Repeat or redemption for Anthony Joshua?


With the rematch confirmed for December 7, Anthony Joshua now faces the defining challenge in his career.

Formerly the golden goose of world boxing, can he lock away the scarring demons of New York and become a two-time heavyweight Champion? 

Heading into his American debut, ‘AJ’ seemingly had the world at his feet. Gathering American admirers as well as re-affirming the British support, the boy from Watford was fast becoming a juggernaut of world boxing and perhaps sport.

Yet in the space of thirty dramatic minutes at the Madison Square Garden, a decade of hard work came crashing down.

After becoming embroiled in a drug dealing gang and narrowly escaping a prison sentence, Joshua was left without a purpose but with a criminal record. Like many of the sport’s superstars, boxing would shape the young man’s life and help guide him on the straight and narrow.

Following encouragement from his cousin to join a gym, the 18-year-old decided to lace up the boxing gloves rather than the bare-knuckle street clashes he was accustomed to.

During a ten-year period Joshua had developed a lion-like hunger that surely could not be stopped. His phrase, soon to be plastered all over his training kits, “Stay Hungry” was a succinct line indicative of his mind-set.

A kid from the streets of London was rapidly becoming a superstar of British sport with every fight and every highlight reel knockout fuelling the British public’s fire. They had discovered upon a humble man who had an innate ability to captivate an audience from all ages and all backgrounds. Children wanted to be him, fathers wanted to be friends with him. Mothers loved him, grandmothers adored him.

Following his dramatic knockout victory over modern day great Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017, the hype train was sent into overdrive. Joshua had become a titan of sport that we had never witnessed before.

Selling out Britain’s biggest stadiums over a two-year period, ‘AJ’ was an invincible monster that could not be halted. The muscles, the personality and the style all adding to the enigma.

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Joshua climbed off the canvas to stop Wladimir Klitschko in a heavyweight classic – Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Bringing boxing out of the sporting shadows, Anthony Joshua carried the weight of UK boxing on his broad shoulders and was the ultimate trailblazer for the sport regaining popularity in the public domain.

On the 1st of June of this year, the manner of his defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr ruthlessly removed his invincibility cloak. Knocked down four times and evidence of vulnerability in his corner between rounds, Anthony Joshua now finds himself entangled in a ridiculed thunderstorm from all angles and critics.

Reasons for his defeat? Who knows. But some could say in hindsight that the loss had been coming. Perhaps in conjunction with his career, the “Stay Hungry” phrase that he always swore by, merely became a couple of throwaway words to aid the ever-growing brand of ‘AJ BXNG’.

After the nightmare of New York, the spit and sawdust element of Anthony Joshua’s boxing style and mentality was now further away from his grasp than ever.

Many accused the 6ft 6′ star of caring more about business outside the ring rather than handling it inside the squared circle. The money seemed to be an ever-concerning factor with constant sponsorship commitments affecting training preparations.

Concussed, beaten up and sudden questions marks over his heart, Anthony Joshua now needs to display the true mark of a champion. Whilst scrutiny continues to pour ahead of the highly-anticipated Saudi Arabian rematch with Ruiz Jr,  a hurting Joshua is forced to look into the mirror and be brutally honest with himself.

Despite reported reasons for his defeat including concussion in sparring or suffering a panic attack moments before his ring-walk, the 29-year-old needs to search within for the true answers. Perhaps the same honesty that was on display when he left his prison cell a decade ago wouldn’t go too far amiss.

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Joshua appeared unusually different moments before the fight – Photo: Give me Sport

If you look through the history books of the blue-ribband division of boxing, all with the exception of Rocky Marciano have been beaten at some point. As we currently stand within a golden era of heavyweight giants, the likelihood is they will all lose during their career. Therefore, it would be short-sighted to suggest the 2012 Olympic champion’s career is finished; it might well be just beginning.

What defines a legacy is the response to a setback, a reaction to a defeat. In this day and age where the division is as lucrative as ever, is a heavyweight’s desire to regain superiority still burning?

With an estimated worth of £50 million, it would be human instinct for Anthony Joshua to simply call it a day. With the numerous zeros in his bank account and the countless straps he has in his collection at home, why would he want to continue?

Besides, he has already won most the sport has to offer; the coveted Olympic gold medal, the unified Heavyweight belts and the adoration of the British public, what can drive him to reach the pinnacle once more?

The over-flooding sponsorship commitments and the money he has already made means if he wants to, can spend the rest of his days living comfortably in peace. In what is the most unforgiving and devastating sport of them all, then the first option for you or I would sound preferable.

Nonetheless, what got Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, OBE to the top of the tree is something so profound that cannot be taught or passed on; it is ingrained within. The hunger, the determination and the grit already shown indicates Joshua is made of stronger stuff.

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Grow through what you go through ?

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More likely than not, the shattering set-back will serve as a wake-up call, helping regain sight and brushing off complacency. The boxer who became a brand entente now has to re-construct and revert back to the drawing board.

However, in order for Anthony Joshua to reach the summit, he now faces the daunting task of climbing the mountain once again. Factor in the concussion and confidence loss he suffered in America – as well as being the most hunted in the fighting game – the ascent to the top could prove turbulent.

The answers may not be shown in his next bout, win, lose or draw. The evidence might well be in a year, five years or when he retires; only on reflection will we be able to judge the Anthony Joshua comeback tale.

While the heavyweight landscape remains in murky waters, the Briton has a crystal-clear opportunity to replicate the greats of the past and master the art of bouncing back.

One thing is certain though. The legacy defining period of Anthony Joshua’s boxing story is fast approaching; a career, a destiny, that can only be shaped by his two bare hands…


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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