March 31, 2018
March 31, 2018
Anthony Joshua

Action Images/REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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HE still remembers the sound. Dominic Winrow was about to fight in the final of the ABA championships, the senior amateur tournament in England. In May 2010 he was in the bowels of York Hall in east London, warming up on the pads. But all he could hear was his opponent doing the exact same thing.

“The changing rooms were downstairs. There’s an old spiral staircase going down. They all getting changed up by the stage. I’m down there, working with my coach John Cain. We were on the pads. As I’m on the pads I can hear the echoes coming down. There’s echoes spiralling down the staircase to the bottom. It’s just like whack, whack, whack, whack with him on the pads up there. I’m just thinking, ‘Oh my god,’” Winrow recalled.

He was about to fight Anthony Joshua. “You could hear his power as well. It was a psychological thing as well. You knew you were going in with someone that was pretty special, to be honest. I’m very glad that he’s gone on to do what he’s done. And he deserves all the success,” Dominic said.

Joshua would win by stoppage. Winrow didn’t know then that his opponent would go on from there to get on the GB squad, win the Olympic Games and become the unified heavyweight champion of the world as a professional. But he was already aware that Joshua was a fearsome prospect. “We knew of him,” Winrow said. “I’m from the Isle of Man so I was trying to go the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. To qualify for the Commonwealth Games, to meet the criteria for the Isle of Man, you need to get to the quarter-finals of the ABAs, either top 10 in the country or you boxed for England. I thought my best route was the quarter-final of the ABAs [at super-heavyweight]. He’d had about 17 [bouts] and only lost one, that was to Dillian Whyte. He was knocking everyone out as well. I ended up beating a few lads, making my way to the final. Joshua’s quarter-final opponent pulled out, semi-final opponent pulled out.

“You look on Youtube on him, which I did before the fight, there were about six fights and he was just knocking everyone clean out. So I think everyone just stayed away from him.”

The boxer for the Manx club though would not back out. “No never, never going to pull out. It was a good thing for the Isle of Man to be honest. It was a big thing. My mentality was what’s the worst that can happen? He was a big lad but he was only young at the time, 20, 21 I think. What’s the worst that can happen? You get in there and have a go,” he said.

His wife did not feel the same way. Joshua took up the centre of the ring, eyeballing Winrow before the first bell. It was an intimidating sight. “My Mrs left, she went to the pub when she seen him. She literally wouldn’t watch it,” Dominic said. “I remember the whole thing, beyond the fight as well. The fight wasn’t brilliant from my part but it was a really good process. Something I look back on proudly.”

“The rest is history really. I think the thing I felt with him. I’ve boxed some good lads but he just felt completely different. I really felt physically out of depth a little bit. He was strong and mean and he punched hard, he moved well. He was massive but he was so quick as well. I was littler than everyone at super-heavy but I was faster than them. He was faster than me and an absolute mountain of man as well.

Anthony Joshua

“I tried to box on the outside, he catches me with big shots. Inside he’d just rough me up. He was raw but you could feel so much potential in him.”

Joshua has become a phenomenon in the sport, not least unifying world titles and selling out stadia across the UK. “The Klitschko fight goes down in history,” Winrow said. “In my life as a boxing fan, I can’t remember a fight as good at that, the drama of that. I feel almost some kind of personal involvement because I just really want him to win, as a fan, as a person I just want to see him go on and do well.”

Dominic caught up with Joshua after their amateur contest and they kept in touch over later years. “He remembers those parts of his life. He’s a good, good man, a genuinely good man who’s got a real nasty streak when he needs to have it,” Winrow said. “When he goes into that fight mode, he’s obviously a mean, nasty fella [but] he’s a far cry away from that machine he is when he gets inside the ropes.”

When they boxed Joshua was only getting started. “He’d just come on the scene and just took it by storm,” Winrow said. “He’s gone from strength to strength every fight, every year. He’s going to go down as a legend of the sport. Which is pretty amazing, to be honest. I feel proud to have been in there and shared the ring with him. I think that was a big part of his life as well. The ABA final was a big thing, it was his first ABAs. He’ll always remember it, I’ll always remember it.”