Meet Anthony Joshua’s new Nigerian rival Raphael Akpejiori who is targeting showdown with ‘whole of Africa watching’

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ANTHONY JOSHUA has a new Nigerian heavyweight rival on the scene who is already dreaming of a showdown in Africa.

Raphael Akpejiori is only six fights into his professional boxing career, but is happy to dream of fighting AJ.

Raphael Akpejiori, right, is already dreaming of a world title fight against Anthony Joshua
The Nigerian is hoping his love for boxing can lead him to elite level

And he sees no better place for that to happen down the line in his homeland of Nigeria.

It is a country close to Joshua too, with the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion of the world proud of his heritage from there.

Akpejiori, who is from Lagos but now trains in Florida, is already planning for a homecoming to match all homecomings – but knows there’s a long way to go.

Speaking to Sky Sports, the 29-year-old said: “I can guarantee that the whole country would be tuned in. I can guarantee that the whole of Africa will be tuned in.

“I’ve actually thought about the prospect of that, I still have a lot of work to do.”

Akpejiori moved over to the US from Nigeria aged 17 for a basketball scholarship
Akpejiori believes the whole of Africa would watch him take on Anthony Joshua
Anthony Joshua holds three heavyweight world titles – with Akpejiori ready to ‘collect’ them
PA:Press Association

Akpejiori, all 6ft 8ins of him, excelled at college basketball and American football in Miami, but his love for fighting saw him switch to the noble art.

He moved over to the US aged 17 in 2008 on a basketball scholarship – but swapped hoops for boxing gloves.

After 15 amateur bouts with just one defeat, he caught the attention of boxing legend and former light-heavyweight world champion Glen Johnson.

But Akpejiori admitted Johnson was not overly impressed and knew he had a rough diamond on his hands.

 

He added: “He saw my amateur tapes and kind of thought I was terrible.

“He has such high standards, because you know as a champion, you see things from a championship perspective, and I was the second ever boxer that he was training.”

Johnson put the raw talent into training, and didn’t sanction a pro fight for him for 12 months.

Instead he put the towering Nigerian in sparring with the likes World amateur champion Bakhodir Jalolov and Olympic bronze medallist Ivan Dychko.

Croatian heavyweight Filip Hrgovic, touted by many as a future world champ, also put Akpejiori through the mill.

But when Akpejiori was allowed to burst onto the scene, he did it in style, securing six straight KOs.

He has now set himself a two-year target to be in world title contention – and inevitably Joshua’s name comes up.

Akpejiori, who has five siblings back in Nigeria, added: “Obviously I want to fight Anthony Joshua tomorrow.


“If he has the belts at that time, I’m going to collect the belts from him at that time.

“If that happens, it would be a great fight for the country and for the continent.

“That could happen in Nigeria, that can happen in Lagos, Nigeria, that can happen in Abuja, Nigeria, that can happen in Calabar, Nigeria.”