THERE are myriad differences between New York and Riyadh. The former is laced with boxing history and, should you wish to find them, irresistible scenes of hedonism and debauchery. But with the highs come the lows: It’s grubby and cluttered and hectic while nearly every corner of the city is scattered with homeless people asking for money. The latter, meanwhile, is new to both boxing and tourism so is severely lacking in focal points for the fight fanatic to visit. Yet it’s astonishingly clean and welcoming and a far cry from that terrifying location we were warned about (where one wrong move could result in your head being chopped off).
Perhaps the most striking difference, at the time of writing at least, is the demeanour of Anthony Joshua. Back in June, several floors up in a Manhattan hotel, Joshua was borderline dismissive as he sat down with the media six days before Andy Ruiz Jr turned him and the boxing world upside down with a ferocious display. So ferocious and dominant was the Mexican – making “AJ” look more mechanical and basic than ever before – that I was completely convinced he would win the return.
On this pre-fight Monday, though, Joshua seemed acutely aware of what he must do to restore order. He was gracious with the press in a way he hasn’t been for a while. That’s not to say he’s ever been rude, but certainly since he defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2017 Joshua increasingly seemed to find sitting with the media something of a chore. It undoubtedly is to a certain degree yet Joshua, back in the role of challenger for the first time in three-and-a-half years, displayed a renewed hunger and eagerness to improve. He knows that he started to believe his own hype. He even admitted, as he looked back on his mindset going into fight one, he had got to the point – after being at the top for so long and treated accordingly – that he had nothing left to learn. It was a recipe for disaster.