IT started with a Rolex. Anthony Joshua had only just taken up the sport, hadn’t heard of Tyson Fury before, but he was sparring the young heavyweight to win the watch.
“I just thought there’s this big guy, he’s from Manchester and my coach said he said anyone who knocks him out gets his Rolex. He put it in the Boxing News. My coach said, ‘If you want that Rolex, take it to him,’” he recalled. “We went to war.
“It wasn’t really a technical thing – holding with one hand, trying to hit me, low blowing. I was an amateur. This was about 2009. I wasn’t on GB, I was really inexperienced back then – I had my first fight November 2008, I was really inexperienced. We just got into a war. I didn’t even know who he was. I didn’t get into boxing [until 2008].”
Now Fury is preparing to challenge the world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Joshua went on to win the super-heavyweight gold medal at London 2012 and is one of Britain’s brightest professional prospects. But Anthony wouldn’t mind having another crack at winning that watch. “I’ve got the G-shock on, I need that Rolly,” he says.
“Fury’s someone that’s been mentioned since I was three fights in [to his pro career]. It’s a relevant fight. You know boxing, as long as there’s interest sooner or later these fights happen. I think that’s a real realistic fight. Klitschko is at the end of his career and [I see myself] not as a competitor, more someone who will come up and take over. But Fury for sure, if he wins, he’s got every puncher’s chance, I think that’ll be good for the division over here.”
“I’m still going to get that belt. I just like Klitschko. Fury, I don’t know what he’s like,” he continued. “We’re not really on the same level [in terms of] personality. We’re not the same type of people.”
“That was a good little indication of what was to come. Fury was good for me at the time, it was really good for me to spar,” he added. Joshua has, more recently, sparred Wladimir Klitschko as well. It means he has an insider’s view of their upcoming heavyweight title clash. “If Klitschko can adapt to your style, because in boxing styles make fights, and a good fighter can change your whole gameplan. So Klitschko, from the spar I had with Fury, which was war, the spar I had with Klitschko was more looking, looking, bang. It depends whose style is more dominant. If Fury’s style is more dominant, it will be a really interesting fight. Someone will get knocked out quick.
“I think if you get the Fury, the reckless guy who comes to fight, that’ll be a real good fight. I don’t write him off at all.”
Joshua has a couple of high profile fights of his own to prepare for. On September 12 he boxes Gary Cornish for his first major belt, the Commonwealth title. If he wins that should lead him on to British title fight with Dillian Whyte, who holds an amateur win over Joshua. The Olympic gold medallist hopes to continue sparring with Klitschko as he gets ready. “That would be good. I think he would do it. I don’t think Fury would,” he said. “That would be in preparation for Dillian. Maybe we’ll both be out there [in Klitschko’s camp]. They use him as well.”
Joshua would have no problem getting some rounds in with a future opponent. “Nothing he would do to me in sparring will affect my mental state ahead of the fight. I would definitely spar him if he wanted to spar.”
Before he turns his attention to Whyte, he first has tall Highlander Gary Cornish to contend with. “I can’t really go in with too much respect. I have to go in there with the mentality that they will be defeated. But he’s live, he’s tall, he’s game,” Joshua said. “It’ll be good to showcase the slips, the body shots, the counters. It’ll be really good, I’m looking forward to it.
“Height isn’t always the winning factor in a boxing match, as we saw with [David] Price and Erkan Teper. It’s not always because he’s taller, he’s going to win. If I use his height to my advantage, I can really display a different arsenal in my tactics, like the hooks and uppercuts.”
Winning is paramount. But at this stage of his career the style of victory matters too. “It’s how you win. ‘You weren’t supposed to do that to this type of opponent, this opponent was supposed to give you problems.’ Every fight I think at the minute is so important to add to the stock and gives you attention. I think Gary Cornish took the fight as well because we’ve got something to offer him. We can bring him to Sky, they’ve got the backing financially. If I was getting manhandled by the [Kevin] Johnsons, the [Michael] Sprotts, the [Matt] Skeltons, there wouldn’t be much to offer because no one would want to invest in me. It’s important to win these fights in good fashion so it’s easier to get people in, like the Cornishes and Dillian Whytes, they’re going to get a lot in return for stepping up to the mark,” he explains.
“I now understand why people like Gary Cornish didn’t fight the Dillian Whytes of the world or doesn’t fight the Sprotts of the world, because they haven’t got much to offer. So the risk and reward balances out with myself at the minute. If I wasn’t beating these guys in good fashion, then the risk and reward wouldn’t balance out. So that’s why I’m kind of understanding why certain fights happen and certain fights don’t.”
It should lead to an exciting end to 2015. “[Cornish] is 21-0, Dillian’s 14-0, 35 wins between the both of them, no defeats, so it’ll be good if I can beat them both. That’s a good marker,” Joshua said.
The target is to become British champion before the year is out. “That’s what I need. I don’t want it, I need it. I need that British title. I need it all really. I need these belts right now, to get respect amongst people in the industry,” he insisted. “Now I need that belt so [they say] ‘you know what he’s starting to arrive on the scene’. So that’s why I really need that stuff. When you become GB champ [in the amateus] it starts to become more interesting, Europeans, Worlds. Commonwealth and British is like ABA and GB championship level. So I’m just arriving onto the scene, so I think that’s important, really important.”
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