The champion is talking about the weight of the crown. And Mars. And hidden tribes and poisonous frogs. It’s to do with the expectations of others and why, occasionally, it can be nice to think of a place and time where none of that exists.
It’s a thought he drifts to every so often. Sometimes he shares it as a joke, and others less so, because in his mind there is a comfort in the silence that might come after this chapter.
‘Once boxing is done everything gets deactivated,’ he says. ‘No one will ever see me again. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos — come on, we are going to Mars, baby.’
Anthony Joshua is planning on joining an Amazon tribe or going to Mars after boxing
They refer to two Anthony Joshuas in his circle. There’s the one you know and the one they know, who has a different name. There’s AJ, the shining brand and the golden goose; then there’s Femi, the reformed hustler from Watford who, if he could, would stay up through the night watching clips of anything, anything at all, from Jack Dempsey to the independence of the Congo.
This conversation is mainly with Femi, in so much as it is ever possible in boxing to separate the man and what has been manufactured. He’s been through a long few months by the time we catch up, and a long old camp, too. It started with an agreement to fight that other guy and it will end on September 25, when he enters a ring at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to negotiate the considerable talents of Oleksandr Usyk.
‘August 14,’ he says. ‘That’s when the Fury fight was booked. It would have happened by now.’
But he’ll come back to that, both in this chat and in more meaningful ways, if boxing ever finds a way to stop soiling its sheets. For now, there’s just a sigh. Joshua is in no mood for trash talk today, nor the theatre of boxing promotion and the wider games of publicity. It is ‘noise’, as he calls it.
His commitment to his vocation has intensified since the Andy Ruiz defeat in 2019
Noise can be good. Noise can help you dance, and no one in the fighting trade has quite so many partners as this guy, who is paired with car companies, clothing lines, drinks manufacturers, documentary makers, providers of CBD oil, and most dots in between. Where there is a pie, one of Joshua’s fingers is nearby, and he’s worth somewhere north of £115million, says the Sunday Times Rich List. Noise helped build that.
But that business of noise has a tendency to leave a ringing in the ears. Noise attracts other noise — about family, how much the house cost; about a star, what they ought to achieve in sport, and what they ought to represent outside of it. After a time, noise has a habit of outstaying its welcome.
It is something that happens a little to a lot of athletes, but is only at its most intense for a very select few — Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, Raheem Sterling and Anthony Joshua, for nine years and counting. With the addition of Emma Raducanu, those individuals are arguably the peaks of transcendence in British sport.
Joshua is now worth somewhere north of £115million, says the Sunday Times Rich List
So to listen to Joshua is to get a fuller understanding of the complications of life within those glass walls. It is not an entirely comfortable place. ‘When I finish, I am going to go to the Amazon with an uncontacted tribe and just sit back,’ he says. ‘Frog venom, eating plants, all of it.’ He’s laughing but then he isn’t. ‘Do you know what it is?’ he continues, shuffling forward on his couch in Sheffield. ‘A lot of us fighters came into the game and had aspirations, maybe to buy their mother a home, fought guys and the next thing they are stuck in this business. It is difficult.
‘I never thought I would kind of grow to be in this position. It comes with pressure because honestly, I never yearned for the fame or attention. I just dedicated myself to the sport.
‘If I could just focus on the sport, I would do it for a long amount of time. But it is everything else that comes with it that tends to steer people away. They say fame and fortune and attention is a gift, but it can also be a curse.
‘As I said, if it is just purely boxing, let’s go as long as we can, but everything else that comes with it, that is why some people just want to distance from that world when it is all done, and go back to their original entrance.’
Joshua insists he is ‘shutting out the noise’ and is fully focused on fine tuning his craft
There’s a wait and then he goes again. ‘Boxers, we are pure. We just wanted to elevate ourselves and we found ourselves addicted to progress in our sport. And then it became about being a role model, standing up for certain things, and we make mistakes, we get things right. It is an interesting time to be a sportsman.
