WHEN you’re big, everybody sees you. If you’re six foot six and 110 or so kilos, you can’t walk into a room or make your way down the street without all eyes turning to you. It has always been so for Anthony Joshua. Yet now an Olympic gold medallist, British heavyweight champion and world title challenger, he has never been more conspicuous. With a throng of media clustering round him at the announcement of his April 9 clash at the O2 with IBF heavyweight champion Charles Martin, the Londoner is under scrutiny. If he wins the title that spotlight of attention will grow more fierce. Nor would he be able to step down from world level fights. There will be nowhere to hide. Winning the the IBF belt would put him on a path that would lead ultimately to Tyson Fury.
“It was kind of going in that direction at some stage anyway. It just fast-tracks these type of fights. Once I become champ, God willing it happens, there’s no hiding from these fights. So it was all calculated, we know what we’re getting ourselves into and we know what’s going to come after. We’re looking forward to another explosive year,” Joshua said.
While he may already be selling out arenas, and becoming a pay-per-view attraction in the process, Anthony is only 15 fights into his professional career. A world title fight has come quickly to him. Even Joshua didn’t expect it so soon. “Even when people tell you it’s possible when you first start boxing, that’s what they say, heavyweight champion and so on, you don’t really think it’s possible because of the stage you’re at. But dreams come true. I’ve got an opportunity. I just need to turn it into reality now,” he said.
Joshua is certain he can make that reality happen. “You know how boxing is, you take fights you’re capable of winning, you feel you’re going to win. You have to be confident. The great thing about it is it’s an opportunity, whether we want it or not, and I feel this is a fight I want. That’s why I always say take the reward away, look at the opponent. I feel I’m capable of doing a job on Martin and with that comes the heavyweight championship of the world,” he reflects.
The decision is still a risk. Joshua may be ready to beat Charles Martin but if he does come through, every fight from then on would be for a world title. A hard path for someone who has boxed 32 rounds as a pro. Tyson Fury for instance boxed 134 professional rounds before he took on the world champion Wladimir Klitschko. The choice was either to continue serving his apprenticeship, or step up to a new level.
As they considered their options, his promoter Eddie Hearn sent him a message, asking simply: ‘What are you thinking?’
Joshua made the decision. ‘Let’s roll,’ he replied.
Not that he expects an easy night against Charles Martin. The American has 23 wins, 21 of them inside the distance against one draw and no defeats. He won the vacant IBF belt, that had been swiftly stripped from Tyson Fury, a title Charles won promptly when Vyacheslav Glazkov’s knee collapsed beneath him. “I think he was going to beat Glazkov anyway. He was controlling the early rounds, Martin builds up as the rounds go on so I think he would have got him out of there anyway. I think everyone’s happy how the division is and it’s opened it up so I think everything about him becoming champion is a positive,” Joshua notes, “I do think becoming champion gives you a sense of confidence, which he’ll take into the ring as well. I’ve gone through different waters to him, tread through deeper waters than him in my career as well, which is going to help me against him. That’s why I think it’s such a great match up, especially at this time. It could have been three fights down the line which would have led us into next year. But I think timing is everything. We got the timing perfect.
“He’s become heavyweight champion of the world. Some people are different but for both of us, where he’s been in his career and where I’ve been, when you look at him being champion and you look at the experiences I’ve been through as a contender, us two coming together it’s level, it’s a real 50-50 fight.”
Martin will be the first southpaw that Joshua has fought as a professional, though he handled them readily enough in the amateur ranks. Roberto Cammarelle, whom Joshua not only beat at the World championships but also dethroned as Olympic champion, was a southpaw. Anthony put in one of his most assured performances in a GB vest when he dropped and dismantled 2008 Olympic silver medallist Zhang Zhilei. He believes he can handle Martin’s unorthodox stance too. “Being a southpaw never blessed you with an extra arm, an extra five inches on your reach. You’ve still got two hands, same heart, same feet and that’s the same with me. I’ve just got to go in there with the same objective. Obviously there are still certain things you do to adjust but don’t adjust what’s been working. I’ve boxed southpaws before, I’m boxing Charles Martin, it’s a boxing match. That how I’m thinking,” Joshua said.
His promoter Eddie Hearn insists they’re bringing in quality southpaw sparring partners, promising, “These guys are all world ranked fighters, a couple of undefeated fighters. We’re going to invest a lot of money in this camp because there’s so much on the line.”
He secured this world title shot for Joshua with less notice than might been expected for a fight of this magnitude. It was announced on February 14, they box on April 9. The date of his next contest though had been in the books for a while and Joshua maintains he’d been “locked down” on his camp 10 weeks ahead of fight night, after beginning training on and off from January 14.
“Where I gauged where I started camp for [Kevin] Johnson and Dillian [Whyte], I’m well ahead of schedule right now. I’m learning, monitoring camps and stuff and luckily, on the third camp where I monitored it, we’re ahead of schedule,” he said.
