Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn said that his opponent Alexander Povetkin has the backing of the Russian government ahead of their fight on Saturday night.
Joshua will put his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight title belts on the line against Povetkin at Wembley, and Hearn said that Russia would love to “stick one on a Brit” given the recent diplomatic strife between the two countries concerning the alleged poisonings in Salisbury by Russian agents.
“Povetkin has got not just his team but the country and, dare I say, [Putin’s] government behind him,” said Hearn. “They are all involved. This is like a mission from them to beat Britain and for a Russian to become the world heavyweight champion.
“He and his team know how important this is for them and for Povetkin nationally. This is not just about him personally winning a title, this is a major, major thing if he could stick one on a Brit.
“I think it adds a bit of spice, to be honest with you,” he added. “You know that level of government is involved in Povetkin so there will be plenty of instruction, well wishes and calls of intent from them saying: ‘Come on, this is important for our country.’”
On the subject of Putin, Povetkin’s manager Vadim Kornilov said: “The president [Vladimir Putin] has not yet been to his fights but he is definitely a big sports fan. He is also a fan of Alexander and he helps with many things.”
— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyfjoshua) September 16, 2018
Hearn added that Joshua had steered clear of the tension between the two nations.
“He hasn’t really taken note of anything around him. He’s just been working hard with trainer Rob McCracken in a very business-like camp.
“It’s a really tough fight and one of the downsides of this fight is that, if everyone in Britain had the knowledge of people who are involved in boxing, this fight would be five times bigger.
“Because when you talk about Joshua-Povetkin, it’s a great fight. But that casual audience don’t really know about Alexander Povetkin. Povetkin doesn’t speak English so he isn’t going to square up to Joshua at a press conference and start talking this and that.”
Meanwhile, Hearn said he was confident the Russian, who has served two doping bans in recent years, would be clean this time around.
“He’s had loads of tests,” Hearn said. “Off the top of my head there have been five or six tests from the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, not from the Russian one. They will go into his camp and that’s been done from 12 weeks out.”