Anthony Joshua says he feels under pressure to deliver a spectacular finish when he returns to boxing in front of a big crowd for the first time in three years against Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday.
It was September 2018 that Joshua stopped Alexander Povetkin at Wembley in front of 80,000 fans, the last in a run of huge stadium events that had begun with his career-defining win over Wladimir Klitschko.
But since then, things have been on a smaller scale – fights with Andy Ruiz Jr in New York and Saudi Arabia and a 1,000-strong Covid-restricted crowd at Wembley Arena.
Joshua insists, however, that he is better now than ever before.
“I feel better now than I did going into the Klitschko fight,” Joshua said. “It’s not about nerves but I’m just more experienced and I know what I’m doing. I know what I'm going to do – I just know – a knockout.
“It’s Kronk style. I've been watching a lot of certain things – I like Emanuel Steward's mindset. Obviously, you have to do your ABCs but if you follow them you get to KO.
“That’s what I’m here to do – put on a spectacular show. People want to see knockouts. That’s what we’ve got to deliver for the fans.”
Joshua and Usyk came face to face for the first time on Thursday for the press conference at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which was being rapidly transformed ahead of Saturday night’s fight.
It was their first formal meeting. They have attended each other’s fights before, they boxed at amateur tournaments together – including the 2012 Olympics where they both won gold medals a day apart – but there had been no launch press conference, no shouty staged confrontations across television studios. When they stood face to face, Usyk came up to Joshua’s nose.
“The last place I would want to be is facing myself, Joshua said, “I’m not an easy fight for anyone. I love fighting. God has blessed me and shown me the path to get into boxing.
“There has to be a reason why I’m here because it has been so quick. I’m here, I’m happy and I’m blessed.
“I don’t fight good fights to get people to respect me, but if you tell me to fight King Kong, I’d give it a go. This is my job, I’m just going to work. This is a blessing, these are the best days of my life.”
Joshua believes he has improved since he last boxed, having used much of lockdown to concentrate on improving his craft.
“You’ve got to want to train, you’ve got to want to put the work in, you’ve got to want to improve,” he said.
“When I started boxing it was fun because I was absolutely sh!t when I started. I’m still getting better.
“I used to train and get better and three months later, I’d come back and, beat the guys who used to beat me up. This fight gave me the motivation to practice against a really good fighter, so I’ve had fun in camp.
“Through practice, you can see improvements. Like a dog or a baby, I’ve praised when I do well and that makes me want to do give more.”
Joshua, who went from entering a boxing gym for the first time to winning Olympic gold in four years, still believes he is making up for lost time.
“I wasn’t on the amateur scene long enough to get to know a lot about Usyk,” Joshua said.
“He had 10 or 12 years as an amateur before he went to the Olympics and the worlds, so he has been fighting for a long time.
“I love everything they do. I love everything my opponents do. The cream always rises to the top.
“He’s comfortable to be in this position and so am I.”
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.