ANTHONY JOSHUA will challenge America’s Charles Martin for the IBF world heavyweight title in his next fight. The British star will take on Martin at the O2 Arena in London on April 9.

“Fighting for the heavyweight world title has been a dream of mine since I turned professional,” Joshua said. “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to turn that dream into reality. Not only that, having the chance to fight for it in my home town at The O2 and live on Sky Sports is unbelievably exciting. Charles Martin is a great fighter and a hungry competitor so I am going to have to produce the performance of my career to claim that belt.”

Joshua won the super-heavyweight gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is only 15 fights into his professional career and, though a hotly tipped prospect, Joshua is stepping up to a world title fight sooner than expected. Joshua earned himself a high world rating winning a WBC International strap when he crushed Denis Bakhtov in 2014. Last year he disposed of one-time contender Kevin Johnson and won his first significant title, the Commonwealth belt when he blitzed Gary Cornish in September. He only won the British title in December, when he took on rival Dillian Whyte in a grudge match at the O2. That was his most competitive professional contest yet with Whyte taking him into the seventh round, until Joshua landed a hellacious uppercut to score a shuddering knockout. He has finished all of his pro bouts inside the distance.

IBF champ Charles Martin does have more professional experience and is similarly unbeaten. Now 23-0-1 with 21 inside the distance victories. A six foot five southpaw, Martin is heavy-handed and dangerous. His most notable victory of course came in January when he claimed the IBF title that had been so rapidly stripped from new world champion Tyson Fury. Fury toppled the previous division leader, Wladimir Klitschko in November but the IBF took their heavyweight title from Fury who, in taking his contracted rematch with Klitschko, could not meet his IBF mandatory obligation. Martin could therefore fight Vyacheslav Glazkov for the vacant belt. Glazkov’s knee collapsed beneath him, ending the fight in only three rounds, although, as briefly as it lasted, Martin had looked dangerous. He is however making a statement by taking on the Briton straight after winning the title.

“I told my team I wanted the best challenger possible for my first defence and Anthony Joshua’s name kept coming up,” said Martin. “I’m coming to the UK to make a statement that I am the best heavyweight in the world and no-one is taking my title.

“I’m world champion, so that doesn’t mean just sit back and make easy defences in the US, it means facing the biggest challenges out there. I respect Anthony Joshua and everything he has accomplished, but on April 9 he’s getting knocked out.”

Mike Boroa, Charles Martin’s manager, added, “Special thanks to Eddie Hearn, Matchroom, Leon Margules of Warriors Boxing, and all else involved for putting this major event together so quickly. Anthony Joshua will discover that Charles Martin is a special talent on April 9.”

Joshua is taking a risk. It is a rapid advance to be fighting for a world title so early in his career. He may be the favourite to win this fight but it remains a bold move. If he wins this world title, he won’t be able to step back down to ‘learning’ level bouts. He will have plunged into the deep end of world boxing.

“Life is all about taking opportunities and when the chance to become heavyweight champion of the world presented itself, there was no holding Anthony back,” his promoter Eddie Hearn said. “He wants to give the fans something to get excited about and he wants to become a great and even though the decision among the team took a week or so, I believe his mind was already made up from the moment I asked him. It’s a complete honour to promote an event of this magnitude. I believe it’s one that will go down in the history of the sport.”

If Anthony Joshua is victorious there may be no going back. But it would herald a thrilling future. Exciting opponents are ranked in the IBF’s top 10, like New Zealand’s Joseph Parker. Fellow Londoner David Haye has returned to the heavyweight scene and a showdown with Joshua would be a mammoth event. Bigger yet would be a clash with heavyweight ruler Tyson Fury. All Anthony Joshua needs to do is win…