This evening in London, Anthony Joshua will step in to a boxing ring for the first time in a year as he faces Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev. With the global COVID-19 pandemic taking its toll on sport just 1,000 lucky fans will be in the SSE Arena to see Joshua defend his three heavyweight titles.
While the arena will be virtually empty, millions of fans around the world will be following the fight on radio or TV and it is fair to say he will be getting a lot of virtual support from Nigeria.
The 31-year-old may have won his Olympic gold for Great Britain, but he is also an idol in Nigeria, and nowhere more so than the quiet south-western town of Sagamu, where his family comes from.
The Joshuas are well-known in Sagamu and trace their ancestry back through several generations.His great-grandfather is Daniel Adebambo Joshua, a wealthy landowner and merchant who is believed to have taken the last name after his conversion to Christianity.
Daniel sent one of his sons Isaac Olaseni Joshua to Britain to study and he eventually married an Irish woman who returned with him to Nigeria where they raised seven children.
One of those children, Robert ended up marrying Yeta Odusanya, also from Sagamu, and is father to Anthony and his sister Janet. His middle name is Olaseni in honour of his grandfather. His recent sporting exploits have ensured that the family name is quite popular not only in the town, but also across the nation and beyond.
Joshua is very proud of his Nigerian heritage, with the most obvious sign being his tattoo of Africa, with Nigeria outlined, his right shoulder.The Nigerian flag is always proudly and prominently displayed alongside the Union Jack in the ring during his fights
His ring walks in his two fights against Andy Ruiz Jr. featured hits from Nigerian musical icons like Burna Boy and Femi Kuti, son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti.
His love for Nigerian music is evident on his social media handles, as he sings along to tunes from the West African nation. Another of his favourite things from Nigeria is the cuisine and again he often shows of his cooking skills of the nation’s culinary staples.
Joshua’s love for Nigeria has also seen him send food and care packages to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic. More recently, he took to social media to show solidarity with youths protesting police brutality in Nigeria.
Even the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari is a fan; the two met in London in January with Joshua presented him his belts. With the physique of a mahogany Hercules, a well-mannered, soft-spoken persona, a 5,000-watt smile, a booming infectious laugh are all part of Joshua’s allure.
Then in the ring he has a winning fight record filled with notable names and spectacular knockouts all of which means Joshua is regarded by many as the biggest sporting star to come out of the country after NBA legend, Hakeem Olajuwon.All these have endeared him greatly to Nigerian fans, who have taken to him like no other heavyweight champion of Nigerian heritage before him.
• Culled from BBC .com