CARDIF, Wales - A world of expectations weighed down upon Anthony Joshua from every rampart of the huge crowd.
They want him to be Muhammad Ali. The second coming. They want him to crush every other heavyweight with one massive sweep of his right hand.
They want him to light up these boogie nights with bloody drama and illuminate their lives not only with the power of his punches but the force of his personality.
They want too much. So they boo when the referee waves his arms to spare an heroic challenger, who can hardly see from his bleeding eyes, from extra punishment before AJ can deliver the coup de grace.
This is boxing in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. Not gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum. They want it all too soon. The Greatest? He is not Mr Money. Not yet.
Joshua knows it too. The new face of boxing now Floyd Mayweather has retired? "Not me," he says. "Certainly not before I can cement my legacy. It took Floyd until his last five fights to do that."
"Give me time, time, time. I’m not a one-hit wonder. Getting knocked down by Wladimir (Klitschko) taught me not to rush. Be patient. Take my time, knowing the knockout will come."
It did, in the 10th — the round he had predicted. But they want him to be pitch perfect every time. Twenty fights. Twenty knockouts. Two world heavyweight championship belts. A record 78,000 under that sliding roof.
No, he wasn’t as good against Carlos Takam as he had to be six months earlier to take out Klitschko at Wembley. But no boxer is great every fight. Ali had his off nights. So did Joe Louis, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield. The comparisons are crowding in as hungrily as the people. It is water off that broad back.
"No pressure," says Joshua. "The only pressure is to win. What’s happening around me is exciting and good for boxing. But I have to keep winning or it will come to an end, which would be a catastrophe for all for us. There’s always that one-punch risk with heavyweights. But I did my job again."
Thank you for the support. I love British boxing because they appreciate the loser as much as the winner 🖤 pic.twitter.com/bfALfPrVn8
That job will get harder next year. The clamour is on for him to meet the challenge of heavy-hitting WBC champion Deontay Wilder.
"I know it has to happen soon," says Joshua. "I’ll fight anyone. But that one is not only for me. Boxing needs it. The heavyweights are the showcase. I’ve just done my mandatory defence for the IBF belt but there’s another one coming for the WBA. Then there’s Joseph Parker for the WBO. Wilder in 2018, yes. But the later it comes, the bigger it will be. Here or in America."
And the better for him. Joshua admits he’s still a work in progress.
It showed when Takam — the smaller, crouching, slugging if not quite Smokin’ impersonation of Joe Frazier — caught him with some jarring shots. Joshua not only gritted his teeth but had to breathe hard through his mouth because an early collision with the Cameroon-born Frenchman’s forehead had given him a gushing nosebleed. That, combined with the wounds he had inflicted on Takam, turned his dazzling white shorts red.
Was the stoppage too early? By a couple of punches and a few seconds, yes. Joshua said: "The crowd wanted to see me send him unconscious to the canvas."
But he understood the jeers: "If I had been Takam, I would have protested like he did. He wanted to make it to the final bell. Pride. If I had been out there in the stands I would have been like them. But it’s not my decision. It’s the referee’s. And I did my job."
That he did. If not quite as comprehensively as some thought. The cheerleaders — many of them the same as those whose acclamation of AJ as the new Ali is way more premature than the stoppage — gave him every round. That is an injustice to Takam, who found enough punches in the midst of his pain to deserve three rounds on my card. In a way, they also sold Joshua short.
Lennox Lewis remarked: "AJ needed a fight like that." His British successor’s response: "Yes, I did."
An old boxing hand in the bar later saw it differently: "Rubbish."
In fact it was a good fight, made real not only by Takam’s courage but also the incremental improvements in Joshua’s skills and his unquenchable spirit.
The best is yet to come. He says he’s learning and the next lesson must be to plug some of the gaps in his defence.
Joshua can take a punch but at the moment he’s open to too many. He can get up when he’s knocked down but you don’t want to have to do that too often. Not with Wilder in the offing, a man who punches even harder than Joshua does. So although the earliest he will be back in the ring is next spring, he will take no more than two weeks off.
"That’s long enough for my body to recover but, if I stay out of training too long, it’s bad for me. I need the discipline. I will go to Dubai for some sunshine but I will be in the gym there."
There will be no let-up, not even with all those commercial distractions. Not with greatness in the making.
Yes, he’s a superstar already. For now, that’s enough. That and being the good guy.