OF all the events held during fight week (sorry, FIGHT WEEK!!!), the least revealing of them all, without question, is the public workout.
It’s less revealing than an episode of The Gloves Are Off, less revealing than a press conference featuring two boxers hungry and on edge, no longer willing to entertain the lowest common denominator, and certainly less revealing than a weigh-in, that old tradition whereby half-naked, dehydrated men and women step on a set of scales, flex, pout and preen, and in doing so somehow disclose their every flaw.
In fact, nothing in boxing screams smoke and mirrors quite like a public workout (actually, that’s not strictly true). Part of the ritual, the sight of boxers getting in the ring and proceeding to shadowbox, skip and, if we’re really good, half-heartedly hit the pads on the hands of their coach, is the trick boxers play on those who typically pay to watch them punch. They smile like they want to be there, punch like it matters and means something, but it’s fight week, they’re often a day or two from making weight, and therefore the truth, in most cases, is quite the opposite.
It could be said the two of them, coach and fighter, are performing a balancing act. They want to provide the illusion of a training session – people have given up their time to watch, after all – yet crank down the intensity to ensure no energy is wasted and no secrets are revealed.
It’s all a big tease. A bit of foreplay. But maybe that’s the whole point; maybe that’s all people want. Three or four days out, it’s nice for Joe Public to get a glimpse of what they can expect to see on Saturday night – in this case, Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker contesting the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight titles in Cardiff – and visualise how things might unfold.
The other fascinating thing about public workouts is that they come in all shapes and sizes and attract crowds of all shapes and sizes. Some events are big, well-publicised, well-attended, and important in the context of building towards a major pay-per-view event. Others, however, are less thought out, less necessary, and end up attracting the kind of crowd you might expect to attract when erecting a makeshift boxing ring in the middle of a shopping centre but not even have the decency to stage a fight. (Imagine stumbling upon a five-a-side football pitch that only allows visitors to practice – or, worse, watch – throw-ins.)
The content of the workout varies, too. For some, it’s the chance to shake out, get loose, and perhaps shed a bit more weight if they’re struggling, whereas for others it’s an opportunity to either show off or mess about (one memorable workout a few years ago featured a boxer and their coach incorporating forward rolls and star-jumps into their punch routines).
Rest assured, though, the unruly kids at the back of class know there’s a correlation between the energy expended at a public workout and your overall standing as a fighter. Note: it’s not cool to show any kind of effort before a fight. Instead, it’s best to leave the impression that everything achieved on fight night, climaxing in the moment you knock out your opponent in a blaze of glory, is the result of a God-given talent and inherent toughness that removed the need to run, train and work hard like the rest of them.
Anthony Joshua hosted a public workout last night in Cardiff. I say hosted, what I actually mean is he turned up to one. The truth is, Matchroom Sport hosted the event – a mammoth one that began at 6 pm and ended at 9.30 pm, and involved pretty much every boxer on Saturday night’s fight card – and Joshua, the primary reason for a sizeable turnout, was little more than guest of honour. He swanned in at nine o’clock, when he was good and ready, and rather than punch for 36 minutes, as could well be the case on Saturday, pulled the plug before he’d even reached 36 seconds.
Even so, here are seven things we could glean from watching the world heavyweight champion pretend to perform a training session.
1) He has big muscles
That’s the sort of penetrating insight you came for, right? No, probably not. But it’s likely the reason many inside St. David’s Hall showed up on a wet Wednesday evening to watch the six-foot-six, eighteen-stone heavyweight throw ferocious punches – mostly at thin air – as his bulging muscles wrestled for air within a skin-tight grey and black top. Parker does baggy, Joshua does tight. It’s one of many differences between the pair.
