By: Sean Crose
It looks to have been something of an old school training camp. Tall and fit, the former heavyweight mutlititlist can be see throughout YouTube going about running, engaging in other calisthenics, and tossing punches at the bag with a degree of fluidity. He no longer seems to be symbolic of the future or the promised “next big thing.” To contrary, Anthony Joshua looks like a man solely focused on the very serious art of boxing. “It’s good that I lost,” he says of his stunning defeat at the gloved hands of Andy Ruiz in New York last June, “because all the sparring partners have come out now. No one wanted to spar me before.” This, of course, has proven to be a plus for Joshua, as he needs to be in prime form if he’s to win his rematch against Ruiz this Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Still, it’s clear the experience of being defeated on as grand a scale as Joshua was last spring profoundly impacted the man. “I remember,” Joshua says ruefully, “when Klitschko…lost he said he had everyone coming to spar him.”
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, up until the first Ruiz fight, things were quite different. “I don’t think they want the fight,” former Olympic Gold Medalist and World Welterweight champion Mark Breland said of team Joshua back in the summer of 2018. Breland, a co-trainer of WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder, had simply been around the boxing business for too long not to see things for what he felt they were. Joshua was the fighter the spotlight was on. A fight with Wilder would come – at some point – but it was Joshua’s world, and everyone knew it. “Eventually,” he told me, “they’re going to have to fight.” When that day would come, however, was anyone’s guess. “He doesn’t need Deontay,” Breland said of Joshua, who at the time held the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles, “Deontay needs him.”
Less than a year and a half after those words were uttered by the soft spoken Breland, it’s Joshua who has found himself the one in need. No superfight, no comfort zone, no wildly anticipated matchup will be found if the London native loses again this Saturday. Make no mistake about it, the 6’6, 22-1 Joshua NEEDS to win this rematch against Ruiz. The brilliant future that once appeared to be all his depends on it. Yet, should Joshua indeed best Ruiz in their second go round, it’s unlikely that he will forget about the hard earned lessons he received leading up to his ring redemption. “When I win,” he declares, as if victory over Ruiz is already a forgone conclusion, “I will be like, ‘fuck everybody.”
Defeat is a bitter pill to swallow, as is the shallowness of others. And boxing fans can be particularly shallow – outrageously so, even. Perhaps if he looked into the sport’s history, Joshua would take some comfort from the words of Jim Corbett, who noted the tastelessness of the fans who suddenly started cheering him after he knocked out John L Sullivan – the man who appeared to be everyone’s hero just a few short hours earlier. Corbett knew well, even in his moment of glory, that the fans would have been cheering that night regardless of who had ended up being counted out. The Corbett-Sullivan bout went down in 1892. As the world prepares to enter the 2020s, it appears little has changed.
“What do people think this is?” the Sun quotes Joshua as saying about the naysayers that have popped up in the wake of his June defeat. “This is fighting. One loss doesn’t take the spots off a cheetah.” Except, sadly, to some, perhaps many, it does. “Now,” Joshua adds, “I listen to what people say about us and think they should put some respect by our name.” Should he step out of the ring in Saudi Arabia next weekend a two time champion, there’s little doubt that Joshua will be celebrated and feted once more. One suspects, however, that it might be a different Joshua who receives the applause and accolades this time around, even if Joshua himself would disagree.
“You see the cars, the chains,” the Independent quotes Joshua as saying, “but I was this guy way before I had a belt round my waist. I’m the same person, through and through. With and without the belts it’s a championship mindset and a championship spirit.” True enough, but even champions have the continued need to live and learn. While he appears to be genuinely good natured (don’t actually expect to see extended middle fingers should Joshua win the rematch), the former champion comes across as keen enough to have absorbed the lessons of the past few months. He may not necessarily be a sadder man than he was before that night last June, but one suspects – to paraphrase Coleridge – that Joshua is now a wiser one nonetheless.