Anthony ‘Oluwafemi Olaseni’ Joshua: What’s not to like?
There is something endearing in the way World Heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, responded to questions regarding the suitability of Lagos as a host for his next world title defence. Lagos is the bustling former capital, and most populous state in a country that houses roughly 170 million people. His mannerism of even pushing the interviewer back by asking, “Why? Why?” when he is told it seems “farfetched,” is amusingly Nigerian.
Charming, highly intelligent, softly spoken and now the most marketable figure in sport today, he also displays a very impressive knowledge of favourable facts, including the time zone and flight duration, pointing out Las Vegas is farther away even from London. “As long as the fight’s good, it doesn’t matter where it is,” he says. “I’m going to defend Nigeria.”
It is remarkable that he recognizes his Nigerian roots, and that he takes it upon himself to be an ambassador for the country. Here is a world boxing champion who speaks so glowingly of a nation that perhaps was unable to give him the sort of opportunities that his talent deserves. He is the champion we never had. While there is an element of cringe to the rush to claim him having not been a part of the process of building him up, it is clear that, for him, the land of his ancestry is not an afterthought. He is not playing the ‘jilted lover’ card.
What isn’t clear even now, is what exactly led him to fight under the British flag rather than Nigeria’s. Perhaps the truth is more nuanced than can be captured simply, but that has not deterred him at all. Would he be where he is now had he fought for Nigeria? That is doubtful, even for all his skill and power. Yet, his legend grows daily, and he is more than happy to have Nigeria be a part of it. He has retained the profoundly Nigerian elements of his personality, most notably a healthy sense of humour. He has even waded into the local cuisine – including pounded yam and the much vaunted jollof rice – and negotiated its rapids and turbulent waters with greater ease than a certain federal minister a few months ago.
For marketing and commercial purposes, you can be sure that Lagos would not be anywhere near as good a draw as shiny Las Vegas, with its high rollers and glamour. Presently, with a flash flood ravaging Lekki, one of Lagos’ more highbrow areas, and with the economic realities on the Nigerian ground, there would not be much of a windfall. Sure, the affluent would pay to see Joshua fight, but they alone could not make up the sort of numbers available at, say, the MGM Grand, which has a capacity of 17,000. The majority would likely be priced out. There is also the small matter of what venue even is available and has the sort of facilities required for such a fight. It could be done, of course, but would require executive orders and a whole lot of money.
All these aside, there are lessons to draw for long term use. The Nigerian Boxing Federation, especially, should pay attention. There are presently a number of promising heavyweights in the ranks who, if they are lost to other nations and eventually progress to the pinnacle, would perhaps lack Joshua’s emotional intelligence and political nous. Or, for that matter, that of Daniel Igali, an Olympic gold medallist who fought in the colours of Canada after seeking asylum there in 1994 following that year’s Commonwealth Games in which he had, amusingly enough, represented Nigeria. He is now the president of the Nigerian Wrestling Federation.
In the meantime, Joshua remains a source of pride to his fatherland. There is nothing forced about his loyalty. Substantially overweight and devoid of a boxing licence, former world champion-now-turned-challenger, Tyson Fury, has brashly indicated he is open to the idea of fighting AJ in Lagos, believing in his ability to, like Muhammad Ali famously did, cultivate the support of the local people.
He would do well to note that Joshua has his feet on the ground and his hand on the pulse of Nigeria. Fury may be easy to root for sometimes, with his “Gypsy King” moniker, the scrappy underdog with no place to pitch his tent, but as someone said rather amusingly (and I will paraphrase here): even if AJ can’t beat Fury, all of Lagos would put heads together and do it themselves.
It is droll, but that captures perfectly the Nigerian feeling about Joshua. For once though, it is apparently mutual.