“Boxing is all glitz and glam when you see it on the TV, but when you’re behind the scenes, this is what it’s really about.”
The 6’6”, 17st 4lbs man affirming this message can barely fit up the narrow stairwells at the back of York Hall’s old, wooden interior, where we usher him into the same, modest changing rooms that he prepared in before the early fights of his now-dominant professional boxing career.
Despite a man of his stature being sandwiched into a room he pretty much fills up by himself, it’s a fitting place to reflect on how Anthony Joshua got to this point in his career. The spiritual home of British boxing, York Hall hosted many of AJ’s early fights and it’s a far cry from the pyro-technics and record-breaking crowds that pack out arenas nowadays, watching him add belts to his collection at venues such as Cardiff and Wembley.
He’s even drawn a record-breaking crowd today. 541 members of the public flocked to the venue as part of Lucozade Sport Fitwater’s attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s ‘largest Boxercise lesson.’ The attempt was successful—just as AJ has been in every single bout he has fought in throughout his career so far.
“I think breaking a world record is unique, and to involve the people in something that I’ve always been interested in is amazing,” Joshua asserts, a statement which serves as an insight into how much of his success he attributes to the people and communities around him; those who have got him to where he is today.
Joshua’s humble, down-to-earth demeanor is well-documented, but definitely not overstated. Events like this allow him to give something back to the sport and the community which he acknowledges gave him an education in life.
“The community effect is important—that’s what I got from boxing: the social side. Different races, different religions, different backgrounds, different cultures, all in one area for one purpose—you forget about what your stresses are at home, forget about material things and think about wellbeing, which is what today’s about. That’s what’s good for the community; just putting the stresses of the world aside for a good cause, getting fit and just having fun."
Joshua correlates his personable character and resilient positivity to growing up on an estate, where “everyone knows everyone.” This was his community growing up, and he attests he was never raised to be a boxer.
“When I crossed over into doing boxing, I wasn’t a young kid that was raised on sport and kept in a cocoon shell. I was always with the lads. So now my job is a very public job, growing up with the community on my estate helped me deal with people—whether it’s boxing or mixing with people, I’m very, very comfortable.”
Joshua’s profile and charisma now gives him the power to inspire future generations and communities to follow his lead. Despite cuts in youth service spending affecting the wellbeing of young people in the city—particularly in the shutting down of youth clubs—boxing provides an alternative for young people to take out their frustration with their day-to-day lives, and offers an alternative to crime. As we all know, London is currently experiencing a wave of knife and gun violence—something that AJ’s working on tackling acutely in his work with anti-knife charity Steel Warriors.
“There’s always crime and there’s always different sorts of crime. Knife crime is a big issue at the minute, and I feel like working with Steel Warriors couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s an opportunity to raise funds for them at a time when it’s important. Now, I personally can’t change the lives and the mindset of the hundreds or thousands of individuals that do what they do, or commit crimes. But what we’re doing is trying to change the outlook of people who can support because helping a community who can make a change is better than an individual who can make a change. We’re bringing attention to the subject and working with Steel Warriors who are deeply embedded with the issue, and working with their knowledge to project a positive message is a great thing to be involved in."
AJ’s positive message is abundantly clear at the York Hall, where he hosts the World Record attempt with all the natural ease of a grounded, top class performer. Whilst Joshua continues to be looked up to more and more as an individual, he continues to attribute much of his success to the solid team that is built around him. He’s always kept the people he trusts close to him on his journey to the top, but that doesn’t stop him from accepting that he didn’t always act and think this way.
“I never thought I’d be Heavyweight Champion of the World,” he says. “I know some people believed in me, but as I say, I was never that kid from young who was groomed to go down that route. But the end goal for me is wanting to maintain healthy relationships. That means, being able to compromise, being able to agree to disagree, learning how to speak, being clean and respecting others’ company.”
Despite not having a life-long vision of being Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joshua’s outlook has always been one looking to improve his own health and credentials as much as he can. But he’s always looking at other people for inspiration: “I take inspiration from good people in general and once I applied that to my life, I honestly believe you can achieve greatness. If I wanted to get into what you do, being a journalist and doing interviews, I would get good at my day-to-day lifestyle stuff, and my basics. It makes what I’m trying to achieve in my life a lot easier. And that’s just how I treat boxing.”
