Anthony Joshua will make his first attempt at winning a world title when he fights newly-crowned IBF heavyweight champion Charles Martin at London's O2 Arena on April 9th.
Britain's 2012 Olympic gold medallist Joshua has taken to the professional game like a duck to water, winning all 15 of his fights by knockout.
Martin, who won the then-vacant IBF belt in January by defeating Ukrainian Vyacheslav Glazkov in January, has won 23 of his 24 fights—the unaccounted fight a draw against Mexican brawler Alvaro Morales.
The American has only been competing in professional boxing since late 2012—a year longer than his upcoming opponent. But, Martin—a long, rangy southpaw—has proved a difficult proposition so far in his career, accruing 21 knockouts to his resume.
Up until Joshua's back-and-forth contest against longtime rival Dillian Whyte, which ended in a spectacular knockout win for the former, the Watford-bred boxer hadn't seen an opponent escape the first three rounds. In fact, Joshua has only experienced 32 rounds in the professional ring.
Now, "AJ" will be fighting for a world title—an extraordinary rise which replicates the man's ever-increasing popularity in the United Kingdom.
However, there has been noise that the fight is too soon for the talented Joshua. You won't be surprised to hear a lot of that noise is coming from boxing's mouthpiece Tyson Fury—citing the trouble Whyte caused Joshua in their most recent contest.
Fury was stripped of the IBF belt in December following his victory over Wladimir Klitschko and subsequent acceptance of the Ukrainian's request of a rematch instead of facing mandatory challenger Glazkov.
Joshua's compatriot Fury said: "Charles Martin is not an easy fight for Joshua. If I had to put my money on it, I'd say Charles Martin stops Joshua as he's a 6ft 5in punching southpaw with combinations, who's not afraid of people just because they've got muscles.
"It's a difficult fight and this could be a banana skin pretty similar to Tim Witherspoon vs. Frank Bruno or Tony Thompson vs. David Price. They are the two that spring to mind for the heavyweights with the Americans coming over when it's supposed to be easy [for the British fighters] and then they get chinned.
"Eddie Hearn might be trying to cash Joshua in at the moment because he saw vulnerability as Dillian Whyte nearly had him out with a left hook. Maybe someone with a bigger punch and a bit more experience would have followed him up and got him out of there. If I had landed that shot Dillian landed on him, he wouldn't have survived. Same goes for Wladimir Klitschko, David Haye or Deontay Wilder."
There may be some credence to Fury's words. But, this looks to be an opportunity that was simply too good to pass up for both Joshua and Martin in this case.
Joshua raked in a reported £3million in an all-domestic affair against the little-known Whyte through the pay-per-view sales from the UK alone—a nation which doesn't generally enjoy shelling out cash for fights on top of their expensive sports TV packages. While there was a grudge match element for the Joshua vs. Whyte fight, the prospect of seeing Joshua compete for a world title will mean big money for both AJ and Martin—this is prizefighting after all.
Eddie Hearn, Joshua's promoter of Matchroom Sport, has long been accused of padding the records of his young, up-and-coming talent from these shores a la Frank Warren. But, this fight indicates Hearn is confident Joshua already has the making of a world champion—helped by boxing's ludicrous amount of organisations and resulting belts—rather than being fearful of his prized asset's ability following his early wobble against Whyte as Fury suggests.
Who else is there to fight for Joshua? The expectant British boxing contingent would be dissatisfied with little-known opponents for AJ and while Charles Martin isn't a big name by any means, he has a legitimate world title to his credit.
It's a win-win for Joshua: if he loses to Martin, his star will suffer minimal damage as the loss will be seen by many as a good learning experience for a young, gifted fighter. If he wins, Joshua is a British superstar with the prestige of holding a world title—a champion who won't necessarily have to face off against the top dogs right away. In an age of boxing where we don't see fights between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin, Andre Ward vs. Golovkin, Amir Khan vs. Kell Brook and more, Hearn can cherry-pick more skilful opponents for Joshua than he can now—earning his fighter more experience as a world champion before the inevitable calls for world title unification bouts, essentially going the Deontay Wilder route. While many won't be fans of that approach, that's just good fight promotion.
Undeterred by Fury's talk, Joshua appears more than ready for his upcoming challenge: "Fighting for the heavyweight world title has been a dream of mine since I turned professional. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to turn that dream into reality. Martin is a great fighter and a hungry competitor so I am going to have to produce the performance of my career to claim that belt."
Martin won his IBF title in peculiar fashion back in January. His Ukrainian opponent Glazkov tore his ACL in the third round before being forced to retire from their contest for the vacant belt, handing Martin the TKO victory. But, that didn't stop him from pressing for a fight against Joshua in his own back yard and calling his future foe out on Showtime.
In the official press release for the bout announcement, Martin said: "I'm coming to the UK to make a statement that I am the best heavyweight in the world and no-one is taking my title. I'm world champion, so that doesn't mean just sit back and make easy defences in the US. It means facing the biggest challenges out there."
Martin does have an opponent in common with Joshua—the Brazilian Raphael Zumbano Love. While boxing math doesn't mean anything—a lot like MMA math—it took Martin ten rounds to dispose of Love to Joshua's two. Read into that what you will.
Regardless of Martin's credibility of being a world champion in terms of the circumstances of how he won his belt and the opponents he has faced up until now, he is a stern test for Joshua—that alone will provide a lot of hype and intrigue for fight fans, never mind the fact it's for a world title.
With Martin's fellow heavyweight titleholders in Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder looking to take mandatory bouts against Wladimir Klitschko and the dangerous Alexander Povetkin respectively, this upcoming contest against Joshua could see three heavyweight championship tilts by May 2016. This may sound a little alien, so please bear with me. But, this could be the most interesting heavyweight boxing landscape in years.