Anthony Joshua, Wladimir Klitschko building up to their April 29 global boxing event

IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, right, forces Eric Molina against the ropes with a flurry of punches during their bout on Dec. 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.
(Dave Thompson / Associated Press)

Wladimir Klitschko isn’t thinking the way many others are about his April 29 heavyweight-title unification bout against England’s Anthony Joshua.

But when the 40-year-old Ukrainian says, “It’s perfect timing,” in reference to his coming showdown at London’s Wembley Stadium against the 27-year-old Joshua (18-0, 18 knockouts), the sport nods its head affirmatively.

After Klitschko’s briefly interrupted 15-year run as champion marked the dwindling interest in what was once the most popular division in boxing, the charismatic Joshua is poised to reinvigorate not just an improving heavyweight cast but the sport itself.


“In my eyes, boxing is a gladiator sport, not so much an entertainment business, and while I always try to be myself, I always try to give people more than they’ve expected,” 2012 Olympic champion Joshua told The Times on Tuesday from a news conference in New York with Klitschko.

“Boxing is grass roots, and we’ve captured the attention. … I can’t lie. I hold boxing in esteem. I want to bring it to the forefront. I want to be in more interviews. I want the currency in sports to be in boxing. It’s not just about winning for me. It’s about bringing boxing back the respect and the power it deserves.

“I’m fighting an established champion and I’m fighting so he can pass me the torch. If I give my best, there’ll be a new king of the jungle.”

Showtime, which has televised Joshua’s three past fights in the U.S., including his International Boxing Federation title triumph over Southern California’s Charles Martin in April and a successful defense over another Southland product, Dominic Breazeale, agrees that Joshua is becoming a mighty worldwide draw.

The premium network is currently in a bidding war with Klitschko’s longtime pay network of choice, HBO, for the U.S. television rights to the bout. An official close to the process said the contest may be settled by next week.

In my eyes, boxing is a gladiator sport, not so much an entertainment business

— 2012 Olympic champion Anthony Joshua

Klitschko is moved by the massive interest, calling the spectacle expected to draw 90,000 to Wembley “a very special fight in the biggest arena I’ve ever fought, in my biggest challenge yet against this young, ambitious unbeaten champion with multiple titles on the line.

“The world’s attention is on this.”

Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs) labored in his most recent bout, throwing few punches while surrendering three heavyweight belts to Tyson Fury in November 2015 in Germany.

Personal distractions were believed to be at play, and Klitschko avoided revisiting the causes of that defeat Tuesday, saying, “That’s looking back. … I cannot change the outcome and I cannot get my rematch. I’m looking forward.”

Fury showed up extremely overweight at a Klitschko rematch news conference, and the second meeting never happened as Fury unraveled in positive drug tests and surrendered his belts, including the World Boxing Assn. version that’s on the line in Joshua-Klitschko.

“I’ve gotten used to challenges in boxing,” Klitschko said. “I’m obsessed to be a three-time world champion.”

He’ll train in Ukraine with his former heavyweight champion brother, Vitali, and in Austria, reminding a reporter Tuesday of how his 81-inch reach allowed him to dismantle a fighter similar to Joshua, Samuel Peter, in 2005, a return to prominence followed by a decade-long title stretch.

“They called me ‘Dead Man Walking,’ right? And [Joshua promoter] Eddie Hearn is saying this is going to be a painful night for Klitschko … so while I understand their motivation, that I’m a stop before [unbeaten World Boxing Council champion Deontay] Wilder, that’s not the way I see myself,” Klitschko said.

“I will show them. I will win this fight.”

Joshua countered that “being smart, keeping him on his back foot and using my razor-sharp jab,” will set up victory. “It’s about being a dominant force, determination … we’re at different phases of our life. We can trade, we can box. I’m going to do what I do best: win. Slug it out until I break him down.”

The proud former champion said he’s embracing an event that he sought for so long to create himself, and now has accomplished with the younger Joshua.

“All the questions — there’s so many. Is it too early for Joshua? Or is it too late for me? They’ll all be answered,” Klitschko said.

Twitter: @latimespugmire