‘When I entered the game, it was for the love of it. It was all pure and you always want to chase yourself back to why you started, that pure element of why I wanted to be involved in boxing.
‘I just want to fight.’
This time next week, Joshua will be where he wants to be, if not against the man he expected to fight. But Usyk, 34, is dangerous. Seriously so. To the passer-by, he is just the other guy on the poster, and he is not Tyson Fury. To those with an acuter interest in these things, there is an excitement that this fight for Joshua’s WBA, IBF, IBO and WBO world titles could be exceptional.
It was Joshua who was launched into our consciousness when he won the super-heavyweight gold at the London 2012 Olympics, but Usyk took the same prize in the division beneath him a day earlier. From there the Ukrainian has had 18 pro fights and won them all, with the accumulation of each of the four cruiserweight world titles before he stepped up two years ago for rows with bigger men.
If there is a pause for doubt around Usyk, it is that the naturally smaller fighter was less than emphatic in his points win against Derek Chisora last year, though he has seemingly never been afflicted with issues around confidence. Indeed, he looked into the camera after that victory and said: ‘Anthony, how are you? I’m coming for you, Anthony.’
Joshua is laughing. ‘The first time we actually met was in Saudi Arabia in 2019. It was around the Andy Ruiz rematch,’ he says.
‘I know exactly when — it was December 8, so the day after I beat Ruiz. Our hotels were opposite each other and then in the morning, I was walking across to that hotel and he was walking across to mine. We passed and I said, “Uuuuusssssyyyykkk”. We didn’t really chat.’
Joshua knows the scale of this challenge, notwithstanding the pair of £100m Fury paydays that might be jeopardised with defeat.
‘Talent-wise I love the challenge of this guy because he has done well and he wants it,’ Joshua says. ‘He is a God-fearing man, very religious, comes from a lineage of great champions like Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, Vasyl Lomachenko. He puts the effort in and gets results.
‘Yeah, he’s passionate and dedicated to his cause, which makes him a confident person. He likes to have laughs, and has fun with his work. I have seen mad people and he isn’t a mad person. He is just fun. He is having fun because he knows what he is doing.
Excitement is building for Joshua’s showdown with Oleksandr Usyk on September 25
‘Believe me, there is a lot of respect there.’
The camp has been hard. The sting of losing the first Andy Ruiz fight in 2019, his only professional defeat in 25 bouts, has thrown a slight echo around those that have followed, particularly in conditioning how Joshua handled the build-up to this encounter.
Complacency was cited by some as a possible cause of that extra-ordinary loss, with Joshua having initially prepared to face Jarrell Miller, who was pulled out at short notice because of a failed drugs test. If there is any similarity to that scenario this time it is that Joshua might be forgiven for approaching a dangerous opponent with half a thought on who should have been in the other corner. That would be a tremendous mistake against Usyk, but on that front it is worth hearing the whispers from those in his orbit.
It is well documented that throughout his career he has trained under Rob McCracken in Sheffield, living Monday to Friday in a small flat and returning to London each weekend. Less well known is he has owned a three-bedroom house in the city for the past year, and for this 10-week camp it is understood he has stayed in Sheffield for close to the duration, believing the reduced time on the road will make an important difference.
‘I’m tired,’ he says, looking noticeably lighter of build, which would suggest speed could be his weapon of choice against Usyk.
‘There is a lot of fatigue in camp. Right now, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. I have been heading through it and there are long weeks ahead, but you are saying to yourself, “Come on, nearly done, just stick with it. It is round the corner”.
‘I wish the fight was tomorrow, because it’s fatigue on the brain, fatigue on the body, staying consistent for such a long period of time during camp. But I am a professional, dedicated to this cause. This is me. I am a fighter.’
Usyk is from a lineage of tough Ukrainians and is not being overlooked by the Joshua camp
His commitment to his vocation is said to have intensified since the Ruiz defeat, and quite possibly there has been a shifting in Joshua’s wider outlook during that period, too.
