AS the microphones disappeared from under his nose and the lights stopped flashing, Anthony Joshua kept smiling. Ushered away from the stage where he spoke to all the cameras that wanted to speak to him, the WBA and IBF heavyweight champion made his way down the winding stairs of the Cardiff museum and, despite having answered a thousand questions – many duplicated, many nonsensical – the 28-year-old walked into a room and prepared to answer the same questions all over again.
“What do you want to talk about, Anthony, you’ve been answering questions all day,” asked the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell, concerned that Joshua had nothing left to say.
“Let’s talk about how I win the four world heavyweight titles,” Joshua replied, almost without hesitation. “No one has done it since 1988, right? And with the politics of boxing, is it possible that I can do that?”
Joshua, of course, added the WBA belt to the IBF strap he already owned while defeating Wladimir Klitschko in an epic April scrap that was witnessed, first hand, by 90,000 people inside Wembley Stadium.
Two down, two to go.
“No one has won four belts at heavyweight,” said Ron Lewis of The Times. “When Tyson was champion the WBO didn’t exist.”
It’s true, even Tyson, the most ferocious of champions couldn’t do what Joshua wants to do. Even Klitschko, the most loyal of champions to the governing bodies, couldn’t claim all four belts. But Joshua, maybe, is different.
Irrespective of the championship conundrum, Joshua is the man in the banner division. Deontay Wilder, a charismatic and heavy-hitting American, owns the WBC title, and Joseph Parker wears the WBO strap. Imposters, both. Joshua – still the same inquisitive twenty-something who burst onto the scene as a promising amateur at the start of the decade – is the man to beat as a consequence of ending the Klitschko era.
On that famous night, Joshua roared a victory call in round five – above – as Klitschko tumbled to his knees only to rise in the sixth and return the favour. To many watching, the Ukrainian veteran appeared just moments away from victory such was the scale of Joshua’s fall. Today, the Englishman cannot recall that famous moment when he thought he’d won the fight long before he had.
“That was emotion, I don’t even remember doing it to be honest – probably because of that right hand that dropped me in the sixth,” explained the 28-year-old. “You have to make mistakes, and I did, you learn from it.”
On Saturday night, Joshua is determined to show he has become a star pupil. Out goes the fearsome Klitschko, and in comes Carlos Takam, a stocky substitute with a point to prove. A faded 36 years old and a loser in his all of his big fights, the Cameroon-born Parisian is a huge underdog. Certainly, he is no Klitschko and that – in the eyes of certain fans who now expect Batman vs Superman style collisions every time – is why Takam stands awkwardly among the least fancied challengers in heavyweight history.
Yet the African is far from a pushover, hits hard and is known for his toughness. Built like a reconditioned A-Team van, Takam is going to take some shifting. Experienced and eager to show he’s learned from his losses to Alexander Povetkin and Joseph Parker, the challenger, brandishing the physique of a lifetime, is coming to Cardiff with only victory in his mind.
“The athlete who makes it look easy is a good one,” Joshua countered. “Even though he may have learnt a million things, if I can go in there and make it look easy, and strip him of everything, that’s what will make it a good fight. [But] Klitschko is a completely different animal to Takam, there’s nothing he can do that Klitschko does.”
Certainly, if Takam were to win, it would be a humongous upset. Not only for Joshua the fighter and Joshua the brand, but for his fans. This week, Joshua has exhibited his superstardom in many ways. From appearing on billboards and prime time terrestrial televsion to spending time with his supporters after Wednesday night’s open workouts, Joshua has officially crossed over.
But he’ll never forget his journey, of course.
He laughs heartily with the same bombastic laugh he’s always had, the same chuckle that reminds everyone around him of the time they first heard it. A time when he was an unknown, sitting like the rest of us looking up to our heroes. That’s a time that has stayed with Joshua, and a time that has persuaded the now-superstar to always appreciate his fans.
Back in 2011 he was in awe of super-middleweight George Groves. He sat in the crowd, unnoticed, as Groves upset the odds and outscored James DeGale. As Groves made his way back to his dressing room, Joshua, all six-foot-six-inches of him, stood from his chair and asked if he could have one of the gloves that Groves had used to defeat his nemesis. Unbeknown to Groves, Joshua was brushed away by a security guard. Today, it’s a mind-boggling image.
“I’ve been in that situation, on the other side, where security have just turned you back,” Joshua said.
“I asked for Groves’ glove and the [security] guy was like ‘get back’. An explanation would have been nice. Maybe he could have just said, ‘George keeps all his memorabilia’ or something like that. I remember who it was. All he needed to do was give a 30-second explanation and it would change your whole mindset.”
Joshua would be horrified if any of his fans experienced a similar snub.
“I’ve been on that side and been turned back so I know how that feels. I still talk about that today so it really stays with you.
“The time you give someone will stay with them and the time you don’t give someone will stay with them too… Which is why I stay behind after open workouts. That’s not for me to train, that’s for the fans. All I have to do is give up an hour of my time and I’ve made their day.”
The fame will continue to grow around him but beneath the mayhem nothing will have changed. Anthony Joshua will always be Anthony Joshua.