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Sink or Swim: Anthony Joshua won’t make the same mistake twice

All Smiles: Anthony Joshua in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)
Joshua explains why he lost to Usyk and why he won’t do so again, writes Dec Taylor

AS THE last of the crowds drifted away down the Tottenham High Road and with the swelling around his right eye continuing to develop, Anthony Joshua was forced to assume the role of motivator inside his own dressing room in the moments that followed his defeat to Oleksandr Usyk a year ago.

The Ukrainian dazzled en route to a unanimous decision at the sold out Premier League football stadium in August, inflicting the second and possibly most devastating defeat of Joshua’s career to date.

The Londoner gets his chance of revenge in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this weekend against the southpaw great and is adamant he has made the requisite changes inside Team Joshua to somehow reverse the result. Now he has revealed that it was down to him to lift the spirits in the camp 12 months ago.

Joshua said: “I was in the changing room and I was telling everyone: ‘come on, what the f**k? We go again, come on, we are warriors. We lost a fight but we don’t lose the war’.

“This is an ongoing battle, when it is all said and done it is done, but losing a fight along the way should not dishearten you.

“It’s not over until it’s over and that’s sort of how I motivated my team after the first fight. It’s been the same since I lost as an amateur, if I had taken those losses to heart I would never have got here today. I have to keep that mentality.

“I will carry that mindset for the rest of my life too; even if you stumble, privately or publicly, what can you do to bounce back?”

Anthony Joshua after losing against Oleksandr Usyk in September 2021 (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

For Joshua, his first move in his bid to do exactly that was to sack trainer Rob McCracken, the man behind his rise from amateur wannabe to two-time multiple heavyweight belt-holder. It was a bold decision. Angel Fernandez, already part of the team, has taken a more prominent role in camp while Robert Garcia has come in as lead trainer. Joshua believes the changes are paying off already.

“Me and Rob would walk in and do skipping, shadow boxing, pads and the bag,” Joshua said. “He would obviously say things like ‘hands up’ or ‘slip there’ but Angel and Robert Garcia break things down more. I might get told ‘in this round, perfect that f**king jab… the goal in this round is to get that jab popping’. The next goal might be to tilt more when you throw the right hand. It’s more tactical like that, so there is reasoning behind the method.

“I need to use my size and power more this time. That’s evident, isn’t it? It’s not a secret. There are things that I need to use but it’s easier said than done so we work on it, that’s why training camps are so challenging and why you usually see a fighter straight on the beach after a fight, it’s draining.

“It’s evident that I am stronger and bigger and if I can impose my strengths on him, I will have a better chance of winning the fight.”

So why did that not happen in the first encounter?

“It’s crazy but the objective was never to land anything damaging,” Joshua added. “It was to land scoring punches pap, pap, pap, the art of boxing. I don’t think I hurt him but I didn’t try to.

“I didn’t have a winning mindset for Usyk, I didn’t think ‘I want to go in there and smash him’. I wanted to compete with him at boxing and see how good I was at it. Fighting a leftie is a nightmare and he is a good one as well. He is good – but if he was an orthodox fighter I would have smoked him, 100 per cent. But with this leftie nonsense it’s just different, they set you up differently. Was he more skilful than I expected? He was fitter than I expected, so I have to be better conditioned next time. I know it will be a much tougher fight. I can’t say too much but in my heart I definitely want to throw punches to hurt.”

It was suggested in the wake of the defeat that Joshua, a multi-millionaire who has already achieved everything he set out to achieve in the sport, might just walk away altogether. That was never the case for him.

“I knew I would fight again,” he said. “It’s been a nightmare just sitting on the loss. I have a good record so even when I lose you have to look back at everything we have achieved in the past. The loss has happened but it is based on hype, I have been in with the best time and time again.

“When I first started boxing, I did it for the love and passion and then I wanted to make smart decisions. The small empire I have built around me is quite basic.

“I think maybe when I retire from boxing I will be a bit more flash. But as for now I will keep hustling and grinding and keep giving my best to this sport of boxing, because it is a very tough sport.

“How long have I got left? The timeframe changes every day. I am going to be 33 this year and I have dedicated a lot of my life to the sport already. I think a lot of fighters tend to retire around 35-36. It’s a tough old game, heavyweights today are very different, a lot will come down to how long my body can hang on for. I always predicted, at the start of my career, that I thought I would be the sort of fighter who had to suffer defeats and go down this route, because of the challenges I take. I like taking good challenges and I have even done that as an amateur, always straight in the deep end.”

Now, once again, it is sink or swim time for Joshua. 

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