Anthony Joshua stirs emotion in Nigerian town of Sagamu

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

This story was originally published on KweséESPN in the days following Anthony Joshua's fight against Wladimir Klitschko on 29 April 2017.

As Wladimir Klitschko hit the canvas for the first time in the 11th round of his world heavyweight title fight against Anthony Joshua - the second time in the fight - bedlam erupted at the makeshift open-air viewing centre in the small town of Sagamu, Nigeria.

One over-enthusiastic fan knocked over the projector from which the game was streaming and the screen went blank... Time enough to miss the flurry-fisted denouement; the referee calling a halt to the fight and declaring Joshua, whose parents hail from the small town in south western Nigeria, the winner.

There was some nervous uncertainty while the screen was set right. Their premature celebration in Round 5 when Klitschko went down had transmuted into their boxer taking a beating towards the end and then getting floored in the 6th.

But jangling nerves were soon turned to an unbridled rush of adrenaline as journalist Kingsley Oyero, who was also following the fight on Twitter, declared that the contest was over - to another round of chaos breaking out - and then some when the replays came on.

Even politician Yinka Mafe, Majority Leader of the Ogun State House of Assembly, could not hold back the emotions, raised arms pumping in unison with the children who had also gathered to cheer their countryman to victory. For that moment, there was no separation between high-ranking legislator and man on the street.

Adedamola Joshua, the boxer's great uncle, was almost in tears as he hurriedly made his way out of the venue, almost smothered by congratulatory hugs and handshakes.

"This is a miracle," the elder Joshua said. "I was so scared when he went down, I thought it was over. But he showed strength and fight to come back and when he got past that, I knew he would win."

It was in sharp contrast to his pre-fight confidence, when he declared that his young nephew would make easy work of the 41-year-old former champion: "Femi [AJ's middle name] is younger, he is faster and he has the stamina to last for 12 rounds so I am very confident that he will win," Adedamola had said before the fight.

He was not alone. Most of the town's young men, and a few older ones, along with a scattering of women, appeared to have turned up to watch the fight. They all swaggered in, confident that Joshua would win with ease.

Kayode Segun-Okeowo, the Sagamu Youth President whose organisation put the viewing event together, was more confident than most. Before the fight he had no doubts who the victory would go to: "Joshua will win. Klitschko cannot withstand him."

Such was the outpouring of support that almost every punch Joshua threw drew cheers, and every hit he took led to collective wincing and groaning.

It was no less than a scion of the Joshua family deserved.

Joshua's father Jonathan is the grandson of one of Sagamu's greatest men. Born in 1882, their late patriarch Omo-Oba Daniel Adebambo Joshua was one of the first Nigerians to engage in trade with Europeans in the early 20th century. The title 'Omo-Oba' literally translates to 'Prince'.

He was also a top staffer of the UAC company, and with foresight uncommon at the time, gradually bought up a huge spread of land holdings covering almost half the town, making him not only one of the most educated men in the region, but also one of the wealthiest.

This meant that although he had 12 wives and numerous offspring, he could still afford to send his children to school abroad. It was while studying in the United Kingdom that one of his sons, AJ's grandfather, met and married an Irish woman.

Adedamola tells a tale, possibly with some special effects, of how AJ's grandfather was involved in a scuffle while in the UK with three white men who questioned his right to marry a white woman. "That was in 1952. They insulted him, telling him he had no right to marry a white woman. He single-handedly beat all three of them up. I'm sure that's where Anthony's fighting skills come from."

AJ's father Jonathan is one product of that union. But such are his ties to his roots that he came back home to Sagamu to find a wife, Joshua's mum Yeta.

Adebambo Joshua's respect among the people of Sagamu comes not just from the wealth he acquired, but also for his intelligence and generosity. As chairman of the Christ African Church, 'Baba Josh' donated some of his lands to the Christ African Church, the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church and even a mosque. The Joshua Hall at the Sagamu Mosque is the only such hall within a Muslim complex in Nigeria carrying a Christian name.

Bizarrely, until this Saturday, very few people in Sagamu knew that AJ was one of theirs. It was a gap that Segun-Okeowo and his Sagamu Youth Congress felt they needed to close.

On the morning of the fight, they organised a march around the town wearing t-shirts adorned with a picture of AJ. They started from his great grandfather's house on Cinema Street (where Baba Josh built the first cinema in the region, which still stands) and ended up at the Epele Palace.

"We wanted to make sure the whole town knew he was our son and to mobilise people to come out and support him by watching the fight," Segun-Okeowo says.

"We believed he would win, but for us that was not really important. Win or lose, we wanted to be able to support one of our own and we are very happy at the turnout and the support."

What support it was. As the 90 000 Britons packed into Wembley exploded into barely restrained cacophony, they would have found that their voices were matched - if not drowned out - by the few hundreds sitting, some standing and others huddling in front of the Akarigbo Palace in Sagamu. Segun-Okeowo lost his voice by the end. He was not alone.