When the conversation moves on to what music he’s listening to pre-fight, Joshua is again keen to shift the narrative away from himself. AJ has had some iconic walk-out music in the past, such as “They Ain’t Ready” by Skrapz for his fight with Klitschko, and the UK’s (unofficial) national anthem, Giggs’ “Talking The Hardest”, for his fight against Breazeale. He recently called upon the wonderfully gifted Ray BLK to sing the official version of the national anthem for his last fight with Parker. But despite clearly having his ears close to the streets, it’s clear he’s now looking at icons of the past—both in music and in boxing—to inform his future.
“Interestingly, I listen to a lot of old-school music: Earth Wind & Fire, Bobby Caldwell, that type of stuff. But right before the fight, what I’ll do is watch previous champions, and that lets me know that I’m walking a path that has been walked by many a man before me. So I learn how to embrace the stresses and the struggles they’ve been through. It’s forever learning right up until the fight; I’ll be watching other fighters and how they dealt with the pressure, and that’s how I dealt with Joseph Parker.”
With massive success comes massive criticism. Punters and pundits have repeatedly questioned Joshua’s stamina, due to the rampant and rapid demolition jobs he has executed in his 20 professional knock outs before the Parker fight. That Parker fight was his first win on points, and the first fight in which Joshua has gone the distance in the ring. Joshua definitely silenced those questioning both his stamina and boxing ability prior to the match-up. But it’s not just evident that he listens to the critics; it’s clear he actually uses the doubters to improve himself.
“With the critics, I really see them as a blessing. I actually think my family take (my criticism) more personally than I do sometimes. I think your critics will find the smallest thing in you to pinpoint, but that gives you an opportunity to spot out what’s not great about you to get a lot better.”
“So I actually appreciate the people who throw negative comments about, because I thrive on it. So the people who say you can’t go 12 rounds, or talk about my weight, people were saying that I’m not a good boxer… so in terms of silencing the critics, I definitely wanted to prove that I could go 12 rounds, and that I could box to a game plan, which I did.”
Post-Parker fight, Joshua must definitely have been aware that a lot of viewers believed it to be a boring contest. Now, he’s adamant that he’s going to switch up that approach for his next bout – whoever it may be. AJ burst onto the scene with explosive knock-outs, and he plans on going back to that approach for his next match up.
“People want to see the knockout, so now I’m gonna try and go back to those kind of fights. I’m going back to training camp with a new ambition, working on developing my right hands a lot better. I honestly appreciate the people that doubt me, cos they are the people that make me better, and give me the motivation to go harder."
He’s also adamant about who he wants next. He names only one person: “Deontay Wilder.” The much-anticipated unification fight with the WBC Heavyweight is the gig everyone wants to see—alongside a few others that would relish a clash between AJ and Tyson Fury, whose comeback fight will also come this year. Both Wilder and Fury have fiercely unorthodox styles, but this doesn’t concern Joshua in the slightest.
“When I think about it, I’ve boxed Wladimir Kitschko for instance. Olympic Gold medalist, Heavyweight Champion of the World for 10 years, and he has more knockouts than Deontay Wilder, fought better opposition, got better boxing technique that Deontay Wilder. But people believe the hype of Deontay Wilder. So when I look at the opponents that I’ve been in with and dismantled, honestly, I just turn down the noise and look at it for what it really is.”
Before we wrap up, Joshua also leaves with a stern promise before that hotly-anticipated match up.
“As I said, with the Parker fight, I wanted to show the technique and tactics—and there’s a lot to lose—but I kept it simple and I beat him. And I guarantee you, I will beat Deontay Wilder. I will fight him. His unorthodox style won’t give me any issues. It’ll be tough… but I’ve been to hell and back, and I’ve come out on top."
Anthony Joshua was speaking at an event with Lucozade Sport Fitwater, where they set a new world record for the largest ever Boxercise workout.