While Martin is the champion, he won’t be as experienced when it comes to headlining big shows as Joshua. Anthony boxed in the Olympics in front of a large, very loud crowd and packed out the O2 Arena over the course of 2015, while the American won his world title on Deontay Wilder’s undercard in January. The atmosphere in Greenwich will be a cauldron for this fight. “I don’t think he’s experienced anything like this,” Joshua said. “This is all the attention on him, so that’s got to be developed. I think the fights I’ve been in as well, they’ve been tough I’ve learned some the hard way, I’ve boxed the easy way, which has been good as well. So that’s what the Olympics has given me. He’s only just become champion, so I’m saying that the development that he’ll go through is what he needs to do over the next two or three years as champion [that’s] why I think he should probably have taken an easier defence.”
The crowd at the O2 though can get to anyone. It came as a shock to Gary Cornish in September, most recently Joshua was amped up against Dillian Whyte. “You saw what happened to me on December 12. It does get to you. You want to go out there and tear someone’s head off. You’ve got to stick to your A game and that’s why that fight was perfect, that’s why timing’s everything. That fight then was perfect and I can take away so much from that into this fight. That’s why I’m chilled. I’ve done what I’ve had to do with that scrapping. I fought the next man’s fight, nearly went to the bottom of the mountain and came out on top and now I’m going to do it my way and make it an easy night. Clean, pure, class boxing,” Anthony said.
But he adds, “It’s familiar ground and I think people are really looking forward to it like myself. I’m at a stage now where I really look forward to fighting. Before it was where are we going? What’s the plan? That mentality where you’re fighting to get somewhere. Journeyman, journeyman, two years of fighting and it was only really until I fought Johnson, Dillian and, boom, now we’re where we want to be and this is the enjoying point. Let’s just go out there and enjoy it an do what we do. Routine and that’s why I like going back to the O2 because that’s where I handle business and that’s where I make it my stomping ground. It’s nice to be back.”
Joshua will be the favourite on the night. “I don’t really follow the odds. They’re normally right,” he adds. “That’s what I’m saying, let’s detach that championship belt away, that belongs to me, realistically, that’s my destiny. He’s just holding it. He’s got it. But when we look at technical skills and that, I think I’ve got one up on him and that’s why I think I can be victorious.”
Perhaps any nerves Charles Martin might have had were dulled by jetlag, but Joshua’s foe didn’t seem phased by the media scrum at the press conference to announce their fight. “This is serious. I really try and disconnect myself but when I’m up there and it’s just me and Charles, normally I’m up there with loads of other fighters. This is the first time when I’m at the head table and it’s me and my opponent. It’s a great turn out and it’s only going to get bigger and bigger. It’s serious business,” Joshua reflected. “He’s hungry. A lot of Americans, like Londoners, they’re hungry, they don’t waste time, they know what they want and they’re going to get it by any means. That’s what I see with Martin, the jewellery and everything like that. I think he may have come from a certain background, now he’s achieved heavyweight championship status, that comes with certain rewards. He’s enjoying that and I don’t think he wants to let that go so soon. So he’s game.
“He’s a champion now and that does something to your confidence and gives you a bit more fire in your heart. So I’ve got to be very careful, very wise and not make any mistakes because he’s a counter-puncher. A counter-puncher is someone who capitalises on mistakes. I think it’ll be a really good heavyweight boxing match. But he’s a different level now.”
The two came face to face for their obligatory head-to-head. While Joshua glared impassively at him, Martin rocked from side to side muttering quietly to his challenger.
“He just called me a bitch, he was going to knock me out, all that. Just said that he’s going to show me what levels is about. The kind of stuff I normally say to my opponents,” Joshua laughed after.
“He’s quite relaxed, though, in his mindset. I’m sure he’s got a way of dealing with that. He’s not someone that seems irrational. He’s very relaxed, calm, calculated so I think it’s a big step but I’m sure he’s got a way of dealing with it and I like when my opponents come 100 percent, that’s why I’m trying to say everything positive about him because I want the best Charles Martin so when we come to blows it’ll bring out the best in me and I’m beating the best guy available on April 9.”
But Joshua’s words take on a more menacing implication. “I know people that have worked with him – a hard worker, sometimes lazy. It is hard, boxing’s a hard sport, each to their own. But this is the real deal, he’s in with someone who don’t take no days off. I studied him, I know about him but he’s in with something that’s different,” Anthony says. “The power’s there. I know if I tag him enough times without getting too involved in a fight I’ll be able to knock him out. I don’t think many of my fights will go the distance.
“You’ve got to stick and move and box properly, you’ll tag someone enough times to the point where you’ll chop that tree down.”
This could be the fight where it gets hard for Joshua. “I’m going to win. There’s no doubt about that. But what it is, the main thing is the road in boxing isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s tough. It is tough and that’s the only pressure. People have to be real about situations. There’s ups and downs in a career in sports, whether it’s injuries, personal issues or taking a loss. But that’s not what I’m focusing on. Right now I’m saying it’s been good all the way through and it’s going to continue that way, but the only pressure is there is a reality where it gets very tough, like the fight with Dillian, there’s times when I get caught, I’ve got to bounce back and I’m going to go through many moments like that in my career.”
As hard as it gets, he promises he’ll fight on, fight on with his crowd backing him. “Just stick behind me,” he asks, “and we’ll get through.”