YOU know the feeling. Late on a Saturday night, you say a few things you shouldn’t. Then you wake up on Sunday morning, dazed and confused, and wish you hadn’t. But the difference between Anthony Joshua’s outburst and the standard weekend outburst is that there was no alcohol involved. Instead, Joshua had swallowed numerous punches to the head.
Ordinarily, his management team rarely let Joshua talk freely for any length of time. When they do, they hang on his shoulder, they listen carefully, they terminate discussions if they need to. It’s a shame nobody stepped in when a beaten-up and emotional Joshua asked for a microphone after a very hard fight. Joshua, like countless other fighters after a gruelling scrap, was in no state to think clearly, much less talk coherently.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider policies when it comes to post-fight interviews and the like. In Britain, for example, we’re not allowed to hear from judges or referees because what they say might be badly received. A spur of the moment justification for a peculiar card or badly-timed stoppage may do more harm than good. Yet it’s no problem for a potentially concussed boxer to be cross-examined. Joshua’s address was different, I know, but it’s a worthwhile talking point nonetheless.
Joshua has been widely criticised since. But after watching his moment of madness several times, it seems that good intentions were at the route of it, or so it appeared by the time he was back in the ring and asking for the microphone. He wanted to congratulate his conqueror but was still trying to fathom how he had been conquered. He wanted to tell Usyk he understood how hard it must have been to prepare when his country was at war. That he couldn’t find the right words should be no surprise. Take it for what it was – an impassioned speech by a broken fighter. One who was desperate to win and fully expected to win. A fighter struggling to come to terms with the fact he hadn’t. A fighter, full stop.
We should not forget how boxers transform themselves as the fight draws close. They become focused on battle, they become selfish out of necessity. They lose some of the human being inside. And once those hackles have been aroused, it takes more than the final bell for the fighter to then return to a state that the rest of us would describe as normal. Fighters are not normal, they’re not like you and I, they simply can’t be to do what they do.
Talking to Steve Bunce later that night, a calmer, more thoughtful Joshua said: “I wish I held it together, but it’s hard to hold it together, all of the time.”
The pressure he is under, on a daily basis, to not only be a fighter but to be a celebrity, is impossible to comprehend. Every single time he leaves his house he has to be wearing the right clothes, saying the right words, acting in the right way. For 10 years he has been living under a microscope while his management team have furnished his cleaner than clean image and dictated who he can and can’t talk to. Something had to give.
That Joshua is seemingly still improving as a boxer, after all these years inside that pressure cooker, is testament to his desire, and dedication to the sport. He has been a credit to boxing, too. Never once cutting corners in training, always seeking out his toughest challenges, Joshua’s mission to be the best he can be deserves only admiration. Those minutes after the contest were likely the first time he realised he may never truly rule the world irrespective of the graft he puts in. For a workaholic like Joshua, one who has spent the best part of 11 months preparing for this return, that must have been difficult to stomach.
Yet Joshua can come again. There should be no shame in losing to Usyk. No shame in going back to the drawing board, armed with lessons aplenty from 24 rounds shared with arguably the best fighter out there today. Joshua’s learning curve has been a steep one in recent years. Perhaps we all expected too much as we embraced the hype, the noise, and the excitement. Perhaps Joshua himself expected too much as a consequence.
Against Usyk on Saturday night, however, he was better than he’d been before. Though 32, Joshua may well have his best years ahead of him. One of the best heavyweights in a good era, Joshua can get even better. And we, as fans and onlookers who are sometimes too quick to criticise, can get better too.