Anthony Joshua, 6ft 6in tall and 17st 8lb of prime heavyweight chiselled like an Adonis, is sitting on the apron of a training ring at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield and has spread his wingspan of 82 inches along the ropes. After a two-hour workout in which he skips majestically and athletically, hauls his huge frame with repeated pull-ups to the height of a basketball hoop, and completes his thumping pad work with trainer Rob McCracken, he is soaked in his own sweat, which drips into a pool beneath him. Massive hands, delicate, long fingers. These are the weapons, the 27-year-old relates to Telegraph Sport, with which he will “unleash hell” on the ageing, 41-year-old former world champion Wladimir Klitschko next Saturday in front of 90,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium. This is the reckoning time for the young Londoner, who sees it as “a 50-50 fight”.
After 3½ years as a professional, building a record of 18 fights and 18 one-sided knockouts, the fighter who claimed Olympic gold in 2012 as a neophyte, and his first world title last year in his 16th contest, now faces the formidable Klitschko, his first elite opponent. Joshua has never been beyond seven rounds and this is the test of whether he is ‘the real deal’.
“It’s a 50-50 fight,” admits Joshua. “He thinks it’s a 50-50, too, but I’m just confident I can beat him and that puts the odds in my favour.”
Asked how Joshua envisages the fight progressing, he pauses. Taking up the commentary, he explains: “We come out. He comes out fast. I think he likes to take the centre of the ring – he has that ring generalship. He tries to feint, feint, feint, come in and establish that jab early and try to bring that hook round the side to set up that right hand.
“I stay relaxed and analyse everything he’s trying to do. I finally find myself and my rhythm. I’m not a fighter that just goes out there throwing shots. It could take me three or four rounds to figure him out. But when I do, I’ll unleash hell. He’ll come out and establish himself early but as the rounds go on, I’ll figure out how to win, and that is always the objective.”
The truth is that no one really knows what will happen. There are so many imponderables. And it is what makes this heavyweight contest for two of the four world title belts – Joshua’s International Boxing Federation title and the vacant World Boxing Association crown, and worth an estimated £40 million – utterly fascinating.
Has Klitschko still got what it takes at 41, after 18 months out of the ring and in the wake of a defeat to another Briton, Tyson Fury? Does Klitschko truly believe in himself? What does he have left in the tank, outside pride and an obsession to reclaim the belts? Will the Ukrainian use the experience of his 68 fights and near-decade-long reign as the champion to outbox and outthink the young tyro?
Or will Joshua’s speed and power crumple his old foe like the demolition of a Victorian brick smoking tower? Which will prevail, the youth of Joshua, or the wizened experience of a man who has developed a machine-like system for winning?
Joshua appears relaxed and happy. This is his natural habitat, the gym. His office. And he is convinced that this is his time. If he gets his hand raised – with McCracken admitting that this is “a very difficult fight against a great fighter” – the riches are untold. Joshua will be elevated from the biggest star in British boxing to a new level, with the prospect of creating a heavyweight era which could have his name embossed on it. Like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Klitschko himself.
Not bad for a kid from Watford who 10 years ago was heading in the wrong direction and was once on remand in Reading jail. Boxing changed him, and his life.
“It’s a blessing to be here,” explains Joshua. “We wait so long to get to this position and it’s all over in a night. I get to the arena at 7 o’clock and by 11.30 we’re walking back and going home and talking about the evening. I’ve learnt to embrace these moments, have fun with it. The crowd are there to support me. That’s why they come out. All me and him have to do is perform. And the best man wins. I feel that’s me. I wouldn’t say it any other way.”
Joshua was raw early on in his career. In some ways, he still is. But there is the sense that the wider public sees something in the man, a first-generation immigrant of Nigerian descent, and that they want this likeable, huge man to succeed.
He stands on the cusp of something great. And he knows it. “I’d love to fight in Africa like Ali and Foreman did, that would be amazing. I’d love to fight in Vegas but it’s on the back-burner. It’s the era of UK boxing. But if I was to just do it myself it’s not as big. What do they say? Every dancer needs a dance partner… Let everyone shine.
“Tyson Fury: get fit, bounce back. Dereck Chisora: get fit. Dillian Whyte: beat Mariusz Wach. David Haye: get your leg right. Joe Parker [the World Boxing Organisation champion], Hughie Fury, [Deontay] Wilder, they are more than welcome to come over and commentate on Sky Sports. Everyone is welcome.”
Joshua laughs long and loud.
Relaxed. Too relaxed? Maybe. But when Saturday comes, that will change. “Honestly, strip the hype away and the billion-dollar dreams and I just like boxing,” he says. And ‘unleashing hell’ of course. Saturday night will be the ultimate test of that powerful pledge.
- Sky Sports Box Office will show Joshua v Klitschko exclusively live. To order go to skysports.com/joshua