By Dean Berks – The other day I was shopping and bought a can of Lynx gold body spray, the one with Anthony Joshua’s image on. I came home, turned on my Kindle, and there he was again, advertising Under Armour sports wear. Then upon turning on the TV, I was graced once again with the big man himself, this time advertising a form of protein powder. None of this is new I’d like to add, as fighters throughout history have endorsed many a product and lent their name to a variety of items, all to keep their name out there and to keep that bank balance topped up. The problems start however, when that world starts to take centre place over what made that fighter famous in the first place: ie. boxing.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen less of Joshua in the ring than we have on various TV shows and other appearances as he pushed forward the “AJ” brand. Then last Saturday night we witnessed a monumental upset as the Joshua train came to a shuddering halt, courtesy of Andy Ruiz Jr. Questions, opinions and theories instantly bounded around the internet like Zebadee on acid (one for you old timers there), some supportive, and more than a few gloating at the fall of DAZN’s heavyweight crown jewel. With the rematch now confirmed for November or December of this year, I would like to add my take on why I feel certain things may have contributed to AJ’s first defeat and why this may all be a blessing in disguise.
1. Too much too soon.
Just before Joshua faced Charles Martin for the IBF title, I penned an article questioning why today’s prospects are being rushed in to title shots before they have learned their trade. Joshua was one of the main ones I was referring too. Although his achievements as an amateur were highly impressive, he still didn’t enter in to boxing until his late teens and then had under forty bouts. Turning professional, he had plenty of time to develop, gradually stepping up into European class, whilst adding a couple of ten rounders over in the States on the undercard of big fights, all preparing him for the pressure and mental side of the game. Instead he was thrust in to a World title fight against a highly beatable opponent (Martin) and from there he would have to develop under a microscope as the whole world picked apart his performances with forensic precision. And then after his win over Klitschko, there was no hiding and the expectations went in to overdrive. There’s no doubt that when he entered the ring against Ruiz, he looked distracted, maybe even a little overawed, by the occasion, once again raising the notion that had he experienced this at a lower level, he may well have felt more comfortable in this environment. Ruiz, who has been boxing since he was seven, had the knowledge and approach of a man who knew what he had to do. Experience is everything. Psychologically, home comfort definitely seems to be a thing with Joshua.
2. His Training Team
Joshua has always confirmed that the happiest time of his career was during his amateur days. Thus, it’s no surprise that he likes to continue his training at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield under the guidance of Rob McCracken. McCracken was a world class middleweight in his time and his work with Carl Froch and the GB team has been superb. But does that make him the right fit for Joshua? I accept that I may be in the minority here but I felt that Joshua was progressing superbly under Tony Sims. When you hit as hard as Joshua you don’t sit on the back foot and try to box. Sims had him working behind a strong, forceful jab, whilst putting punches together in powerful combinations. Under McCracken he has appeared to want to return to a style similar to the unpaid code, a trend that we can thank Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk for. The problem is not everyone can fight that way, and most need to settle down and plant their feet more in the professional game. None of this is a knock on McCracken who is a top class trainer and I don’t believe he is in any way at fault for Joshua’s loss. However, fighters need a trainer more suited for their style, and even in more recent performances, Joshua has appeared to box within himself, raising the questions as to whether this team has gone as far as it can go. Joshua has come out and stated his intention to remain with McCracken, but maybe the addition of an extra voice in the team could help. Or more sparring around the gyms in the States, absorbing the atmosphere and hunger that some of these can offer. Either way, the focus is to iron out flaws and the chance to mold Joshua in to the fighter he is, not the one he wishes he could be. Eddie Futch once had to convince Riddick Bowe to settle down and not try to box like Muhammad Ali as he knew his style and size would not allow him to do this over a certain distance. He got Bowe planting his feet and using his natural size and power. Unfortunately he couldn’t hide the fridge from Bowe, but he brought the best out of him by focusing on his strengths. Maybe a lesson could be learned from that.
When you are/were the Heavyweight champion of the world and as humble and articulate as Joshua, then it’s completely understandable that everyone wants you to make an appearance or endorse their product. But, as stated above, when being a celebrity takes over being a boxer, then troubles are bound to follow. We are constantly reminded that Joshua is still learning but then surely he should be in the ring and not a studio. These constant appointments are robbing him of his ring education. Only so much can be taught in camp, the real education can only be gained in a fight. But his management have made a rod for their own backs on this one in my opinion. After rushing him in to a title shot they then installed him as a pay-per-view fighter only. BIG mistake. You cannot expect him to develop while he fights twice a year. There are not enough opponents who are considered pay-per-view quality, no matter how stacked a card is, because Joshua is the main event. So keeping him active on normal cards should have been the pattern. But by creating the “AJ” brand, this has become detrimental in his development. For Joshua to move forward he needs to cut down on his commitments and prioritise his life as a fighter.
So can he make it back to the top? Without a doubt. Joshua is one of the most naturally gifted heavyweights out there. But he must learn to focus on his boxing career before anything else. That he looked a little relieved after the loss says an awful lot about the pressure he must have been carrying. Now that he has suffered a defeat, I feel it will rekindle the fire inside of him that dimmed when he started to believe his own hype. He did become complacent, even hiring a psychologist to help him stay motivated, not a good sign at all. But a pumped up, hungry Joshua could become a much better and complete fighter than before.
Joshua’s loss gave ammo to the “I knew he wasn’t that good” brigade, but in boxing, one punch can change everything, and it’s that moment that keeps us all coming back for more. Also, remember that he displayed tremendous heart and courage to keep dragging himself off of the canvas, to keep going, even more so than in the Klitschko fight. So we know he has the heart of a fighter.
I do believe we will see a big change in his approach and attitude as he looks to get back on track. I expect him to exact revenge too, in a more ruthless and clinical way, and get back in the mix with Fury and Wilder. The months between now and then are crucial and I genuinely hope we see less of him than before so we know that he is trying to iron out the creases in his game.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler once said “It’s hard to get out of bed and run at 5am when you have been sleeping in silk pyjamas”. Joshua has earned more than the average Joe will earn in two or three lifetimes. But let’s hope for boxing’s sake that that is a big second to becoming what he always set out to be: Heavyweight champion of the world. It’s over to you AJ.