This week, ES Magazine meets world champion boxer Anthony Joshua. In a candid interview, Britain’s most promising boxer opens up about how Muhammad Ali inspired him in more ways than one, what it’s really like to fight a man for a living, and why a stint in prison made him realise he needed to change his rebellious ways.
The 26-year-old from Watford also talks about his fears on the true dangers of boxing and why he only believes in equality between men and women up to a certain point.
On Muhammad Ali’s death
“Ali was a legend of our sport [he says of his late hero]. He changed boxing forever.”
[Quite aside from his remarkable feats in the ring, Ali, like Joshua, came from a humble background] “For me as a kid he inspired me to represent myself like a champion in and out of the ring. I never got the chance to meet him [but] his legacy will live on.”
On what it’s like to fight another man for a living
“I tell you what it’s like [smiles Joshua]. It’s unforgettable. It takes a certain type of man to become a boxer, to fight for a living. To be able to have the confidence to hit another man, to control your fears. You must overcome the psychical aspect and believe in the art, the discipline of the sport. You need to study. You need to be smart. Anyone can train for sport. A fighter can train himself to be a machine. But it’s what goes on above the neck that really matters. This is what separates the good from the greats, and the losers from the champs. Any man can make a plan, but as [Mike] Tyson once said: ‘Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face’.”
On how serious brushes with the law made him turn his life around
“There was a large crew of us, around 40 kids running wild. We couldn’t get into clubs as we were too young and we couldn’t get a job as we’d just finished school. We were bored. And what do young, bored men do? They get into… creative mischief. Well, that’s what I like to call it.” [Specifically, in 2009 Joshua was put on remand in Reading Prison for what he has described as “fighting and other crazy stuff”, and although released he was forced to wear a tag for a year].
[In 2011, however, it seems he hadn’t learnt his lesson: Joshua was pulled over by police for speeding in north London and was found with 8oz of cannabis and charged with intent to supply] “I was found not guilty, but I got suspended from Team GB and very nearly didn’t make the Olympics. I would have got 10 years in jail. I realised that I could either fight and get into trouble on the street, or I could fight and get paid in the ring. I chose the ring.”
On the true dangers of boxing
“My coach makes me understand how dangerous this sport is. I try not to think about it. I want to knock my next opponent out, I definitely want him down. But I walk around and people are shouting, ‘AJ knock him out! Knock him out!’ And it’s weird. Imagine people applauding you for committing a crime. It’s like that for me. You really don’t think about the crime until you get caught. If anything ever happened to one of my opponents after I hit them and I caused them injury, I would realise what a serious business this is.”
On why he believes in equality, to a certain extent
“Am I a feminist? I don’t know. I’m not really sure what that is. I am all up for equality to a certain extent, although in the home, I do feel this is where the mother excels, and the man needs to step back a bit. My family is from Nigeria and this is our culture.”
On his ultimate fears
“Two things: losing all I have worked so hard for and being unable to provide for my son’s future. And secondly, the effect boxing is having on my brain. I know if I don’t look after myself I will be talking to you in a couple of years’ time mumbling my words, and slurring. It won’t be because I am drunk it will be the fighting, taking blow after blow to the brain. That scares me. I don’t worry about being killed in the ring, it’s losing my mind that I fear.”