This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine
THE contrast was stark. In December at the O2, Anthony Joshua ploughed forward, swinging hard, looking to hammer old rival Dillian Whyte into submission. He walked into punches, cruel little body shots as well as that heavy hook to the head, to land his own blows. In the seventh round he finally delivered a hellacious right uppercut. The punch left Whyte hanging on the ropes and Joshua leaped on to the corner posts, shouting with emotion, roaring back with the crowd. Fast forward to April 9 and Joshua delivered the most significant punch of his career, a clean, precise right that shot through Charles Martin’s guard, dropping him on the seat of his shorts. Now when Joshua turns away, there is no exultant celebration. He knows he’s won the IBF heavyweight title, he knows the champion will not beat the count but Joshua just shrugs as he walks to the neutral corner.
“I was in my own world but I was aware of what I wanted to control, what I wanted to let in,” he recalled. “I just felt very relaxed, very in control of the moment, nothing was going to get to me. That’s how I’ve got to keep on going into every fight.”
Anthony was serene, as he had been throughout the fight. Yet he had made history. No one before had won a major world heavyweight title after so few professional rounds in their career. “Only went seven rounds once [before]”, Joshua nodded, referring to the Whyte fight, “everything [was] in one to three other than that. So it is. That is quick.”
He added gleefully, “And I could have done it in less. That’s why I want to fight him again. I just want to batter him again but quicker.” Breaking out into another laugh dilutes the menace behind his words. “In that sense I think that’s crazy,” he continued. “It is hard you know, camp is hard, learning, being due diligent. I want to get better, I want to get better, I want to get better, that’s it. It’s all hard work. It’s not by luck.”
When he hoisted the red IBF belt overhead, you might have thought this was the end of the story, that, now a world champion, Anthony Joshua had made it. Instead it felt very much as if he was just getting started.
He did not dwell on the victory. The Martin fight had not been a war, Joshua just lined up his shot and pulled the trigger. He’s now setting his sights on the leading figures in the heavyweight division. “As I said, I’ve got the belt, now let’s start adding some solid names, defences, let’s go after these guys with a couple of belts and we’ll get that household respect in the game,” Joshua stated.
He has made a statement of intent. “What I think it is is that the belt’s good and it’s a big achievement. Now I want to beat the big names in the division. I need names on my record now. You’re only as good as who you fight. So I’ve achieved one side of it. Now I need to achieve the other side of it and that’s fighting in the UK, I need to become the hottest prospect in the UK and with that is fighting [Tyson] Fury, [David] Price, [Dereck] Chisora, [David] Haye. Beat all these guys, they can’t say nothing no more, move on, who have you got? [Bryant] Jennings, [Bermane] Stiverne, [Luis] Ortiz, [Malik] Scott, do you know what I mean, [Alexander] Ustinov, [Kubrat] Pulev. These are the guys I want to start adding to my record at some stage. I think that’s why I was a bit underwhelmed. Now I just get that bit more hunger. I’m not really phased. I want to keep on improving that’s all,” Joshua said. “I’ve got one of the belts, cool, now I want to start adding names to my record. They’re the names that I want to add. Just so I can silence these boys. The cream will rise to the top.”
Thoughts turn naturally to Fury. The “Gypsy King” took over the heavyweight throne when he beat the previous number one, then the unified champion Wladimir Klitschko. Fury has dismissed Joshua’s win, particularly the lacklustre effort of Martin. “He has about as much fight in him as a glass of water. All these Americans are bums, can’t fight,” Tyson declared. “I thought [Joshua] looked like a pumped up weightlifter.”
Joshua reflected, “I don’t expect him to be any different really. As long as he’s talking about me, it’s good. I don’t even know why he’s talking about me to be honest. He should just focus on his defence. Let him win that and then we’ll talk about some future fights. That’s why I made sure I wanted to win, that’s why I’m calm. Because winning that fight has set me up for bigger fights. That’s why I’m not getting carried away. There are still some things I need to achieve before I get happy.”