Parker’s team, meanwhile, could be spotted around the ring wearing white T-shirts with ‘Pie King’ scrawled across the back. It’s a new nickname, one influenced by a comment chat show host Graham Norton made on his BBC1 chat show, but Parker, rather than take offence or simply ignore it, has gone the other way and embraced it. He’s not fat. Far from it. He looks trimmer than he has for a while, in fact. But that doesn’t mean he won’t head for the bakery the moment he’s back home. That, he says, is very much the plan.
2) He has a big smile
A young boy on the front row incessantly yelled “AJ! AJ! AJ! AJ! AJ!” over and over again, to the point where it was not so much sweet as quite annoying, and Joshua, the AJ in question, made the kid’s day by acknowledging him and giving him the thumbs up. It thrilled the lad; silenced him. (Perhaps that was the plan.) The rest of the audience then followed suit. They too started to shout the champion’s name, culminating in a rousing chant of “Ohhhhhh Anthony Joshua”, and all of a sudden there was a real sense, if it was ever in doubt, that British boxing has its most personable and popular champion for quite some time.
If it’s not the smile, it’s the laugh. If it’s not the laugh, it’s the fist-bump. Whatever Anthony Joshua’s seduction technique, it appears to do the trick.
Alexander Povetkin, on the other hand, the controversial heavyweight set to face David Price in Saturday’s chief support bout, wasted no time leaving the ring and heading home once his extremely brief public workout was complete.
In hindsight, the Velcro boxing gloves were a sign. Easy entry, easy exit, Povetkin sheepishly bowed to the crowd, maybe expecting boos, and then left the way he came in, eschewing the Sky Sports interviews endured by the other boxers. (Admittedly, this might owe to him being Russian, and therefore a tricky interview, rather than rudeness.)
3) He loves Juicy Fruit
“Mmm… Juicy Fruit.” No, not that one. Not the one shared by Chief and R. P. McMurphy as they await electroshock therapy in a mental hospital. This Juicy Fruit was sung by Mtume in 1983 and is, by all accounts, one of Anthony Joshua’s favourite songs, which is presumably why he chose to smile and shadowbox to it last night.
4) He has no stamina
Joshua punched for just 35 seconds (yeah, I timed it). He threw some three-punch combinations – jab, cross, hook – and then completed his repertoire, his quickie, with a few vicious right uppercut-left hook combinations. After that, Rob McCracken, his trainer, abruptly dropped his pads to the canvas, the action stopped, and Joshua took this cue to free himself from his gloves and calm down. Leave them wanting more and all that.
Mind you, AJ’s 35 seconds was 35 seconds more than the crowd got from Joseph Parker. He forgot hand wraps altogether and was instead content to skip, drink water and then shadowbox in front of his coach, Kevin Barry, who curiously followed him around the ring and flinched whenever Parker’s pokes and prods headed his way. It was every bit as enthralling as it sounds.
5) He is a sponsor’s dream
While waiting three hours for Joshua and Parker to enter the ring and do nothing, the hundreds of Welsh fans in attendance were subliminally encouraged to purchase skin-tight sports attire and trainers, lay down accumulators and even raid their local beehive. JD Sports. William Hill. Under Armour. Manuka Doctor. They all want a piece of Anthony Joshua.
6) He is leading the way
It’s not just Anthony Joshua. One glance at the many banners and logos revealed Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin (World of Boxing Promotion Company) also have a piece of this promotion. The slice might be small, but it’s a sign nonetheless that boxers have never been as powerful as they are in 2018.
7) He is a master of product placement.
There was some casual shadowboxing, a 35-second explosion on the pads, and some focused posturing for the cameras, but hardly enough exertion to cause Anthony Joshua to break a sweat at St. David’s Hall. Yet the shrewd heavyweight champion, always ‘on’, was able to find sweat from somewhere the moment Sky Sports were about to go live with an interview and he realised his blue Lucozade towel had yet to see action. At that point, the towel was crucial. He was dripping. The stuff was all over his face and getting in his eyes. Pass me that towel, Man in Full AJBXNG Tracksuit. Yeah, the one with the logo.