight back down. So keep on praying, keep on working hard.”
He was familiar with Wallin, having beaten him as an amateur and sparred him as a pro. He used that knowledge in a way his opponent could not.
“I’ve been around the block. So hard work, staying focused, dedicated to the craft will pay dividends in the long run. So I think I’ve worked hard in the short space of time I’ve been boxing but that history with Otto paid off today,” Joshua said.
“I think the corner play a big role in what happens to their fighter, so [Wallin] can live to fight another day. I’m sure he will have carried on but it’s all about your vision, the timing, your reactions.
“I’m just a gifted fighter that has a special gift and I use it to the best of my ability. I work hard, extremely hard and if it works it works, and today it was just my day.”
Parker doesn’t necessarily slot into an immediate fight with Joshua himself. Joshua beat the New Zealander back in a 2018 world title unification.
“I wasn’t watching [Wilder]. I just focus on myself,” Joshua reflected.
“The whole fight week, let’s do a tally of how many people mentioned my name this week and I’m just sitting there focusing on myself because I know how important this fight is for me.
“I heard that Deontay lost. I’m sure he’ll come back. It shows that it’s fine margins in this business. I wanted to be victorious, I had to focus. No one’s running, ducking from anyone.
“Deontay, with everything that he said about me, I could rip him apart right now. I’m going to take the higher ground and I hope he comes back.
“You can do anything, just don’t give up. Keep on pushing, keep on striving, you can do anything. If he wants, he can come back and he can fight another day. It’s up to him. I’m sure everyone still wants to see that fight.”
Coming back, striving, those are values Joshua hopes to embody himself.
“I’m searching for greatness. I’m not just hopping around and enjoying myself. I’m actually searching for greatness, trying to improve,” he said.
“I’ve got to stay focused because I’m on a journey. I’m on a journey and it’s hard. So I’m going to stay focused while I’m doing this.
“So let’s see how far I can take it.”