Anthony Joshua: the humblebragging boxer who's king of self-promotion

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

Anthony Joshua’s £15m KO win on Saturday night in front of a capacity 90,000 strong crowd at Wembley Stadium has left him boxing clever to become the world’s first sports billionaire.

Who says so? Why, Anthony Joshua himself, that’s who.

Standing in at 6ft 6in, the 27-year-old victor over Wladimir Klitschko told GQ magazine: “The new school of thought is that I need to be a billionaire… now there are ordinary people, grandmas and granddads that are worth millions because of property prices.”

Just remember that it’s Joshua himself who has set the billionaire benchmark and started to punch well above his 113kg weight. It was in the Sun: “Anthony Joshua vows to make a billion pounds.”

He seems to be conveniently forgetting that Oscar De La Hoya, 10-time world champion, is estimated by Forbes to have earned a mere £405m throughout his entire career, while Mike Tyson’s earnings totalled £544m from not only his boxing career but also his appearances in WWE wrestling and Hollywood films. Floyd “Money” Mayweather made just over £600m throughout his career.

And Joshua is forgetting that Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, according to Forbes, have already cracked the billion milestone.

But who’s caring? It makes for great PR hype around someone who appears to have the world at his feet, not to mention his fists.

With Muhammad Ali, self-promotion was all about being the greatest fighter. As Ali himself said: “I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. I’m the most skilful fighter in the ring today.”

These days the benchmark for many young people is not so much the skill level but the ability to add digits to your bank statement.

A big part of Joshua’s narrative is how he used to hoover up business advice from his local dry cleaner, all the while racking up a £120 unpaid bill before landing £15m from the fight.

Even his darkest hour in 2011 when he landed a 12-month community service order and 100 hours of unpaid work for possession and intent to supply a Class B drug, he at least showed entrepreneurial spirit and business ambition.

With 19 straight fight wins under his belt, Joshua has already designed headphones for Beats by Dr Dre in a collaboration which has nothing to do with flooring opponents in the ring.

He can be found characteristically humblebragging about the association online with video of him chatting to Dr Dre, telling everyone he’s: “Casually Chilling... OHHHH SH*T @drdre #AJBoxing.”

In fact, he already has 13 sponsors on board with Team AJ. Under Armour is getting the bulk of the product mentions right now. Alongside them he’s plugging a diverse and eclectic range of backers from StubHub, the ticket seller, to Altitude Mask, a Dubai-based performance enhancer. Among others on the list are Sky Sports, BXR Gyms in Marylebone, Lucozade Sport, Texo Scaffolding in Essex, EQ nutrition, Audemars Piguet, the swiss luxury watchmaker and Dafabet, a betting company.

Joshua’s own website shop is selling ‘Anthony Joshua Vs. The World’ caps to anyone who wants to put their money where his mouth is as he places himself right at the centre of this commercial storm to exploit and capitalise on his image.

He’s not just relying on boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, but has recruited an army of family, friends and industry experts to create The Court of Joshua.

There are no court jesters here. Instead he calls on people like Michael Jarman, the sports agent at Doyen Global who has worked with the likes of David Beckham and Usain Bolt, and Freddie Cunningham, the commercial manager of Joshua’s own company AJ Boxing. As Cunningham says: "Everything we do with brand partnerships, he likes to understand it."

Much like Ali, Joshua is using humility as a well observed PR earth wire to defuse the grandiosity of his proclamations of financial greatness. As the Guardian reported: “Humility and respect are the rare qualities that won the fight for Joshua.”

Or as Frank Bruno might have said: Very ‘umble, know what I mean, ‘Arry?

No one pushes his humble credentials more than the man himself with posts like this tweet: “Stay fresh, stay humble #FindYourMagic #Lynx #ambasssador”. Those of us old enough see shades of Henry Cooper’s “splash it all over” aftershave ads for Brut back in the day.

Tyson Fury, desperate to return to boxing, must be furious as he watches Joshua capturing all the hearts and minds, skilfully ducking and diving away from the boxing world’s more typical insults and disrespect. Joshua could play him MC Hammer’s ‘You can’t touch this’.

To underline his clean-living credentials, Joshua has consciously set up a dedicated section on his website called ‘Giving Back’, where he donates AJ memorabilia to “inspire kids to dream big”. Recently he bought his very first boxing club in Finchley new equipment.

He proclaims himself to be The People’s Champion, reminiscent of Princess Diana’s The People’s Princess. Like they said about Muhammad Ali before him, humility defines his greatness.

In his heyday, Ali would personally respond to the thousands of fan letters he received, even if it was just a signature. That was how he strengthened his connection to his public. Today, Joshua has a more immediate connection with his fans on social media. He has nearly 2m Facebook likes and around 4m followers on Instagram and Twitter.

Humour was another weapon in Ali’s arsenal that Joshua has commandeered to deadly effect. After his fight win against Klitschko, AJ was pictured on social media ready to eat at a groaning table with the caption: “No table etiquette I’m hungry”. He’d been ribbing Klitschko before the fight, saying he was the man with the most hunger.

Like Ali, Joshua is a walking-talking-fighting-self-promoting PR dream. The key difference between them is that Ali was all about being the world’s greatest boxer.

Balanced and self-assured is a better way to describe Joshua, his humble persona a red herring that owes a lot more to style than substance. While Joshua is already being touted to replace Andy Murray, David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton as best paid sportsman, he’s totally in personal control of his personal image and commercial flight panel.

He’s carefully crafted and shaped his inspiring rags-to-riches story to appeal to mass audiences – the Watford boy who fell from grace but got back onto the straight and narrow. You know you have a true crossover on your hands when CBBC’s Newsround cover the story of his road to glory after Saturday’s victory.

Joshua appeared star-struck when Sir Elton John called him to wish him luck before the fight. He said: “He’s a Watford man. It felt surreal, Elton wanting to talk to me.” More humblebragging, but no one seems to mind. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay-Z were spotted ringside.

Music is important to Joshua and part of his crossover appeal. He played Grime sensation Stormzy’s music on one ring walk. Fitting, as Stormzy is another ‘doing it My Way’ entertainment star.

The 23-year-old former DJ on Brixton’s Reprezent Radio maintains total independence with no big record company deal in sight, and still he’s managed to net a cool £1.5m, according to Fortune magazine.

He may have a large posse of business advisors around him, but Stormzy is the man they all report into, much like with Team AJ.

Almost becoming a music star himself, Joshua has teamed up with Apple Music to release his eclectic pre-match playlist of tracks. I can see him making big-cheque celebrity appearances on the decks in Vegas and Ibiza.

One thing is for certain, to become the king of kerching Joshua must conquer America. While Sky pay-per-view in the UK can get up to 1.5m views, Showtime Boxing in the US can deliver more than 4m. But then Germany brought in an incredible 10m at the weekend – clearly the whole world is now Team AJ’s stage. There's already talk about China from the Hearn camp.

As boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, who was behind the rise and rise of Lennox Lewis, tells me: “AJ needs to be fighting in American time zones to cash in on the mega money and quick”.

America is already warming up to the ‘reincarnation of Muhammed Ali’ narrative beautifully. Last week US veteran broadcaster Eddie Goldman made the link between Ali and Joshua. Even Ali’s official biographer Thomas Hauser would agree that we’re witnessing the explosion of a sporting supernova.

They could be bang on.

See Richard Hillgrove speak at Like Minds, Mayfair Business Breakfast on Thursday 11 May.

richard.hillgrove@6hillgrove.com

Twitter: @6hillgrove

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