Anthony Joshua doesn't want to talk about Deontay Wilder.
Well, that's what he's said out loud, anyway. But given the context of the British bludgeoner's massive heavyweight bout Saturday night against Andy Ruiz Jr. -- one that takes place on American soil just two weeks after American beast Wilder made a huge statement in the division with a show-stopping KO against Dominic Breazeale -- this weekend's festivities at Madison Square Garden cannot fully fall into focus without considering how they relate directly to the Bronze Bomber.
Putting on a show against Ruiz will help to ensure than a Joshua-Wilder dream fight can finally take place next year. But in terms of bolstering his position in boxing culture outside the UK and particularly in America, where the heavyweight division is a gilded palace, a thrilling Joshua performance that goes beyond merely the technical is absolutely necessary.
"I feel that in the end I want to be respected globally, not just in the UK," Joshua said Thursday, as if the brash, explosive Wilder's shadow was fully cast over him. "[I want to be] clever, [show my] skills, use my ability, use what I’ve been learning, and show that I’m a fighter that’s got so much more to give.
Of course, on boxing merits, AJ shouldn't have to prove himself much further. He's won all 22 of his professional fights, with 21 of them via knockout. He's a unified world heavyweight champion with three of the four major title belts to his name. But while he's adjacent to royalty in his native Britain and is considered the best overall heavyweight fighter in a wide range of pound-for-pound rankings, he's never fought outside his home country, and hasn't captured the global consciousness like the true all-time greats of this baddest weight class authentically have.
Fortunately, ahead of his first-ever fight in the US, he has the power to change all that. And he's got all the motivation in the world to show up at MSG and beat the stuffing out of Ruiz, letting loose all his frustrations over the unfortunate detours that led him here.
The buildup to this fight ended up being relatively subdued, but it's not Joshua's fault in the least. He was supposed to meet Jarrel Miller on this date, and the early hype was palpable with ticket sales to match. But the Brooklyn-born contender was revealed in April to have tested positive for a banned substance, and the fight was off.
So was all the momentum. So, seemingly, was AJ's path to seizing the zeitgest on this side of the Atlantic and sending a shot across Wilder's bow in the process.
Switching out Miller for Ruiz isn't precisely a nightmare for fight fans, but it's far from ideal for Joshua-- which is why he needs to utterly outclass his opponent using his serious size and reach advantage. A signature uppercut needs to land. The American boxing heads still have Wilder's first-round bang-bang deathblow across Breazeale's helpless dome quite fresh in their minds; the British champ truly must give them something else to ponder.
He knows it.
"So there’s going to be a lot of American superstars and American influence in that room Saturday night. That’s why I can’t afford a flat night, I’ve got to show I’m amongst these great athletes America has produced," Joshua said at this week's Media Day.
You ain't kidding, big man.
And if you can bring the kind of slick, stylized, relentless violence to the ring Saturday that we've all grown accustomed to watching years of Hollywood blockbusters... well, you'll be as American as any of us. And Wilder, for all his swaggering theatrics, won't be able to pretend he didn't notice.