Former world cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew has told William Hill’s new podcast, Up Front, that Anthony Joshua changed the game for British boxing, going as far as to compare Joshua to Muhammad Ali in the influence he has had on the sport.
Speaking on William Hill’s Up Front, a brand new podcast hosted by Simon Jordan in which the former Crystal Palace owner speaks to sports stars and celebrities and challenges their opinions whilst scrutinising their careers, Bellew said: "Anthony Joshua brought boxing to a level that it’s never been to before – that’s not an observation, it’s a fact. I know Carl Froch sold out 80,000 seats in Wembley Stadium, but Anthony Joshua made this a regular thing."
"It had been done before; Carl Froch, Ricky Hatton had done it, and it had been done before Ricky Hatton, Frank Bruno had done it. We can go back and back, but the only fighter in the history of boxing to do it on a regular occasion was Anthony Joshua because he started taking the show on the road."
"This boy is the first person to take boxing to the desert, to Saudi Arabia. He opened up a market that hadn’t been opened or touched before."
"I’m not saying in any way he should be mentioned in the same breath as Muhammad Ali, but he changed the game in the same way that Muhammad Ali changed the game, but for fighters in this country. I was here before he was here as a professional, I’ve seen his rise and the game changed with him, it really did."
"At the start of my career I was fighting in leisure centres, fighting in sports centres for buttons, the growth and the rise was huge. In my third professional fight I fought in front of 50,000 Welshmen, it was on the bill for Joe Calzaghe against Mikkel Kessler. Most people don’t know this. Joe Calzaghe was an absolute megastar, but he only has one major statement fight."
Jordan countered, asking: "That’s true, but is that not a weight class thing as well though?"
Bellew said: "The difference is weight classes are superseded when you have a country behind you. Look at Canelo Alvarez, he has a country behind him in Mexico, he fills stadiums. Some fighters supersede weight classes. If Naseem Hamed was around today he would sell out Wembley Arena ten times over, it’s the world we live in and the characters we attach to."
AJ has been under the media spotlight since 2012
Bellew went on to discuss the intense media scrutiny that Joshua has been subjected to and how it might have affected him during his boxing career.
He told Jordan: "Anthony Joshua has been under the media spotlight since 2012, and he just goes from success to success, but as we have done in this country and as we continue to do, we build them up to knock them down."
"Like we did with Big Frank [Frank Bruno], it’s no coincidence why Big Frank has been through the turmoil’s and travesties he has been through. It’s because this country built him up, to flatten him down. Mentally Joshua has also been absolutely exhausted, mentally drained."
You can watch the full episode here: https://youtu.be/cm5eDpAkS0w