Frontline Diary: ‘Heavy Duty’ and illegal cough sweets

Mark Butcher
13/09/2015 7:25pm

Gone in 97 seconds. That was all it took for the Anthony Joshua juggernaut to roll over Scottish behemoth Gary Cornish. The 6ft 7ins Scot possessed many natural physical advantages, but after he tasted Joshua’s power the fight was a formality. The one-round blowout was greeted with wild euphoria in the O2 Arena. An Anthony Joshua fight is often more of an event than sporting contest and, while that may irk some purists, it's transcending boxing in the UK. It’s no different to the fan bases built up by national heroes Frank Bruno and Ricky Hatton in times gone by. Rather than criticize the journey, roll back your seat and enjoy the ride.

“Gary is a big guy, isn’t he? A tough competitor, for sure. We’ve fought probably the same level of opposition,” mused the 25-year-old Joshua (14-0, 14 KOs) afterwards. “He was 21-0 and came out straight away with a solid jab and I could see in his eyes, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose here’. He’s going to be dangerous. But I managed to catch him with a flush shot luckily and put him away. I think it’s just complementing all the training. We had a good training camp and it paid off in the ring.

“I thought [it would go] maybe four rounds. To do it in one, I am not complaining, but it would have been nice to have more [rounds]. But if I get smashed up by these guys now, I don’t think we’ll be talking about the next step. I have to do it to these guys in order to step up to world level.”

There had been a minor altercation with amateur rival Dillian Whyte at the weigh-in (the ‘Heavy Duty’ promotion was essentially a scene-setter for their grudge match at the same venue on 12 December), but the relaxed Joshua seemed unfazed. “He just blurts out his steam to everyone. No big deal,” shrugged the former Olympic gold medallist. “I get to fight him in December. Bring it on. I couldn’t really say much before because I couldn’t overlook Gary Cornish. Now if you ask me about Dillian, because I am fighting him next, you will probably hear more from me. But someone who wants to beat me is a dangerous fighter and I’m not looking above that.”

“I think we’ve got to be a little bit careful because we have to act in the best interests of the sport,” added promoter Eddie Hearn, who believed nerves may have played their part in Whyte’s laboured three-round win over Brian Minto on the same bill. “It’s not nice, but it’s what’s going to sell the fight. There’s history, there’s bad blood and rivalry. Dillian is dangerous, but I wouldn’t like to be getting in the ring with this man [Joshua]. It’s very exciting to be part of the journey because it’s catching fire. Nothing can stop AJ apart from himself.”

Joshua, already the WBC's No.2 contender, will consult his team as to whether he has another run-out before Whyte though a warm-up on the Kell Brook-Diego Chaves card on 24 October is a remote possibility. Promoter Hearn remains confident that his fighter is on target for a world heavyweight title tilt in 2016. “It’s Dillian Whyte in December then I’d like him to fight Erkan Teper for the European title in March. Then probably one more and, at the end of next summer, he’ll be there or thereabouts.”

The Joshua juggernaut rolls on relentlessly and it’s hard to see it being halted any time soon.

Illegal cough sweets

An Anthony Joshua fight at the O2 Arena attracts a different type of crowd. A well-timed trip to the toilet can be a Bear Grylls like expedition. In a small window of restroom time before the Charlie Edwards-Louis Norman fight, I made my move; at one point diving between two women in six inch heels, each holding a plastic glass of Rosé at a 60 degree angle. Drinks and journalist emerged unscathed.

For many, this is a night out with boxing in the background before the showbiz and hype of the Joshua fight, not a chance to ponder the nuances of boxing though some punters are keen to try their hand at coaching. “Mike Tyson! Mike Tyson!” stood out as the tactical advice of the night.

Surreal moments were commonplace. When the lights dimmed and Joshua began his ring walk, a drunk couple had somehow made their way past security and were ‘bumping and grinding’ in the press row. The spirit of the R. Kelly video had been reborn.

Security often have their work cut out with waves of drunks and chancers – and it’s an unenviable job - though some of the O2’s on-site staff seem to take great delight in presenting an obstacle. “You can’t sit at ringside yet it’s too early,” I was told five minutes before the first fight, an enjoyable points win for super-bantam hope Lucien Reid.

Despite having a sore throat, I was prohibited from taking my cough sweets through the arena's excessive security (a sniffer dog on the crotch constitutes a date in some countries) as they were classified as ‘food’ and a ‘breach’ of policy. The staff’s heads nodded in unison like a family gathering of ‘Churchill the dog’. I may as well have been packing a switchblade and a gram of coke. But that’s my Sunday night.

The bill itself was buoyed by a number of ticket sellers and prospects where welterweight Ted Cheeseman, in particular, caught the eye. The former Fisher ABC man is an exciting addition to the pro ranks and kicked off his career with a composed, two-round dismissal of Gabor Ambrus. Sky Sports’ Ed Robinson and Andy Scott have long championed Cheeseman as a pro and it was easy to see why. He’s a natural born crowd-pleaser with destruction on his mind.

Former Team GB star Charlie Edwards looked the part in his first foray into championship class. After less than eight months as a pro, the sharp Edwards (5-0, 2KOs) showed speed, conditioning and maturity to outfox previously unbeaten English flyweight champion Louis Norman. The 22-year-old's willingness to step up in class so soon is highly refreshing.

It's a world away from the history and grittiness of York Hall, but there is a real buzz about these O2 fight nights. Just remember to leave the cough sweets at home.

Photo: Lawrence Lustig.