ANTHONY JOSHUA still looks like Anthony Joshua.
The same hulking arms still hang from the same broad shoulders. Anthony Joshua, clad in the same black sportswear, still looks exactly like a world heavyweight champion should. Promoter Eddie Hearn still sits on one side of him and trainer Robert McCracken still sits on the other. It all looks the same as it’s always looked.
But the man in the middle is not the world heavyweight champion anymore. That lofty title crumbled when Andy Ruiz Jr dropped him four times in seven dramatic rounds in a miserable New York debut three months ago.
It was the night when Ruiz changed Anthony Joshua forever. When the British superstar was forced to accept professional defeat for the first time. It was a result few saw coming and in turn it triggered the rematch no one could have predicted. On December 7, Joshua and Ruiz head to Saudi Arabia – the most controversial setting for a world heavyweight title fight since Muhammad Ali and George Foreman collided in Zaire way back in 1974 – for an event destined to make a significant mark in the division’s rich history.
Today, as Joshua faced the British media for the first time since the night that changed everything, “AJ” did his very best to remind everyone of the Joshua we used to know. The one who would confidently tell the press that the impending fight was one he would win. The one who would rock back in his chair with those big arms outstretched while the media ate from the palms of his hands.
Today, at a hotel in London, the press are less inclined to hang on his every word. They want answers to questions that would have been alien to Joshua only three short months ago. He has to explain why he lost a professional prizefight. He has to explain why he appeared on the edge during a recent interview with Sky Sports when he said his loss was down to a ‘lucky punch’. And the fighter who made selling out the biggest British stadiums seem effortless is being forced to explain why the rematch is taking place in a nation like Saudi Arabia.
It’s obvious that Joshua is in no mood to do all of this. Little surprise, either, given that this is the final leg of their gruelling three-day media which has already stopped in Saudi Arabia and New York. His eyes look heavy. His answers are, for the most part, soundbites and largely unrevealing. But there are clues, if you look carefully, about his state of mind. Clues that suggest that the Joshua of old might not be gone forever. But also a Joshua who recognises that the old Joshua has to change to win…
What has happened since the first fight with Ruiz?
After the fight you always know about the rematch clause. For us and our team, there’s only one way to go, and that’s fight the best. We were talking about it yesterday, me and [trainer] Rob McCracken that when you go through the list of people I’ve boxed, I’m fighting another champion now. This is another champion I have to defeat and the best fighter out there currently. This was the only option for me.
How does it feel to be the challenger now?
It’s different. I’m more experienced, seasoned. I know what I’m doing. I’ve got a different challenger on my hands. Once you’ve walked the walk once you walk the walk again.
Andre Ward recently said that boxing is 90 per cent mental. Would you agree with that?
There’s so many different quotes like that isn’t there? 90 per cent? 70 per cent? [I say] 50-50. Sometimes everything you have been taught goes out of the window and it’s what can’t be taught, do you know what I mean? At times it is purely mental, at times it is purely heart and that’s why I call it a 50-50 split.
Has your attitude to Andy Ruiz changed and did you go into the first fight being a little complacent?
Nah. The man done what he had to do. He’s a good fighter. He was the best one available after what happened with [Jarrell] Miller [who failed three drug tests so Ruiz replaced him at six weeks’ notice]. It was a bump. It was a loss in a fight. Nothing changes in how I see him. He’s still a great fighter.
It’s more myself that I have to change. I have to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I know I’m better than that.’ I’ll get myself together. But Andy, no, he’s still the same person [in my eyes], and he does the same thing. It’s me that has to change some bits and bobs when I get in the ring.
What have you got to change in terms of preparation this time?
I can go in there and do the same thing. I was 50 per cent of the way there in getting the win. I had him down [in round three] and I just got caught [when I tried to finish him off]. So when I said it was a punch from the gods [in the Sky Sports interview], it wasn’t a lucky punch for him, for instance, because he trains for that. But lets say I train to defend the hook, it caught me in a place on the head that I couldn’t recover from. The punch was perfect, so in that respect it was sent from the gods.
I can go in there and do the same thing and maybe take a bit more time. So in terms of crashing down, I haven’t fallen so far down the tree that I’ve got to wait two years to have the rematch. It’s happening in three months. I know how to fight. Look, if I was to change everything now, it would be too risky. I haven’t got enough time to change and amend and make it new. I will just add little things that will make big differences.
