“Is Anthony Joshua going to become the biggest draw in boxing history in terms of the average crowd he attracts?”
BBC Sport’s boxing correspondent Mike Costello posed the question and believes the stadium crowds Joshua now attracts makes it likely.
He duly raised the prospect with the IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight champion as he prepares to take on Russia’s Alexander Povetkin in front of around 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night.
“Really? Wow,” said Joshua, 28. “Sometimes you want respect while you’re doing it but I think you don’t get the gratitude.
“But when you’re finished and we look back at what was done, you may get the credit.”
In his answer Joshua gave up an issue many feel is eating away at him going into this bout. How, after 21 fights, 21 wins and with three major world titles to his name, does criticism still manage to flow his way?
“I think there’s pressure on him, a weight on his shoulders,” said 5 live Boxing’s Steve Bunce. “There is no way it doesn’t affect him when he is having the boot stuck into him.”
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All on the line for the ‘new’ Joshua
Joshua – though he may deny it – looks and sounds frustrated going into his fourth consecutive stadium bout. Those angered by the failure of the Joshua camp to secure a fight with WBC champion Deontay Wilder have made their voices heard.
Married to this frustration is a serious focus born out of the fact the team around him have warned him in no uncertain terms about the dangers Povetkin – with 34 wins and just one loss to his name – poses.
It has led to the champion locking himself away more and stating this may be a new version of him.
There have been subtle changes in his habits, notably a move to train when he wakes up naturally, rather than setting the traditional early alarm boxers live with. The likes of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Vasyl Lomachenko are men who have utilised the same alarm-free routine.
“There’s a new Joshua emerging, he’s shedding some of that old skin,” Bunce added.
When they walk to the ring at 21:50 BST on Saturday, his new attitude will be tested by an old campaigner. Indeed, on the same night Povetkin, 39, suffered his only loss to Wladimir Klitschko in 2013, Joshua was making his professional debut.
“When I look at his weight, he is one of the lighter heavyweights so that means he has a lot of speed,” said Joshua, who came in at 17 stone 8lbs 5 ounces at Friday’s weigh-in, more than a stone heavier than Povetkin’s 15st 12lbs.
“His strengths, I’ve worked with people who have them. It’s difficult but a good fighter will always find a way,” added Joshua.
“We both have a big heart and can dig deep. I’m willing to do what it takes.”
And Joshua – earning around £20m for this bout – could earn future reward. He already has Wembley booked again for 13 April, with a lucrative match-up with Wilder a possibility, while the likes of Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte remain in the frame.
“Everything is riding on it,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “I’m more fearful in this than in the last Joseph Parker fight because of Povetkin’s experience. Joshua’s going to have to nail him down, beat him up and knock him out.”
Povetkin – movement and meldonium
Joshua’s team have worked on his ability to deal with Povetkin’s lateral movement. Training drills forcing the champion to respond to lights illuminating in sequences around him have circulated on social media.
But Povetkin brings experience as well as slight of foot. The 2004 Olympic champion says he is “just as strong” as Joshua and insists that his defeat to Klitschko on the biggest night of his career to date came at a time when he was “much weaker”.
Povetkin, who earned his shot by becoming a mandatory challenger, has used hard-hitting British heavyweight Daniel Dubois as a sparring partner. He often stoops before throwing looping shots or hooks that are renowned for their accuracy and laced with unquestionable power.
His abilities are respected but two failed drugs tests in 2016 have marred his name. He blamed traces of meldonium in his system on the fact he took it before it was banned and later denied using muscle-boosting ostarine when it was picked up in another test.
Asked if Povetkin deserves his shot in light of failed tests, Teddy Atlas – who trained him until 2012 – told BBC Sport: “Some may say it’s sour grapes as I am not with him anymore but the answer is no and would be no for everybody.
“I mean this was the biggest title in the world. It stood for honour, for something really special you could strive for and it shouldn’t be tainted by anything illegal. Live by those standards, I wish this sport did.”
Former two-weight world champion Paulie Malignaggi told BBC Sport: “Guys like that should have to pay a heavy price. They don’t. In doping, you have more to gain than lose. When they start to turn it around so there’s more to lose than gain, they may start cleaning up the sport.”
Gun-slinging – will AJ land first?
BBC Sport boxing commentator Mike Costello: “It is interesting, looking at Povetkin across fights, he has this habit of slipping punches in the same way, dipping his knees and then almost winging a shot over the top with the right hand.
“When he fought David Price, Price clipped him on the way in. Price got there first. It is a gamble to throw that hook when the gap is there left by his winging right hand. You have to get there first and hard or the momentum of his punch will come through. Surely Joshua will see that gap.”
BBC Radio 5 live analyst Steve Bunce: “When I watched Joshua training last week he was working on fast, straight shots and also on nasty, little, clubbing hooks. Those are the shots that can catch Povetkin on the temple and put him down as he has a great chin.”
Predictions – ‘Povetkin is always game’
British heavyweight Dillian Whyte: “I think Povetkin is too short. Joshua will just keep it moving, keep the distance long and stop him inside six. Joshua will pick him off like Klitschko did.”
British heavyweight David Price: “I think Joshua will win the fight, I think he has more to his game and I think he will out-muscle Povetkin and beat him late on.”
Paulie Malignaggi: “I think Povetkin is one of Joshua’s toughest challengers. He’s very stable. Even if you knock him down he’s always willing to battle.
“I just don’t think he has the versatility to overtake Joshua and win a heavyweight world championship. But he has the toughness to take Joshua all the way to points and if you got a sub-par Joshua it’s a risk but I don’t expect a sub-par Joshua.”
The undercard – Campbell eyes revenge
Luke Campbell – an Olympic champion in 2012 like Joshua – will seek to right a wrong when he faces Frenchman Yvan Mendy, who inflicted his first career defeat in 2015.
It will be Campbell’s first bout since joining with trainer Shane McGuigan and the winner could be in line for a shot at WBC world lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.
“Physically, mentally, I’m all there,” said Campbell, 30. “It’s a must-win fight. I believe I will get it. Shane has added to my style and attributes. I am in a great place.”
Elsewhere, Liverpool heavyweight David Price – knocked out by Povetkin in March – has taken the chance to face Russia’s undefeated Sergey Kuzmin at short notice.
“People don’t want to blink,” said Price, 35. “The upside for me is potentially life changing.”
And also eye-catching on the card is Rio 2016 Olympian Lawrence Okolie’s challenge of British cruiserweight champion Matty Askin.