The clamour for Joshua to challenge Fury will only grow. But first Tyson has the Klitschko rematch. “He could win, he’s done it once, he can do it again. He just needs to be more convincing with his wins. I want to see Tyson Fury back his talk up, go in and stop Klitschko and put it on him a bit. That’s when I’ll start giving him more respect, but I just don’t like the way he talks and he doesn’t go in. He fiddles his way through fights,” Joshua reflected. “He’s very tricky. He can mess you around. Which is a good way to win. But the way he talks is like he’s… It’s not exciting. I want to see him being exciting, that’s all.”
Joshua has never been one to shy away from going on the attack himself and he has some further advice for Fury. He recommends Tyson fight him sooner rather than later, promising that he himself is only going to develop and improve. He is learning and learning quickly. “Experience is key, isn’t it? That’s why I didn’t want to rush turning pro. Because I wanted to make sure I’ve got enough experience under my belt. But I’m glad that I turned and I’ve had the journey that I’ve had because I’ve gained valuable, valuable experience. It’s not just about the fight, it’s about the occasion as a pro, it’s about the whole build-up. I don’t think Martin expected anything like that. The whole build-up, the attention, the weigh-in, the press conference, the public workout, dealing with all this stuff is really good experience as well. So it’s good times,” he said.
Joshua concedes the fight with Fury must happen, and he’s set the countdown in motion. “I don’t mind where we fight. I don’t mind. But as I said, it should be within a year of this year. Because six months ago I was asked that and I was saying 18 months. So I can’t keep telling you 18 months down the line. It has to happen,” Anthony said. “Time’s ticking.”
Meanwhile, Joshua has to attend to defences of his IBF title. “I want tests. Because when I overcome these things it just builds me as a better fighter and then you get to the prime,” Anthony promises. It is though hard to identify who the right man for that would be. The candidates in the frame are former WBC titlist Stiverne, Joseph Parker, maybe Johann Duhaupas or Eric Molina too. “That’s the problem. Who else is there? Stiverne is a good challenge,” Joshua reflected, “Stiverne’s a good name, solid fighter.”
“Duhaupas just knocked out [Robert] Helenius. Molina beat [Tomasz] Adamek. Maybe guys like this,” he continued. “The only thing that will let Parker down is experience, he’s talented but maybe not experienced enough… But it’ll be interesting to see.”
There are options. “Everyone wants to come to the UK. They all want a bit of it. It’s class,” Anthony beamed.
He needs to rise through the levels but his confidence rings through. “The thing I wanted to do with Martin was take what he had. And that’s what I wanted to do, take what he had. I knew he wasn’t going to beat me. I knew, ‘Now I’ve got this.’ We’re on another stage now, it’s a new beginning. I can improve from here because I’m going to fight better fighters at an early stage. Two years of fighting the Stivernes, a couple of American fighters, Duhaupases that are tough guys, so when it comes to serious, serious boxing, I should be in my prime, good to go. Twenty fights [in], four fights down the line, I should be handling my business no problem. I should be beating guys like Fury in four fights with ease,” he said simply.
The mission is becoming increasingly clear – to attempt to unify the heavyweight division in the coming years. “We’ll see what [WBC champion Deontay] Wilder does, but it’s very possible. It’s becoming more a reality as time goes on and if I keep on addressing each fight and having camps like I did I think it’s very possible. Not getting carried away but I feel I’m slowly building, building towards that. Definitely,” he said. “You know how tough boxing is, there’s going to be some tough, tough nights. It’ll be interesting to see who’ll push me, really, really push me. [Larry] Holmes had it hard, [Muhammad] Ali had it hard, [Joe] Frazier, and they were the elites of the game. I’m coming through and just trying to earn my stripes, so it’s going to get tougher. That’s why I need to knuckle down. That’s why I don’t take it for granted. It’s going to be tough.”
The talk, for the time being, is done. As Joshua nodded his head to draw proceedings to a close, he repeated his goal slowly, almost like a mantra. “The kingpin of the division,” he said. “The kingpin.”
The next target lies ahead of him.