ANTHONY JOSHUA has been working with some familiar faces to prepare for Dominic Breazeale on Saturday (June 25). He’s been in Sheffield sparring Joe Joyce and Frazer Clarke, GB’s super-heavyweights and two rising stars in the amateur sport. Clarke has been racking up victories in the demanding World Series of Boxing while Joyce has qualified for the next Olympic Games, where he hopes to keep the 91&kgs gold medal, which Joshua won in 2012, in the UK.

Joshua, Joyce, Clarke are former rivals and former team-mates. They’ve all actually boxed each other in the (increasingly distant) past as amateurs and were on the international squad together. It seems fitting that they reunite for tough sparring sessions.

“That was hard because sparring pros for the Charles Martin fight for 12 weeks, 10 weeks to going back to sparring with amateurs for the first couple of weeks it was difficult because they’re so quick over five rounds, they’re doing WSB now so they’re basically professionals anyway. For five rounds, and I’m sparring three people or two people, it was really hard for me to adapt. That’s why I don’t take it for granted going up there because they are basically like the top end professionals,” Joshua said.

He feels he owes a lot to the GB team, explaining, “You’ve got some talented fighters but they just plateau, they can’t find that next level. Being around GB has always made me find the next level. That’s what I owe to them. The rawness, they’re starting to polish it, they helped polish that rawness. So that’s what I really like about GB.”

Joining that set up as an amateur was an eye-opening experience for him. “I would train Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and I became ABA champion twice, Haringey Box Cup champion, Novice champion, I’m not really like that but I was like ’I’m the man’ in my own head,” he laughed, “and then I went up to Sheffield and I was like what the hell is this. I would get dropped out there, battered. I would train three times a week, I was training four times a day out there and I came to a stage where I was thinking this is not for me. It was tough, it was brutal. I started to adapt.

“I needed to get beat up, even now I wish I could spar with [Deontay] Wilder and [Luis] Ortiz but I just think I missed that opportunity. It’s weird because I’ve only had 16 fights so I should be under the radar sparring with the champs but I’ve missed the opportunity [becoming world champion himself], but you do need to get beaten up in the gym, come back stronger. That was really good back then, being part of GB, it made me develop.”

“I still would do anything for GB. They’re a big organisation, lottery funded, a publicly funded gym so I do represent myself properly in that sense. Going up there, some of the boys haven’t won belts. Some of the boys aren’t world champions or Olympic champions but they train like champions so they are deserved champions in their own right so I feel like when I won the belt, I’d go in there: ‘Well done. Six rounds, 10 rounds.’ So it’s just back to the graft. There’s no pat on the back,” he continued. “They stick you straight back in the deep end and you just fit in. Everyone trains like a champion up there. The only difference is I’ve got to do more. If they do three threes or five threes, I’ll have to do eight threes. It is an honour to go there.”

While Joshua appreciates being around “hungry fighters”, the GB boxers also benefit from training with a reigning Olympic and now professional champion. Anthony’s promoter, Eddie Hearn added, “The sparring he’s had with Joe Joyce and Frazer [Clarke], it’s fantastic to watch but what it’s doing for them as well. We’re benefiting. It’s such a great situation because he’s getting great sparring and actually two guys there that I feel would probably win British titles now, they’re sparring with the world heavyweight champion [and you see] how they’ve improved.

“They’re lucky to have him back and we’re lucky to have that opportunity to work out there. And that goes not just for him, Conor Benn, Ohara Davies, Ted Cheeseman, all those kids that have been brought up. We go in, ‘It’s great let’s go and use the GB boys.’ The GB boys are going, ‘Oh great we’ve got some pros coming up to bash up.’”