Anthony Joshua doesn’t believe you can read too much into a face-off, but as well as a new haircut, there was one notable difference as he stood face to face with Oleksandr Usyk since their meeting last September.
“He’s got a slice scar on his eye… from me,” Joshua said. “I was thinking back, I cut up a few people’s faces; Paul Butlin, Usyk, I split Pulev’s lip.
“I just grazed Ruiz, he doesn’t count because I mean properly smashing faces in. I like that stuff.”
When they first met in September, many were amazed that Joshua seemed to try to outbox Usyk. After all, Usyk was a master southpaw and Joshua’s career had reached the highs it had on the back of his ability to knock people out. Yet there he was, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, swapping jabs with the Ukrainian. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on August 20
“One of my strengths was my power but I always wanted to go down that path of being a clean boxer, ‘hit and not get hit, especially if I want to have a long and successful career,” he said.
“You need to have good defense but I moved away from the ferocious side of boxing where I knew I could hit and stun people. And I do miss the days of slicing people’s faces open and hurting them, for sure. So, I am looking forward to getting back to that.”
The upshot of the loss to Usyk saw Joshua leave his longtime coach Robert McCracken, who had been with him since his days on the GB amateur squad. Angel Fernandez, who was brought into his training team in 2019, was kept on, while Robert Garcia was brought in.
“In terms of Rob not being in the camp, it’s cool. No problem. Boxing is boxing. I respect Robert Garcia and I respect Angel but a different environment was needed at that time. I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn’t forced, it was my own decision.
“From 2019 we brought Joby [Clayton] and Angel on straight after. I wanted to grow, I had three options: change what I had completely, bring in new people and add to the team, or keep what we have, don’t make any changes. At that stage in 2019 - I said let’s just add to what we had. Now. to completely change is the last part to the jigsaw. That’s where we are now.”
On the night he lost to Usyk, Joshua admits that no one was telling him in the corner that he was losing.
“There was a lot going on in the corner and that didn’t help,” he said. “A corner is like a pitstop. You’ve got probably 55 seconds in total to calm down, hydrate, simple instructions. That’s the way you should do it. Too many voices at once is definitely not good for anybody.
“I was being told things like ‘double jab, right, left hook’ it wasn’t like ‘take the fight to this f------, listen you’re losing the fight’. A trainer needs to tap into that psychological aspect now because if you can overcome your mind, you can give more.”
Indeed, Joshua was under the impression he was winning the fight, even in the final round where he was hurt on the ropes. Hence his surprise when Usyk’s hand was raised.
“I swear I thought I was [winning]. I thought I was looking like Muhammad Ali in there,” he said.
“I can show you sparring footage where I’m on the ropes leaning back. They tell you to train adversity, right. So put your hands down and let a motherf----- throw punches at you and you just sit, sit, sit. That’s how you gain confidence. So, in the fight in the 12th, I’m doing this stuff.
“Throughout the fight I thought I was winning but at that stage I kind of knew it was close. I thought at that stage I was well in the fight because it didn’t seem like there was any real communication as to where I’m at. Like ‘you’re losing this fight… you’re down by two rounds’. I didn’t get that.
“I’m not blaming anyone by saying that but I didn’t get any impression that I was losing the fight. I thought we were well in it. That’s why when they announced the name I was kind of like ‘huh?’
“So, I was jabbing and jabbing. It was hard to accept afterwards. Now when I watch it back, I think he won by three rounds, that’s probably from the ninth round onwards.”
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.