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Anthony Joshua's dominant win puts him back in the hunt for a heavyweight strap

Anthony Joshua took a step closer to regaining a version of the world heavyweight title when he defeated Otto Wallin in Saudi Arabia.

Joshua, who has been without a belt since his loss to Oleksandr Usyk in October last year, dominated the 33-year-old Swede with a performance that suggested he is back to his destructive best.

Joshua had been slated to meet former champion Deontay Wilder in his next bout but, after the American was defeated by Joseph Parker, the Londoner’s promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed he will now target a fight against hard-hitting Croatian Filip Hrgovic.

Hrgovic is mandatory challenger for the IBF title currently held by Usyk, but the assumption is the Ukrainian will relinquish or lose the belt when he invokes a rematch clause following his undisputed fight against Tyson Fury in February.

Hearn said: “It was a tough decision between the championship and Deontay Wilder. We signed for Deontay Wilder but he lost tonight and maybe that’s a blessing, because really this guy is about championships.

“It’s going to be Hrgovic against AJ for the world title. I’m so happy to see him smiling and performing so well.

“He’s a dangerous man when he’s in that kind of mood, and 2024 is going to be very interesting and every heavyweight should be on notice – he’s back.”

Hrgovic, who needed less than two minutes to outclass Mark de Mori on the Riyadh undercard, has won all 17 of his professional fights, all but three inside the distance.

He is currently the mandatory challenger for a shot at the version of the belt held by Usyk, and must be given his shot within a time period that makes it impossible to fit in the prospective Fury-Usyk rematch.

Victory would make Joshua a three-time holder of a heavyweight title belt, having lost previous versions in defeat to Usyk and Andy Ruiz Jr.

Coming after back-to-back defeats to the Ukrainian, Joshua’s win over Wallin capped a satisfying 2023 in which he beat Jermaine Franklin Jr by unanimous decision in April before sealing a seventh-round stoppage against Robert Helenius in August.

While Joshua still has much to do to prove he belongs in the same category as Usyk and Fury, Hearn has no doubts that his win over Wallin will pave the way for him to prove himself as the division’s undisputed number one.

“They told me he’s back, that he’s destroying people in sparring, and I believe that this AJ is the best heavyweight in the world,” added Hearn.

“Otto Wallin is an excellent heavyweight, and he absolutely dispatched him. He broke him down and broke his nose – it was a stunning performance. In this mindset and with this team, I believe he is unbeatable, and 2024 is going to be a massive year for him.”

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