LONDON - World heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has described a return to London's Wembley Stadium for the latest defence of his title belts in front of a home crowd on Saturday as "a blessing".
The 28-year-old Londoner will put his World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organisation titles on the line against Russia's Alexander Povetkin.
"Coming back is a blessing - it's time to put on a performance," said Joshua at a Wembley news conference on Thursday. The fight promises to be Joshua's toughest bout since his thrilling stoppage of former champion Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley in April last year.
Joshua comes into Saturday's contest having won all 21 of his professional bouts, although his last fight, against New Zealand's Joseph Parker in Cardiff in March, saw him go the distance for the first time as a pro before he secured a unanimous points decision.
Povetkin, 39, served notice of his punching power on the undercard of that bout, with a sickening knockout of Britain's David Price. Joshua said he also respects Povetkin's heart and speed, with the only blemish on the Russian's 35-fight record a 2013 points defeat by Klitschko.
"Skills and technique apart, we both have a big heart and can dig deep," said Joshua. "We both showed that against Klitschko. The one who's toughest will come out victorious. He is one of the lightest heavyweights but that means he has speed. I spar cruiserweights like Lawrence Okolie, who is fast and sharp. I work alongside people who have the same strengths."
Povetkin, speaking through a translator, said: "I think I am in very good shape, I've had a good camp. AJ is one of the strongest in the division, I'm happy to have this opportunity and we will give the fans a good fight.
"The fight will show everything. Anthony is a very strong fighter but I am just as strong. When I fought Klitschko, I was much weaker and in worse shape than I am now. I never try to say anything ahead of time, you'll see everything on fight night."
Joshua said Povetkin was one of the toughest challengers. "I just love to fight, love fight week. I've got my strength back, my body has been broken down and put back like never before," he added. "It's time to put on a performance.
"This is not new to me, this feels like home," he said ahead of a bout that pits two former Olympic boxing champions against each other, Joshua having won gold at London 2012 and Povetkin at Athens 2004.
Joshua's trainer, Rob McCracken, was in no doubt of Povetkin's class, saying: "This is a fighter from a different level, with respect to Parker and (Carlos) Takam. Povetkin comes from the top level."
A crowd of 80,000 is expected on Saturday but Joshua said the burden of expectation remained the same regardless of the size of the crowd. "There's loads of pressure, tons of pressure, it's the reality," he said.
"We both know what we are in for, it's the same with every fight. Roll with the punches, what more can I do than give my best? I'll go out there and find a way to win. I know I have a lot of fire in my belly, that's just as important as skills."AFP