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Joshua the target as heavyweight hype packs a new punch

Anthony Joshua woke up on Wednesday to find himself more of a wanted man than ever in boxing’s entertaining new era of old-fashioned heavyweight hoopla and intrigue.

The Briton is at the heart of a long-overdue heavyweight revival, the money-spinning focus for three other unbeaten champions who, like him, believe they can unify the division and become undisputed owner of the sport’s most prestigious title.

Joshua, who holds the WBA and IBF versions of the crown, was called out by both America’s WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and New Zealand’s Joseph Parker, the WBO holder, on Wednesday as the hype really began to take hold.

The pair both see a fight with Britain’s 2012 Olympic champion as their passport to global superstardom while in the background another Briton, Tyson Fury, the unbeaten former three-belt holder, still keeps trumpeting his claims too.

Between them the quartet have had more than 100 professional fights and not lost one. So something has to give once, as seems inevitable in 2018, boxing sees the first punches thrown in a bid to find the first undisputed champ since the WBO was founded in 1988.

It is all a far cry from the fairly stagnant decade during which Wladimir Klitschko ruled the division with mechanical efficiency. Once beaten by Fury and Joshua, though, the Ukrainian’s era was consigned to history.

The chiselled Joshua’s perfect 20-fight, 20-knock-out record, allied to a personality that has turned him into the poster boy of the division, has given him a profile that puts his camp in the driving seat for big fight negotiations.

Yet his potential challengers, encouraged by how Joshua made hard work in disposing of tough late replacement Carlos Takam in his last defence, are now ramping up the noise as they jostle for position to face the 28-year-old.

Potential fights

Wilder, whose one-round demolition of Bermane Stiverne in New York on Saturday took his blemish-free record to 38 knock-outs in 39 wins, delivered a taunting message on social media, declaring he would beat Joshua in his British “safe haven”.

“You know I’m coming for you… 2018 is what you should be worried about. The people want it. Do you want it? Or do you have some hidden agendas? Are you hiding anything? We’re on it so you either fight or shut up,” boomed the 32-year-old in classic trash-talking fashion.

Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn had proposed Wilder should face another Briton, Dillian Whyte, a former Joshua victim, before any potential match, leaving the American to growl: “A king doesn’t chase the peasants, a king takes on kings.”

On Wednesday, though, Hearn told Sky Sports that negotiations with Wilder’s representatives over a potential fight with the American would now begin this week.

Meanwhile, New Zealander Parker, widely portrayed as the least threatening option for Joshua despite being unbeaten in 24 contests, appeared to have believed he had moved into pole position for a bout in March or April of next year.

“Eddie Hearn (Joshua’s promoter) and I have exchanged emails,” David Higgins, Parker’s promoter, told reporters in Auckland.

“My message was Joe would fight Joshua next and Hearn’s message was that Joshua would fight Parker next. It’s now a question of the deal and money.”

Shouting the odds a long way from the current negotiations is Fury, the controversial figure who has not fought since beating Klitschko in November 2015 and had his licence revoked in October last year after allegations of doping.

Adamant that he will resolve the issues and return to the ring next year, he claimed in a tweet that he could still beat Wilder and Joshua “even at 25 stone and after being out almost 2 years!”

That outlandish possibility, at least, will have to wait.