There are those in his circle who say he was taken aback by the depth of criticism he received for losing to such an under-rated fighter, a beating that also took away the mystique of his invincibility. ‘He was built up and then kicked in the nuts,’ as it was put by one trusted figure last week.
Perhaps the backlash to the Ruiz loss explains some of his aversion to ‘noise’. It is interesting to note the same source painted a picture of a fighter who has become less concerned with his public perception, and possibly more detached as a result. It is presented to Sportsmail in the context of a deeper focus on boxing.
‘When he turned pro after the Olympics, he would do a few after-dinner functions,’ the source said. ‘He was always massively professional but would do stuff, go some places. Now you wouldn’t get him to do it for any money. He just wants to fight. His drive is off the charts.’
For his part, Joshua tries to minimise the Ruiz loss, bury it even, but plainly it is still there.
‘What I realised from the Ruiz fight is that from so much I have given to the sport, I cannot let that be the one thing I am remembered for,’ he says. ‘I don’t remember it myself. It was one small drop in the ocean. We have done so much in boxing, so many big nights, I don’t let that be a marker in the sand. I focus more on what is to come.’
What is to come? That will always be a loaded question.
Joshua was finishing up at the gym when he got the message in May that the fight with Tyson Fury was off. It was just about all done, and then it wasn’t, with Fury ordered by an arbitration judge to face Deontay Wilder for a third time instead.
‘I think I had been training and I had a text message and some missed calls on my phone,’ he says. ‘My management messaged me and said, “This is the situation”, but also immediately they said, “We have this other option lined up if you want it”. Fine, let’s go.
‘It was weird how I felt.’
The 31-year-old insists the two planned £100m fights with Tyson Fury will happen in Britain
He turns up his palms. ‘I just think in 100 years all this stuff will be irrelevant, and honestly, I don’t let it bother me too much. I love boxing history, right. Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, Dempsey, Ali, Jack Johnson — fighters have had major issues in boxing. For me, this is mine.’
But still Fury lingers over Joshua, as Joshua lingers over Fury. For all the great names on both their records, it is clear they will define one another’s career, depending on how those fights go, and if they go. They need each other.
‘We were meant to have fought by now and here we are talking about it,’ Joshua says. ‘But it will happen. I know what people are saying about boxing politics, but I’ll promise before the end of my career I will have done everything in my power to fight Tyson Fury.
‘We saw it with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (not fighting until they were beyond their primes) but that was a superstar fight. Me and Fury is streets, two warriors, two fighters who have come from the amateur system in the UK, and have taken the world by storm.
He says his fight with Fury is a British showdown and could take place in the O2 or York Hall
‘We’ll get it on in Britain. Don’t worry about age, boxing politics, don’t worry about the American dollar. This is a British UK fight which can happen at Wembley, Tottenham, the O2, York Hall.
‘I look at it less as a mega-fight for the world and more from the point of view that we are guys who first met in Finchley ABC. It is a grassroots fight.’
In the past fortnight, Fury has taken a few digs in that way of his. Joshua isn’t biting.
‘I feel like boxing was better back in the day,’ he explains. ‘There was a lot more like, “We don’t have to get along, but we respect each other”. I respect Usyk because he’s a good fighter. That’s why we’re meeting at the top.
‘So, with Fury, you know, let’s not use each other’s name to pull him down to lift me up. We don’t need to do that. Let’s just get it on.’
If only this sport was so simple. With luck, that fight happens, but with boxing, no path is straightforward — particularly when Wilder and Usyk are manning gates at either end.
Beyond that, and whatever legacy gets thrown up, Joshua’s plan is to retire at 36. At 31 it gives him five years, and then who knows? He wants to stay in boxing ‘out of love’, and he says he wants to give over more energy to various causes.
‘I have to focus on fighting for now,’ he adds. ‘I would rather do something 100 per cent than 70 per cent.’
Then again, he might go to Mars. Or the jungle. Out of sight and earshot. If he gets to fight Fury, it will likely be well earned.