As Anthony Joshua gets set to make his United States debut and defend his unified Heavyweight Championship Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, he joins a list of prominent Heavyweights to have headlined at arguably the most famous arena in sports.
Whether talking about Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis, almost every iconic Heavyweight champion has, at one time or another, stepped through the ropes in the media capital of the world.
First, Joshua’s fourth defense of his championship against American late replacement contender, Andy Ruiz Jr., is not a mega-fight. Actually, it’s not even in the same galaxy, as a mega fight.
Still, it is significant, as Joshua is undefeated, has three of the World Title belts, and it’s an introduction to American fight fans in primetime at a venue that they know, all too well.
As for the greats before him?
Arguably the first and most significant mega-fight was Ali’s first battle of his trilogy with Joe Frazier that took place in March of 1971. We wrote previously about the impact of that fight not only on the heavyweight division, but in terms of the amount of money and attention boxing could make in the New Media age.
And, obviously Frazier knocking down and later upsetting Ali by 15 round decision helped “sell the future of the sport” in the 70s, including their two rematches.
Long before, it was Marciano’s October 1951, one sided 8th round knock out of legendary former long reigning champ Joe Louis, that signaled two things: validation of Marciano and the end of and the end of Louis. Marciano pummeling Louis, who fell partially through the ropes while being kayoed remains a vivid image from MSG more than 50 years later.
Fast forward 30 years from then to the meteoric rise of a young unbeaten Mike Tyson, who was dispatching opponents every 3 or 4 weeks in the mid-1980s. When “Iron Mike” strode into MSG in May of 1986, it was with a 20-0 record and to fight fellow New York contender, Mitch “Blood” Green. Although the fight was long on hype and bad blood outside of the ring, it didn’t have great drama in it. This as, Tyson dominated, but could not score a knockout. Rather, he got a 10 round unanimous decision at the Garden.
Two years later Tyson’s altercation with Green late night at a Harlem clothing store was jokingly billed, as the better fight. Tyson reportedly laid Mitch Green out with a punch that swelled his left eye shut. The authorities never pressed charges, and the two never fought, legitimately, again.
More interestingly, for all of his title fights and defenses, Tyson never fought a heavyweight championship fight inside of MSG. Rather, he preferred to continually fight in Atlantic City or Las Vegas or obviously and infamously, when he lost in Tokyo to James “Buster” Douglas.
Continuing into the 90s, Britain’s Lennox Lewis appeared at Madison Square Garden fighting Evander Holyfield in March of 1999. The horrifically bad judging in a fight where Lewis dominated, stands out more than his actual appearance in New York City. Lewis and Holyfield got together again, quickly in November of that same year. This time in Vegas with Lewis winning by easy 12 round unanimous decision
So, Saturday night, it’s Joshua’s turn just soak in the spotlight and nationwide sports attention that will come from fighting this fight at Madison Square Garden.
The biggest question is: can he do something attention-getting enough, spectacular enough and worthy enough to win over the American fight fans.
The line about New York is: “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
And, Joshua wants to prove that in a big way