Anthony Joshua admits that he has been feeling nervous prior to his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk, the match he says is the most high-pressure fight of his career.
Joshua attempts to claim the WBA. WBO, IBO and IBF titles for the third time at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah on Saturday.
He has a good record in rematches, having avenged an amateur loss to Dillian Whyte in a British title fight in 2015 and then won his return against Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019, on his previous trip to Saudi Arabia.
But despite having boxed in an Olympic final in 2012, a world amateur final the year before and 11 world heavyweight title fights since, the return with Usyk stands out.
“Yeah, definitely, definitely, definitely,” Joshua said when asked if he was feeling nervous. “This one yeah, because I want to win it and I want to perform well. So, it's understanding nerves and then transitioning the nerves once the ball goes into focus.
“Nerves are good if you understand them. Cus D’Amato spoke about nerves and using them and understanding those type of things - confidence and fear - and so yeah, now I understand what nerves are, you can manipulate it and use it to tour advantage.”
Joshua became a huge star in Britain after winning gold at the London Olympics, the final gold medal of a record-breaking team for Great Britain. But he says he was not that nervous because of the speed his career was progressing at the time.
“I was on tag when I started boxing and then I’m at Baku (in the World Championships final) two-and-a-half years later,” he said. “I was like ‘what the f*** is this’. It is just really unheard of that quick transition.
“But then I got really used to it to the point where I’m walking out and I’m seeing people in the crowd saying ‘what’ happening?’. Then I am too relaxed with the pressure. I think like pressure is good. I probably do well under pressure.”
Joshua replied “definitely” when asked if this was the most high pressure fight he had faced.
“It is an important fight, I can’t deny that,” he said. “Take away all like the politics and stuff that is happening, for me personally it is an important fight one that I do want to win. Not so much for what happens after. That's always been the case in my career – ‘once you to be this guy, then…’ But this fight, this is all that matters. That is where my head’s at. I do want to win.”
Joshua decided to spend the last five weeks of his training camp in Jeddah to deal with the intense heat and humidity, although the fight will be in an air-conditioned arena.
It meant he did his runs on a treadmill and only went out after dark to do sprints.
I wanted to come early, so I could get used to it as much as possible,” he said. “I don't know if the small one per cents make a difference, but you’ve got to go in there and just win.
“You can have a fighter that comes in a week before and a fighter who comes in five weeks before, it's all irrelevant. You just got to get in there and do your job.
“I don't know how much that will help me, but for me at the time when the decision was made, it was the right thing at the time. So, everything is kind of like present, with what we decided. So, on the night, if I want to win, I will win. That’s all that matters, that five-week stuff was decided five weeks ago and is done. Now. It's just about on the night.”
While Joshua believes his two defeats have helped to make him as a fighter and had considered how he would deal with a loss beforehand. Defeat is not an option this time if he is going to stay among the top few fighters in the heavyweight division.
“I refuse to lose, that’s my mindset,” he said. “I refuse to be hurt, to be knocked down, to be knocked out, I just refuse any negative situation in the ring. I declare victory already, that is just my mindset.
“The reason I expressed [the possibility of losing] before is because I looked at history - Joe Louis, you can date back, John L Sullivan, Dempsey, they all took losses, apart from Marciano.
“Muhammad Ali, considered the greatest of all time, he lost. So, I looked at myself and I thought history kind of can tell you where you're going end up. So, I just thought I might take a loss one day. So, when it did happen, because I'd already thought about it, I knew how to deal with it.
“It is a fine line, winning and losing, and I just understood what would happen if I did lose and that I’d just come back, rebound, and try my best again. And I experienced it as an amateur as well. So I learnt from those experiences, I came back, continued plodding along and that’s how I then made my way to the pro ranks and became successful because I didn't give up.”
Some have been suggesting that another defeat might signal then end, and those are voices that Joshua has heard.
“It’s a pressure to sharpen me up,” he said. “It’s a motivation. it’s a big fight, but one I feel I am positive I can win. My mind’s right, my heart is in the right place
“I want to get my heartbeat going. I want to challenge myself and I do want to put punches together that are going to affect my opponent. I do want to defend punches and I want to do things in the ring that will make me believe in myself, like ‘yeah, this is working’.
“If I’m sure if I do those things, I should be victorious.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.