Anthony Joshua interview: Keeping it real

Paul Zanon
28/04/2017 7:58am

Ahead of his heavyweight showdown with Wladimir Klitschko, Anthony Joshua is determined not to let fame and fortune go to his head. As the 27-year-old told Paul Zanon, he just focuses on his boxing while evolving as a person...

London, New York, Cologne. It's been some globetrotting promotional tour for Anthony Joshua ahead of his huge heavyweight showdown with Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium on 29 April.

While the fight is just the latest in a long line of world title bouts for Klitschko, the 68-fight Ukrainian veteran, Joshua faces by far his biggest test less than two years after winning the British and Commonwealth titles.

The Watford heavyweight doesn’t need reminding. As he told Boxing Monthly: “It’s crazy [he pauses and takes a deep breath]. I keep it real. I have a good family, which is important, but I also haven’t changed a great deal. What I’ve learnt is not to change what’s on the outside. But to change as a person, you change what’s on the inside.

“I don’t let all the stuff outside, like the attention or the fame, get to me. I don’t let that define me. I keep my feet on the ground, but I definitely try and evolve as a person, although that’s just maturing really. Boxing is a mature man’s game. You need to play it more like chess than draughts. It’s complex.”

Joshua had attended a press conference in New York, trained in Sheffield and was getting ready to board a plane for Germany. You’d think that living out of a suitcase, battling with jet lag and a relentless roadshow-schedule routine would hamper the IBF heavyweight champion’s preparations, but he says otherwise.

“Funnily enough, these press tours are giving me a structure,” Joshua said. “I’m training and resting, training and eating, training and recovering, whereas, when I’m not in training, I’m not that way inclined. Less rest, more activity. I don’t stop, because I don’t have limitations. The travelling has come at a perfect time for me, because it’s kind of forcing that recovery and relaxation on me, which has great benefits.”

The psychological battle is an integral part of any big fight, as Joshua knows only too well. It applies not only with the opponent, but also the media and boxing fans. The latter has grown at an alarmingly fast and vocal pace thanks to social media. “The press stuff is just toying with the opponent’s emotions,” Joshua said. “You’ll read something that makes the opponent think: ‘Why did he say that?’

“I’m not at press conferences to get under Klitschko’s skin, and as we can’t physically hit each, we just talk and that goes directly to your brain and you digest that. I’m not into the mind games. I’m quite old school. Less talking, more action. I like to just fight.

“It’s the era of information, but be careful what you digest. In the sense that there’s a lot of choices people are making for their food — vegetarian, vegan, etc. — we’re also in the era of so much information. Don’t only be careful of what you decide to eat and digest, but what you decide to listen and digest, because you’re also digesting what people say.

“There’s a lot of people saying things with very little substance. There’s so many platforms for people to voice their opinions that they just blurt out whatever they feel, as opposed to stopping and thinking about the message they want to send across. 2017 — don’t get caught up in the hype. See beyond the mind games, because this shit is real. This boxing, this life, this path I’ve chosen to go down, I don’t do it for the fun of it to try and be famous, or to try and inflate my bank account balance. I’m dedicated to the sport and just keep it real.

“If you want to follow something real and digest what I’m preaching, feel free. If you don’t like what I say, no problem. If you want the real deal, come and look for Anthony Joshua.”

Joshua sparred with Klitschko in 2014, ahead of Klitschko’s fight against Kubrat Pulev. However, Joshua gives nothing away and resists any form of pre-fight hyperbole. “When I was there, I had no intention to try and prove myself to anyone.” he said. “I didn’t go over there to try and knock Klitschko out. It was a nice spar. Very relaxed.

“That was in 2014 and I’m a completely different fighter now. I’m at a totally different level in terms of experience and how I feel when I step into a ring. The spar was good at the time, but I wouldn’t read too much from it.”

The calculated improvement in Joshua’s performance in recent years has partly been attributed to the guidance of long-term trainer and mentor Rob McCracken. “Some people get serious [only] when there’s a serious fight coming up,” he said. “Luckily, from when I was on the GB team as an amateur, I’ve been serious ever since I left. Rob instilled that into me. What we’ve done now is taken all the information that we’ve gathered along the way, in terms of what works and doesn’t work, and put it into this training camp.

“We’re also better educated on things like nutrition and conditioning and keep adding this information into the learning curve. One thing we know will be important for this one is sparring. It’s essential we get boxers who can replicate Klitschko. Nobody has been confirmed yet, but they’re going to need to be tall for starters!”

Size certainly matters, but Joshua likes to concentrate on Klitschko’s experience and also the older man’s inactivity. Joshua was only seven when Klitschko turned pro in 1996. “It gives him a healthy diet of digested information,” Joshua said. “You can’t deny that. Experience is one of his biggest assets. I’ve been a pro for three and a bit years, so I’m still a bit green.

“I’m fresh, even though I’ve been taking punches in those last four fights. When you’re his age, whether you like it or not, it’s important to stay active and I’ve been lucky enough to have regular fights. That’s been a blessing for me.

“I think this is more about him knowing he’s not going to be around much longer and this could be his sign-off. When you spend 11 years as champion, there are only a few fights which define your whole career. I think this is one of them for him.”

The fighters have shown mutual respect but, as Joshua says, when the fight starts it’s all about winning. “In my sport, you’re standing in front of someone who’s going to try and take your head off,” he said. “So, regardless of how respectful either opponent is, their ultimate goal is to win.

“Then have a think about the training camp. Step by step, you’re looking to cause pain and punishment to your opponent. My opponent is looking to do the same. Even though there is a level of respect, that’s just sportsmanship. In terms of competitive edge, I never lose focus of that and I’m sure Klitschko hasn’t either. When we face each other in that ring and go to war, the best man will win.”

Although wary of making predictions, Joshua did give a pretty conclusive insight. “Compared to my previous 18 opponents, he’ll be a little bit harder to hit, but when I do connect, I’ll break him down, just like the rest,” he said.

“This fight’s not going the distance. No way. No way. Definitely not.”

True to form, Joshua is not one for getting carried away. Going from the York Hall in his third fight to a 90,000 sellout at Wembley will do just nicely. “You know what, I think UK boxing right now is where it’s at,” he said. “If the opportunity comes to fight in Vegas, then great. But I’m not in a rush. I prefer boxing in the UK.”

Carl Froch fought in front of an 80,000 crowd against George Groves, but Joshua vs Klitschko is on track to surpass that number. “Eighty thousand people! [Joshua laughs]. That’s how the game goes. But I bet he [Froch] didn’t think we’d go past it so soon.

Neither did I, honestly.

“It’s all well and good saying you’ve fought in front of 80,000, but the thing is, he won. I need to go out and get the win in front of 90,000 people. Whether it’s 10 people, 80 or 90,000, I need to win.”