LONDON -- It is a mark of Anthony Joshua's unwavering self-belief and champion quality that as he stood in the ring postfight -- while Alexander Povetkin sat, catching his breath and taking stock -- the focus was already on April 13, and a potential unification fight with Deontay Wilder.
There was probably still Povetkin's blood on the canvas, the Russian still reeling from the two brutal knockdowns in the seventh round that ended the fight when he might arguably have been leading on the judges' scorecards, but Joshua barely had to catch his own breath as he assessed the evening's brutality, then parked the bout and moved on to the next challenger.
It was just like his victory over Wladimir Klitschko all over again at Wembley, as Joshua stood soaking in the crowd's unwavering devotion to him. He has this effect where supporters, admittedly a few beers down, raise their arms to salute Joshua whenever he looks to the crowd and all are convinced they have caught his eye. His past four fights -- two at Wembley, two in Cardiff -- have drawn over 300,000 supporters. Each of those attendees will have their favourite Joshua story, their favourite moment, but still there is a feeling of unfinished business, despite this powerful turnaround against Povetkin.
The coming months and days until April 13, his next fight booked in at Wembley, will be just like the preceding months to this fight. Even this week, folk were saying how they wanted to see Deontay Wilder here facing Joshua, rather than Povetkin. But the quiet Russian was not here to make up the numbers. He made his presence felt on Joshua, damaging the champion's nose in the opening round, but though he remained dangerous in close quarters, Joshua wore him down to then close the book in devastating fashion.
Povetkin was all but forgotten as soon as he was knocked out, though. Joshua instead focused on the crowd, asking whom they wanted at Wembley next year. They answered Wilder.
"There are always complications but the sport is what the fans want," Joshua said. "Sometimes you have the mandatories [as Povetkin was], and now that's out the way, it's you guys that make the sport. I'm here now, I've got my knockout streak back and it's lining up for April 13."
Joshua initially dodged multiple questions over his preferred opponent next year, but after paying tribute to Dillian Whyte, who was in attendance, he answered: "My No. 1 would be Wilder." It was up to Eddie Hearn, Joshua's promoter, to answer the ins and outs of why that fight had not been made and why it still could be. But before getting carried away with the future, as seems inevitable with the Joshua hype train, let's not overlook that he had been rocked by Povetkin.
The challenger was always going to come out quick. Aged 39 and two stones lighter than Joshua, he had the nimbleness to cause his opponent a world of pain in the opening rounds. His left hand was dangerous, and Joshua stumbled in the first, his nose feeling the full brunt of Povetkin's experience.
Although Povetkin continued to cause Joshua difficulties in close quarters, he started to slow just as Joshua found another gear. By the seventh round, the referee could have stopped the fight after the first knockdown, with Povetkin almost stumbling out of the ring through the ropes in his attempts to pull himself off the floor. When he fell to the canvas for the second time moments later, the crowd rose as one.
There is something unnerving about seeing the slo-mos after a knockout; Povetkin's eyes catching Joshua's as he fell to the canvas for the knockdown, his head bouncing and then his attempt to regather his senses. The crowd responded with glee, then pantomime oohs and aahs, before applause. Then came the second replay of the fight-ending punches from Joshua as Povetkin was stopped for the first time in 36 fights, for his second career defeat. It was business as usual when for a while it had felt a little uneasy in Wembley.
Joshua remains triumphant, the burden and acclaim of that undefeated moniker still hovering above his name, waiting for challenger after challenger. Those four belts will go back into their box and wait for the next stop on the AJ roadshow, unaffected by just how close their owner had come to relinquishing them.
The early stages of the fight reflected the not-quite-perfect proceedings that had gone before. As the rain fell to scatter the undercard's crowd, ponchos were pulled over expensive nighttime attire by those ringside. Those in the stands opted to wait in the concourse before parking pints and venturing into London's cool night air. Standard fare met them for the main event: the Anthony Joshua chanting to the tune of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," ring announcer Michael Buffer dancing to "Sweet Caroline," the various sponsors, the shots of those ringside and then the ring walk. It's sporting theatre with Joshua, but that pressure tells.
This event rested on Joshua's shoulders; only Luke Campbell's victory over Yvan Mendy in the last fight of the undercard raised any cheers from the audience. The headline act was out on his own, amid what seemed to be an existential crisis.
He spoke in the week of wondering what the point was in getting his hair cut. He asked rhetorical questions: "What am I doing?" "Who am I impressing?" "What do I live for?" Each has answers personal to him, each running through what he termed a "mid-life crisis." The hair remained untrimmed by fight night, but this was just another way in which he revitalises himself and ensures the pressure is channeled in the right way, rather than it becoming a burden. Though it was not the fight many wanted to see, Joshua himself is still enough of a draw to pack 80,000-odd devotees into this vast auditorium. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand, just like always, just like when he beat Klitschko.
"I prayed for sunshine, let's have a great Christmas, let's finish the year on a high and I'll see you here again in April," were his sign-off words. It was as if the boxing calendar, with Wilder's fight against Tyson Fury waiting on Dec. 1, had suddenly been rendered a sideshow. This division is still on AJ's terms. Now he heads back to the shadows, waiting for the next challenger, looking to protect his undefeated run.
Will it be Wilder? Will it be Fury? Will it be Whyte? The man wants Wilder, and though he didn't get sunshine, he normally finds a way to get the result he wants. That's why he's the biggest sports star Britain has got, and why he can still fill a stadium regardless of whom he is fighting.