Recently crowned IBF heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua has his first title defense set, as Matchroom Boxing announced today that he will face Dominic Breazeale on June 25, at the O2 Arena in London, where Joshua beat Charles Martin for the belt on April 9.
Joshua (16-0, 16 KO) will, of course, be the massive favorite here, and he should be. When the two both competed at London 2012, Joshua won the gold medal and Breazeale was beaten in the first round by Mohamed Arjaoui of Morocco, and convincingly so. Breazeale was a project then, a former college football quarterback turned to boxing, and he has gotten better since then. But so has Joshua, and the gap between them has not narrowed.
Breazeale (17-0, 15 KO) has stepped up his competition in his last two fights, with mixed results. He got a controversial decision win over Fred Kassi last September, and returned in January to stop Amir Mansour. Breazeale had to get off the canvas in that fight, but he did show a level of toughness and grit that wasn't known before.
But Breazeale seems to remain more project than prospect, and being thrown into the deep end for this fight sort of acknowledges that reality. If he can get the win -- and he is a 6'7", 250-pound guy with power -- then it's amazing for him, for adviser Al Haymon, and the rest of his team. If he doesn't, well, he gets a good payday, and he wasn't supposed to win, so does it really hurt him going forward?
"I can't tell you how excited I am to fight again, especially at The O2 which I have made my fortress," said Joshua in a press release. "My coaches have watched Breazeale for a long time and they knew he was going to be a player in the division and now we get the chance to go war on June 25. It's sure to be explosive, both of us like to let our hands go and score knockouts, we are both undefeated and both have Olympic pedigree.
"I am looking to get past Breazeale in style and continue moving towards the unification fight everybody is waiting for. I'm looking forward to being part of a stacked night of boxing and defending my title in style."
There is also surely that hope that by fighting an American, Joshua can raise his profile in the States, where he's picking up some buzz. He's already a legitimate superstar in the United Kingdom, and becoming a star across the Atlantic is something everyone involved is clearly working to make happen.
Also on the card, super middleweights George Groves (23-3, 18 KO) and Martin Murray (32-3-1, 15 KO) will meet in a WBA eliminator, with the winner in line for a shot at that belt, which is currently held by Felix Sturm, but is sort of in limbo after Sturm reportedly failed a drug test following his win over Fedor Chudinov.
Groves is coming off of an easy couple of wins in January and April, defeating Andrea di Luisa and David Brophy, but Murray is closer to the level of fighter that Groves has struggled against in losses to Carl Froch and Badou Jack. Murray last fought in November, losing a close decision against then-WBO titleholder Arthur Abraham.
"I'm very excited to be defending my WBA international belt against Martin Murray back at the O2," said Groves via press release. "I've had two great performances this year, both in London and the latest one back at The O2. It's always a happy hunting ground for me.
"Martin is the perfect fight for me at this stage. He's a seasoned campaigner, who's boxed at the highest level for quite some time. He is a world level opponent and I'll have to be fully focused and prepared to beat him.
"A win against Murray on the biggest stage, will open a lot of doors and bring me a step closer to achieving my goal of becoming world champion. I'm fully expecting it to be a war, I can't wait."