Anthony Joshua plots path back to the top and opens up on his new motivations
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Anthony Joshua is no longer thinking about being an entertainer for others – now he just wants to shine so he can look himself in the mirror.
The British heavyweight star is hoping to get his career back on track on Saturday night when he takes on Jermaine Franklin at the O2 in London.
Joshua, 33, has paved a pathway for many to follow in his footsteps by becoming a sporting superstar on his way to winning three world titles in the sport’s glamour division. He’s earned millions but has had to deal with defeats, critics, the public spotlight and big fights falling through.
Read more: Anthony Joshua posts heaviest weigh-in of his career – 12lb more than Jermaine Franklin
‘AJ’ now enters the tail end of what has been a glittering time in the ring. Yet the mood is different around the Olympic gold medallist now. The bullish plot to become undisputed champion is gone.
The Watford man is coming off the back of two defeats to Oleksandr Usyk which cost him the WBA, IBF and WBO titles.
It also left an undisputed clash with WBC title holder Tyson Fury dead in the water. An impressive victory against Michigan man Franklin, whose only defeat in 22 outings was a controversial loss to Dillian Whyte last year, would revive hopes of Fury against Joshua.
It has been built as “The New Dawn” but the narrative put forward this week is that defeat would be the sun setting for Joshua, even with a new trainer in Derrick James in his corner after training in Texas. Yet it doesn’t feel like he’s out for redemption. He’s looking for his own piece of reassurance and the point to prove is to himself rather than the naysayers.
“I think I’ve always tried to carry myself, with or without the belts, I’m just going to be me,” he said. “Regardless, always just be joyful, love life, because life is more vibrant than any championship belt that I can use to give me that type of self-esteem.
“I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror with or without the belts, but losing kind of teaches you, you ask yourself questions and disconnect from the noise. I learnt about mind control, self-improvement and that’s how I found myself in Dallas, in Texas, because I thought how can I get better, where should I go, who shall I contact, how am I going to set up the next phase of my career?
“Do I want to go on the same trajectory or do I want to take it up a notch, so asking myself all these questions is how I found myself in Texas.
“So what I found is even through failure, let’s say failure, it’s not failure because I got to a certain level but I plateaued there, and I now realise that if I want to achieve again I’ve got to go to another level.
“I’ve just found out that what I thought was good enough wasn’t, and sacrifice is not a bad thing because throughout this struggle I’ve had to take myself through I’ve actually found potentially better than what I had before.”
It’s why he insists he will ignore noise around that he must entertain tonight to get a buzz back in his career as he returns to the venue which helped make him a star for the first time in seven years.
“I’m wiser and more numb to the expectations of others, I just do it for me,” said the product of Finchley and District Amateur Boxing Club.
“I feel it’s difficult in today’s society because you can start listening to everyone else and you start losing trust in your own self. At the end of the day, all I can do is my best.
“There are a lot of expectations, of course, and I’ll do my best to live up to them, but all I can do is my best. What more can I ask for? That’s why I don’t value or put pressure on myself from outside conversations, family pressure, boxing pressure, it becomes too much.
“It can actually hinder you from progressing so I’m just going to go out there and do it for me. “No entertaining for anyone, none of that, I’m just going to have fun with it.”
Not even his son, JJ, starting to have an interest in his career will add to the pressure, it seems. Joshua keeps his boy as far away from boxing as possible. He has no desire to be ringside in London tonight but has been sparring with his cousins when not kicking a football.
‘AJ’ has pocketed enough money to ensure his great grandchildren would never need to fight to pay the bills so JJ doesn’t need to lace them up even if his father is generous with his riches among family and friends. Yet if his seven-year-old ever decides to pick up a pair of gloves then they would be huge ones to fill.
“I think he would have a good run at it because of the experience that I’ve got,” said Joshua. “I would be able to guide him so he would have a head start.
“One thing that I would tell him if he was to do it, because it’s his decision and I wouldn’t force him to do it, but I would say don’t compete with me, try to be your own individual.
“I’d tell him, ‘Anything I’ve achieved in boxing is not for you to try to match and use it for your own reasons’. So for him I wouldn’t want him to get into boxing and everyone is asking about his dad, ‘Are you going to be like him?’ It’s too much pressure. That’s the advice I would give him if he was to do it but I wouldn’t advise him.”
After 15 years in boxing and a good majority of them in the public spotlight, Joshua is craving freedom of the shackles of the sport.
Just don’t expect the Watford-born boxer to be sinking pints in his local and recounting tales of the past.
“Sometimes you do want to taste that bit of freedom,” he said. “As an athlete, even though we take a holiday after a fight, you still worry about what you eat, you still worry about what time you sleep.
“Complete freedom would be nice one day, as it stands it is a commitment and it is a sentence I put myself under. I think I’ll always train, I’ll always do a bit of training.
“A lot of my mates, they pump weights and stuff, they’re in the local gym, my S&C coach owns a gym, so I’m local, I’m with the boys, so if they’re pumping weights – you know, we’re products of our environment. My boys aren’t really the drinking type, they’re more of the pumping weights and let’s go and get some girls type. I’m always going to be in the gym.
“I want to enjoy myself because you sacrifice, like everyone, but in sport, you do make sacrifices.”
Whatever he does in retirement and whenever it comes, it will be deserved. Even if he never beats Fury, even if he doesn’t finish off as the best heavyweight of this era, Joshua’s achievements are impressive given he came from life on the streets to be a genuine British sporting star.
He’s spoken in front of The Queen when his life look set to be behind bars at one point while he’s sold out Wembley Stadium and become the face of big-money brands when his youth was spent trying to buy fake designer goods at the markets in the area.
Yet, when he broke character from the polished sporting star following the second defeat by Usyk, it felt like all of the pressure blew out and that kid from the streets returned. He just wants people to understand where he has come from. He wasn’t destined to be an 18-stone athlete who says all the right things and lets his hands also do the talking.
“I’m putting myself forward in a position I’ve never been nurtured for, so the sacrifices, I’m standing up in front of the Queen for example, reading a speech at Westminster Abbey that I’ve never ever really been prepared for,” he said.
“I’ve never come from that walk of life, and the sacrifice is getting up there and presenting yourself to the public. After that gig, I’m going back to the estate with my mates and stuff like that so it’s a sacrifice because you want to do better but you haven’t come from there and you’re opening up yourself to the higher expectations of life.
“Sometimes I look around and see some of the mandem and it’s like, if it weren’t for boxing, I think I wouldn’t have developed or seen so much. It’s helped me develop, but at a rate I wasn’t ready for.
“I’ve never been prepared for this pressure or these situations I find myself in so I’m learning on the job and that’s why I said if my little man wanted to box, I could probably pass on a whole heap of wisdom.
“He’ll do it better than me potentially in different aspects because wisdom is the most valuable thing. No one from my gym, my community, even from this country in the heavyweight division has kind of that has achieved what we’ve achieved, especially in this modern era, so it’s all trial and error. It’s tough but it’s what we signed up for.”
It’s been quite the story so far. Now for the next chapter.
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