Do you look at fighters like Muhammad Ali and see that their losses almost adds to their greatness?
I’ve always known that. We’re all aware of that. Especially in boxing. After Floyd Mayweather retired [on 50-0] everything became about the 0. Which was great. So if I’d have been undefeated my legacy would still have been about the 0. But now I’ve taken a loss my legacy is about how to come back. Let’s say I take this loss and I teach people how to deal with it, that’s how it goes. The Alis and the Tysons, they faced it, I faced it, next year someone else will face it. It’s just a part of the game. No big deal in terms of the loss, it’s how you come back.
Can you even imagine what would happen if you did lose to Ruiz again?
Yeah. If you know me from the amateurs when I lost certain fights, I just get back up. I keep on going. So if I lose again? Let’s say I lost my next 10 fights, maybe the next 10 fighters weren’t meant for me, but the 11th one might be. In my eyes, as long as I’m consistent, I will prevail. I will get to where I want to get to.
Can you talk about how you felt in the week after the loss? What went through your mind?
I’ve got to get better. I can get to the top but staying at the top for the amount of years and being the one that the others are gunning after is a whole other story. Doing it for 11 years at the top. Let’s say for two of those years I was on the way up, but after the World championships in 2011 we’ve been [at the top]. That’s how you talk about Lomachenko – as a top amateur and top pro. I was a top amateur. I love the sport, I’ve just got to up my game a little bit and get to the next level.
Are you planning to lose weight for this fight? Are you going to lose some muscle to aid your movement?
I’m a big man. To move is to feint, to slip, to roll your head. So when I start talking about movement, I don’t want people to think I’m now going to curl up and become a Mike Tyson-esque fighter. That’s not going to suit my style. But movement might be, better footwork, better feints. In terms of losing weight, remember I was preparing for Jarrell Miller…
The fight changed and then I prepared for Andy. I learned from that and I will get that right for Andy. I think my weight will change. Look, if I do the same thing, I might get the same result. But if I do something different, we might get a different result. So I’m going to do something different, to try and get the win.
There has been criticism about Saudi Arabia and Amnesty International have urged you to read up about the situation. What do you say to people who say you’re a role model, but it’s the wrong decision to fight there.
I appreciate them voicing their opinion and it’s good to talk about issues in the world and what’s going on in the world. We have to look at it from the point of view that I’m there to fight and the country are hosting a great event for the heavyweight championship of the world. The team have gone out there and experienced what they are hosting, and I’m talking about it in terms of boxing. I think everyone is going to have a phenomenal time.
When you talk about the issues, if I want to put on my cape where I’m going to save the world, we all have to do it together. It can’t be left to one man. We all have to make a difference.
This is a defining moment in sporting history. All I can speak of is from experience. I have been to Saudi Arabia and I am building a relationship. Some of the questions that the world wants to ask, maybe I can be a spokesperson for them. That is relationship building.
You do lose home advantage. Do you feel you lose anything in that respect?
I can only speak about that after the fight! I went to the States. People forget that I travelled around the world fighting. Me and Rob have been fighting around the world for years.
You have been very calm about the way you have handled the defeat. Is that calmness masking anger at yourself?
Slip ups happen. Deal with it like a man. Anything that happens to me is down to me. You can blame your mates about stupid stuff but if I put myself in that position I have only got myself to blame. That’s the code we grew up with. The reason I don’t get angry is because if you go through it, you’ve got to go through it, good or bad. We stick together and we do it again and that’s just the code. So I don’t get upset, I just figure out the solution. I don’t go ‘f**k, I’m angry.’ Finding the solution is what gives the relief, it’s what allows you to see through the problem.
You seem upbeat today. You didn’t seem it in recent interviews?
I’m just tired [laughs]. I talk about boxing all the time and I don’t want to get my message read wrong. I don’t want to seem like I’m making excuses. But when the same questions keep being asked sooner or later it will seem that way. It seems like it’s more than what it is.
So the Sky Sports interview wasn’t a true representation of how you were feeling?
On that day it was. That was 100 per cent me – on that day. On a different day I might be a different person, like anyone. On a Monday and Friday, I’m completely different.