ANTHONY JOSHUA is to appoint someone “old and experienced” to work alongside Angel Fernandez in preparation for his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk.
Matchroom are nearing an agreement for what, amid Tyson Fury’s retirement, has become the most significant fight in the heavyweight division, and is likeliest to take place in Saudi Arabia on July 23.
Joshua’s disappointing and naive performance when he was so convincingly outboxed and outpointed by Usyk, 35, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September contributed not only to the departure of the long-serving Rob McCracken, and assistant Joby Clayton, but the promotion of Angel Fernandez from assistant to head coach. Before doing so the heavyweight – who recruited Clayton and Fernandez to work alongside McCracken in preparation for his rematch with Andy Ruiz Jnr, also in Saudi Arabia and off the back of a one-sided defeat – had visited the respected Eddy Reynoso, Robert Garcia, Virgil Hunter and Ronnie Shields.
That Joshua made no attempts to hide the fact that he did so demonstrated his desire to add further experience and expertise to his evolving team, but off the back of putting his faith in Fernandez – the Spaniard schooled by Cubans Jorge Rubio and Ismael Salas and who was so influential in the victory over Ruiz Jnr – the 32-year-old is nearing an additional appointment.
“He wanted to box more, because he liked the idea of that, but he realises that he has to be a little bit old-school, and that’ll come through the coaches as well,” his promoter, Eddie Hearn, told Boxing News. “There’ll be additional people coming in and working in the team as well. But he gets on well with Angel; they’ve got a great relationship.
“He could have got any trainer in the world, and he chose to continue working with Angel Fernandez – and that’s for a reason. He likes what he’s doing in Loughborough; he’s comfortable, and believes in it. But there’ll be a more experienced head coming in – whether that’s as a lead cornerman, I don’t think so, but [experienced] eyes.
“It’s well-documented he spoke to Eddy Reynoso, Robert Garcia, Virgil Hunter, [Ronnie Shields. It’ll be] someone [similarly] old-school and experienced.
“Joshua always wants to evolve, and Rob’s got his particular way as well. They never fell out. Rob was always more than just a trainer; he was confidante, advisor, and everything. But once a fighter has any doubt, you have to switch it up. They’d run their course. Rob also felt that it was time, as well as AJ.
“If you’re the head trainer, you don’t really want the fighter to bring in additional coaches. But Rob always wanted the best for AJ, and AJ felt he needed to make improvements and bring people in. Don’t forget, those changes he made won him the Ruiz rematch, so it’s not like it was a disaster. It worked again in the [Kubrat] Pulev fight, but it didn’t work in the Usyk fight.
“If AJ’s comfortable, and believes it, we’re good. He’s intelligent – you can’t double-bluff him. Clearly, he believes in Angel.”
So masterful and – in a way his fellow Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko never was – unique in the challenge he presented to Joshua was Usyk throughout their first fight, that that night left little reason to be confident in Joshua’s chances of winning this summer. Hearn, regardless, has revealed he is already more convinced of victory than he was first time around.
“He’s seen it,” he said. “He’d never experienced anything like that before – a really awkward, small southpaw, moving – and now he’s experienced it. I’m much, much, much more confident. Now he knows, ‘I’ve been in there; I know what he does’.
“[It’ll be his best win] – especially at this stage of his career. Usyk’s pound-for-pound number two.
“He’s excited to do things differently in this fight. It’s not just a case of going out and being reckless, like a lunatic. But he will be very aggressive, and looking to demolish Usyk.
“We’re closing in on finalising contracts, in terms of sites. We’re on the verge of deciding what we’re going to do.”