Never have I felt more privileged to work in the sports industry than on Saturday night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
After 18 grueling months locked in the middle of a battle against an invisible enemy that wreaked havoc in this country, the feeling of gratitude and relief was palpable inside the 62,850-seat stadium.
The sport continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in that country, but it was limited by measures designed to ensure social distancing and minimal contact.
Yet it is for this very reason that this country needed Anthony Joshua’s successful fight with Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday night – to remind us how much sport can unite.
From the second I stepped into the N17 on Saturday there was a rush of electricity that crackled among the enthusiastic Tottenham High Road punters who had arrived.
It might be 4 p.m., but nerves and anticipation for the global heavyweight fight were already starting to boil in what would quickly become a crescendo in the hour of fight.
Joshua hadn’t fought in front of a large crowd in London since September 2018, when he exhaustively dissected Alexander Povetkin at Wembley, the same venue as for his epic fight with Wladimir Klitschko the year before.
The Briton has been steadily breaking and setting records since his professional debut in 2013 and, despite brief streaks in Saudi Arabia and New York in 2019, belongs to the crowds in his home country.
No fighter captures the imagination, nor is able to transcend the sport of boxing in the same way as the 2012 Olympic gold medalist – a trinket he collected in the capital as a young face. costs.
The sleek, glittering stadium he temporarily called home on Saturday night quickly swelled in anticipation of his glorious homecoming.
The official presence for the fight was 66,267, an amazing number alone, yet it is the consistency with which Joshua does it.
It was the biggest crowd for a British fight since the return of spectators, but also since the victory of Joshua over Povetkin three years ago which had attracted 70,000.
To put this in context, Tyson Fury’s victory over Klitschko in 2015 drew 55,000 people and the “Rumble in The Jungle” between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali garnered 60,000 pairs of eyes in Zaire.
Even in Cardiff for the unified title fight against Joseph Parker, Joshua was able to attract 78,000 fans in 2018.
Soon it even became difficult to hear yourself think inside Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, let alone the spectators by your side.
Despite all the teasing Eddie Hearn takes from British audiences, his ability to create shows is truly unmatched in the game. As he explained in his book titled “Relentless,” Matchroom Boxing is all about engineering-filled nights. of wonder and spectacle.
Naturally, this was helped by the celebrity clientele at ringside as Idris Elba, Declan Rice and Mo Farah took their seats and the sound system quickly started working overtime as a mix of classics. club and fan favorite songs flooded the senses of every fan in attendance.
Routine victories for Lawrence Okolie and Callum Smith drew predictable cheers and praise from the crowd, and the main course of the evening was upon us soon.
That’s when it happened, chills ran through my spine and hair came to attention as the entire screaming crowd sang the cult classic of Neil. Diamond, “Sweet Caroline”.
That moment will stay with me, because it made me realize how desperately boxing craves spectators in these dark and troubling times.
The cacophony of noise created by spectators gripped by the action would take a serious halt, but boxing has a habit of moving away from the storyline like this.
Fireworks rose from the night sky with their synonymous hiss and crash as Joshua, clad in a white robe, descended from his elevated podium to the indoor ring.
For fans of the Rocky series, her song choice was appropriate. Inspired by the fourth installment of the iconic series, Joshua opted for “There’s No Easy Way Out” by Robert Tepper.
Fans were hoping that would be the case for Usyk, a former heavyweight champion hoping to make his mark in the Land of Giants, but it didn’t happen.
The Ukrainian executed the matador role perfectly as his quick approach seemed to trap his much taller opponent and he peppered Joshua’s face with shots from all angles.
The crackling atmosphere quickly dissipated and the energy was undermined by the challenger in a way not too different from the way he behaved in the ring.
Each body hit or hook to the head that landed seemed to take the soft tones of Diamond and Co. from the minds of the crowd watching them as they quickly calmed down.
Despite the unbalanced defeat, boxing needed it and Joshua reminded all of us that we needed him.
Few sports stars can command nearly 70,000 people in an arena the same way.
With a rematch clause already invoked for 2022 and Kiev rejected by promoter Hearn, Joshua will need another special night in London and his army of fans to reclaim his world titles.
I just hope I can be there again to witness it. When Joshua is in town, it’s a special night.