Anthony Joshua has targeted Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte in his pursuit of an opponent for his April 13 date at Wembley after clinically defeating Alexander Povetkin.
He showed greater maturity and further signs of improvement as he absorbed the Russian’s aggression before adapting and ruthlessly stopping him in the seventh round to retain his WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles.
Joshua had recovered from being hurt by a left hand in the opening round and initially boxed through a heavily bleeding nose as the 39-year-old Povetkin continued to both miss and land with further lefts.
It was from the third that the champion began to dictate the range and pace of the action, and the seventh when he changed the fight with a huge right hand before securing the stoppage after the first knockdown.
Povetkin had previously only lost to Wladimir Klitschko, and over the distance while the Ukrainian was at his peak, and while Joshua showed signs of vulnerability, his latest victory showed why many consider him the best in the world.
Wilder is scheduled to defend his WBC title against Tyson Fury on December 1, but overlooking his domestic rival in favour of the American and Whyte, the 28-year-old Joshua said: “My number one (choice) would be Wilder. No contract’s signed.
“(There’s also a) mutual respect fighter to fighter, so if Dillian wants it then he’s more than welcome. Let’s finish the year on a high.
“We’ll put a poll out on Twitter; anyone’s welcome (as an opponent). There’s always complications and (mandatory) fights we have to do, but sport is about what the fans want.
“Alexander Povetkin is a very tough challenger; he proved that. But I’ve come in here to have fun, do what I’ve been working on in the gym and give it my best.
“I realised he was strong to the head, but I know that he was weak to the body, so instead of jabbing to the head, I was switching it up.
“He threw a good right, but let’s not worry about that, that’s out the way, let’s figure out what’s happening April 13.”
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn previously failed to secure Wilder as an opponent in a unification match-up that would be the most lucrative in the division, but insisted he would make a fresh attempt to do so.
He also works with Whyte and Dereck Chisora, who are expected to have a rematch in December, and while Fury has already claimed on social media that they will never consider him, Hearn said: “Joshua is a player in this game. The one stepping up and taking on great fighters.
“He is a special talent and a great model. There was a lot of pressure; Povetkin is a great fighter.
“Joshua’s a real world champion; we will go away now and try and make a fight with (Deontay) Wilder.
“(This) was about getting that big banana skin of Alexander Povetkin out the way.
“If it’s not Deontay Wilder then it will be Whyte here on April 13.”
American Wilder, 32, and Fury, 30, have agreed to the bout with a venue in the United States, expected to be Las Vegas, set to be announced next week.
The promotional tour for the fight gets under way in London on October 1.
It will be only the third fight of Fury’s comeback – after defeating Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta – following a two-and-a-half-year absence.
Wilder will have held the WBC title for almost four years when he meets Fury, with both fighters boasting undefeated records.
“Deontay Wilder, you are going to get it and you are in big trouble,” Fury said in a video uploaded to his Instagram account.
“I have never met a man I couldn’t beat in the boxing ring or outside on the street.
“I know you have got a big punch and I know you are unbeaten. I know you have got a big mouth and I know you want to win, but you don’t want it like I do.
“You can’t beat me. I will force my will upon you until you quit, and that is a promise.”
Wilder later posted a video to his Twitter account, saying: “I can’t wait.
“It is going to be an exciting fight, an explosive fight, and one for the legacy. Definitely one for my legacy.
“You’ve got the WBC heavyweight champion of the world versus the lineal champion. It is going to be a pleasure.
“The two best heavyweights, competing against each other, the best fighting the best, and giving the people what they want. This is what we’re doing.”
Joshua defends his WBA, WBO and IBF titles against his unglamorous mandatory challenger at a time when he has already been criticised for not fighting
Tyson Fury or WBC champion Deontay Wilder, his significantly higher-profile rivals.
As Joshua’s trainer Rob McCracken acknowledges, Povetkin regardless represents a threat, but the champion’s fellow Matchroom and Sky Sports fighter Bellew completely disapproves because of the Russian’s record of having twice failed drug tests.
The 39-year-old twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2016, costing him fights with Wilder and Bermane Stiverne. The WBC also fined him £191,966, but Bellew, its former cruiserweight champion, does not consider that enough.
Bellew, 35 and an increasingly respected figure within his sport, is convinced that the day will come when a fighter who has cheated will kill his opponent, and that largely for that reason those found guilty of doping should never fight again.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that these guys are getting to fight and continue,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast. “This is not down to the promoters. This is not down to anyone else but the sanctioning and governing bodies, and it’s an absolute disgrace that these guys are allowed to fight on because it’s going to happen.
“Someone is going to be killed at the hands of a drug cheat. It’s going to be a very, very bad and sad day for boxing when it does, but it will happen eventually. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but it will, and when it does, I hope that fighter is locked up for the rest of their life because it’s premeditated murder in my opinion.
“I just hope that these sanctioning bodies make some kind of ruling on this before it’s too late.”
By installing Povetkin as Joshua’s mandatory challenger and threatening to strip the champion of his title if he did not defend it against him, it was the WBA who granted the Russian such a lucrative position.
“Giving time served bans is not doing anything,” Bellew added. “Alexander Povetkin should not be even in this fight. It shouldn’t be even taking place.
“I’m pretty sure Anthony Joshua wouldn’t choose to face Alexander Povetkin, and not because he’s scared of him, and not he thinks he’s a brilliant fighter, because Anthony’s shown that he’ll face anybody.
“Why would you want to face a cheat when you don’t have to? You know this man is capable of cheating. He hasn’t just fell by the wayside and made a mistake once. He’s done it twice. It’s not been a one-off mistake.
“When it does happen for a second time, guys should be thrown out of the sport for life. “