A week removed from defending his IBF heavyweight title for the second time this year, Anthony Joshua is currently one of the most recognisable sportsmen in Britain. Owing in part to an imposing 6ft 6 frame and boasting a deadly 100% knockout record, AJ has been on an astronomical rise since entering the pro ranks as reigning Olympic champ over three years ago. With the biggest challenge of his career up next year, Joshua’s star could go supernova if he defeats Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium.
On this particular day, past conquests and the challenges that lay ahead seemed a million miles away as Joshua walked into a London gallery, in front of ecstatic competition winners, for a night called In Conversation alongside Luke Wood and Julie Adenuga for Beats By Dre. Music has played an instrumental role in forging Joshua’s new status as a crossover star, most recently seen in a BE HEARD playlist on Apple Music that features an eclectic mix of soul, rap and grime ranging from 1973 to present day. After managing to fight through the scrum of boxing fans desperate for AJ to sign every piece of boxing paraphernalia they owned, we managed to tie down the man for a rare moment of piece and quiet.
COMPLEX: First thing's first: congrats on another knockout this month. How do you feel about the fight with Eric Molina?
Anthony Joshua: It was an event. It wasn't just a boxing show—it was an actual event that gave everyone the opportunity to experience what a boxing event is like, not something where everyone's waiting for the main event. From the ground up, it was quality, in my opinion.
To send out a message to the rest of the division, did you have it in your mind to knock Molina out quicker than Wilder did?
You know what? I think people class him as a God sometimes...
Wilder? You really think so?
Yeah, they do. People really rate him highly.
Perhaps other fighters might think the same about you.
Nah. You see me, I've got respect for everyone and with me, it's all about product and product will never sell if it's just hyped up and there's nothing to it. They probably think because I haven't been boxing as long—Wilder's been boxing since 2008 and I've been professional since 2013, so three years—they probably think I'm still a bit green, like I'm still learning.
So who do you credit with getting you on track so early? Because most people didn't expect you to take on Klitschko at this point, but you seem pretty confident?
Since I turned pro, people were always mentioning Klitschko to me and I knew that it wasn't realistic. When I signed my pro contract, I was always gonna take at least three years to make mistakes, so on my end, I stuck to my word. Now, I'm ready, so let's just see what happens.
Moving onto music, I saw you recently referenced Mist's lyrics in a celebratory tweet you sent out. It's something the majority of your fans might not even realise or recognise where that's even come from.
[Laughs] I like it like that! It's one of those ones, like, if you know, you know.
Do you have a lot of freedom with your social media to put out what you want?
You can't forget, managing social media and stuff, it's a business but at the same time, you've got to work it well and you can only be yourself.
Stormzy's someone who also handles that well and it made a lot of sense when the two of you came together and he opened up for your fight against Dillian Whyte.
At the time, we were both sort of under the radar and in that moment. So, with the way that fight went, it was just a great way to announce ourselves. I think we had the underground but—just like with the Mist thing—it was a if you know, you know, type of thing.
On the undercard last week, the Whyte and Chisora fight turned out to be a much better fight than anyone expected.
One of the best heavyweight fights I've seen—no doubt. They both gave everything.
I think Chisora took it but his antics with the table probably cost him, when it came down to the close decision.
Yeah probably; I mean, that's just politics. I've never seen a man keep his cool like Dillian, though. Did you see the picture with the table flying and he's just chilling there? I think Chisora edged it too, but I reckon Dillian worked that little bit harder in the later rounds. So I think the judges maybe saw the eye-catching punches towards the end.
You haven't really gone long distances at the top level and against Klitschko, that's surely going to happen. What do you say to people that say there's still that question mark hanging over you?
It is a question mark and I can't really answer it yet because I haven't been there. I can do it in the gym, but the gym is a different thing to the ring, you know, with all the heat and the adrenaline. I'll just have to see and that's what the fight is all about: it's another chance to learn. I'm not gonna sit here and say I'm going to do this or that because, truth is, 12 rounds will be new territory for me.
Your entrance music last week was Nas' "Hate Me Now" and that's a solid choice. It's one of those tracks that gets me amped, personally; just thinking back to the video with the attitude of Nas and Puff, with all the chains and the furs.
[Laughs] Exactly! That's what you wanna go for: a tune to give you a bit of gas.
What tunes are you training with right now?
The last training camp, I think I had a lot of Styles P. Let me check [brings out iPhone]... I've got Dat Piff, so all the mixtapes are on here. Yeah, it's called Ghost In The Machine. Let's look at what I was running to last... "Karla's Back", yeah, look at that.
What's the most surprising track currently on rotation, that people wouldn't expect?
Probably "Fast Lane" by Rationale. Big tune! Trust me. There's a lot of '60s and '70s stuff that you wouldn't expect on here too.
How about your parents? What was playing around the house when you were growing up?
My dad's Nigerian but he was a rasta, so there was a lot of Bob Marley playing. My dad was really into reggae music.
I heard you used to rap a little when you were younger?
That was more like when you're younger and you're looking for people that have made it. Anyone that sort of made it around me, it was through music. That's why, for me, with boxing, it's helped me learn different parts of business. But at that time, the only successful people I could see, they were all rapping.
Tonight's been crazy. I've been around a few sports stars over the years but everyone's response to you has been crazy and you seem really patient about it all.
I can't even tell; I just love meeting people and seeing fans. Does it seem mad to you?
Grown men usually try and keep their cool around sports stars. Michael Jordan turned up to a press conference I was at once, and I’ve never seen anything like it. He couldn't announce he was going to be there and couldn't announce he was leaving—he literally dropped the mic and ran out.
No way! How does he live like that? I dunno if it'll ever get like that.
Beat Klitschko in front of 80,000 people at Wembley next year and what you've seen here, it'll be this x10.
[Laughs] I've gotta do it. It's in my front yard!
Anthony Joshua was speaking at an 'In Conversation' night hosted by Julie Adenuga for Beats by Dre.