But now he is on the other side of the door after this thrilling draw that keeps the WBC heavyweight title in Wilder’s possession.
The turnaround seems remarkable given the fact that Joshua has huge pulling power in the UK and the WBO, WBA and IBF belts.
Before this fight, his name was almost taboo as Fury and Wilder talked about this being the one to decide the best in the division, but barely uttered the word Joshua.
They can certainly argue now that the rematch is the hottest heavyweight fight out there.
Joshua against either would obviously be huge, but the rerun of this battle is a mouth-watering prospect.
The WBA, WBO and IBF champion’s defence on April 13 against Dillian Whyte, the most likely foe, will feel very flat in comparison.
The winner of this weekend’s clash in Los Angeles was supposed to be the man Joshua had to face next.
Now suddenly they can live without the biggest sports star in Britain, for a while longer at least.
They are not on his level alone but they can draw in huge crowds and massive money now as a duo if they dance again.
Joshua may have to wait until 2020 to get his shot at becoming the undisputed champion in the division.
That is thanks to a thrilling – if much debated – draw that would have fit into a Hollywood boxing movie filmed not too far away from Staples Center in the heart of movie land.
This had it all, from the spectacular entrances, the fast start, showboating, booming knockdowns and, of course, the controversy.
Mexican judge Alejandro Rochin must have wanted a starring role with his unexplainable 115-111 card in favour of Wilder – the challenger did not lose this by four rounds.
Canadian Robert Tapper saw the fight in Fury’s favour, giving the Brit a 114-110 score
English official Phil Edwards had it 113-113, which was harsh on Fury but far from a travesty.
Maybe this is really a new Fury as he didn’t start ranting and raving about the decision despite saying “the whole world knows I won”.
The whole boxing world has to give him credit for this performance as he put his name back among the heavyweight elite after his three-year hiatus from the top following his 2015 win over Wladimir Klitschko.
If coming back from 28st, mental health problems and addiction to even hear the first bell here was a stunning feat, then managing to hear the final bell here was equally impressive.
Fury was down in the ninth after being sent over by a right that caught him on the top of the head.
But the right hand followed by the left hook in the last would have put most out cold.
Instead the 6ft 9in man mountain somehow lifted his 18st 4lb frame off the canvas just in time to beat referee Jack Reiss’ count.
It appeared he had done enough in the middle rounds to hold on to a decision win and become a two-time world heavyweight champion.
He made Wilder look awful at times and even the American’s manager Shelly Finkel admitted his man was punching like he was “throwing a baseball”.
Fury’s fast hands and fleet-footwork stopped the Bronze Bomber from detonating enough.
The decision caused anger and outrage but controversy sells as they say so the rematch will make even more money for both.
Wilder and Fury’s unblemished records are now ruined by a draw but they both remain unbeaten.
This time the loser is Joshua, although this could be better for him in the long run.
These two tussling it out again would only raise their profiles further while he can hone his skills some more on the outside as the fight for undisputed champion grows even bigger.
The heavyweight division is still not near the golden eras of the past but there are a few fun years ahead.