In Anthony Joshua’s short career as a boxer he has answered the questions asked of him. In fact, in his 18 fights as a professional he has cleared most hurdles with ease. But his worldwide prime‑time heavyweight title bout with Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday will provide obstacles of a kind he has never met before.
At his training camp in Sheffield Joshua acknowledges there are any number of challenges awaiting him when he steps out at Wembley – and not simply in the towering form of the deposed great Klitschko.
“Fighting isn’t just about who’s got the biggest punch,” Joshua says. “You’ve got to deal with all the emotions, the trash talk, the this, the that, your energy levels. That’s a part. It’s a dimension of how to win the fight.
“All of us have nerves when we fight and I think if you can control your nerves in this big arena it makes a massive difference to the performance. This is a stage I haven’t been on before. The attention, the amount of people there, it will be new. I think if you can control your nerves in this big arena it makes a massive difference to the performance.”
To listen to Joshua talk as he leans on the ropes at the gym he has called home since he began his astonishing rise to the top six years ago, one would be absolutely confident he has it in his stride. With him not biting at a single question and so relaxed one wonders who does his massages, one would be inclined to think he will remain thoroughly unfazed come fight time. There is also, however, the sense – and this is where the mental side comes in – that Mr Cool is the character Joshua is playing. His followers and perhaps he will find out how real it is only when he steps out in front of 90,000 people on Saturday night.
“If Anthony can remain the way he is going into next Saturday, I’m very confident he’ll win,” says Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter who has significantly contributed to whatever pressure exists by ensuring it will be watched by what he hopes will be the biggest pay-per-view audience in history.
“What it is going to come down to is who can deal with the pressures. I’ve never seen someone as calm as Anthony going into a fight like this. I’m nervous, I’m petrified but he remains calm. I think [between now and the fight] Wladimir will do everything he can to get into Anthony’s head.”
So far, to this point, the trash talk between Klitschko and Joshua has been notable by its politeness. Joshua has endured stronger words from Tyson Fury and his tweets about Joshua being a ‘poor man’s Frank Bruno’. But maybe that, too, is a reflection of how serious this fight is. It is a higher class of fighter playing a higher class of game. Or maybe that is just the message they want to convey.
Either way, when Klitschko has referred to Joshua it has simply been to acknowledge Joshua’s one gaudy comment, about wanting to become a boxing billionaire, and to link it to that theme of pressure. “AJ wants to become a billionaire,” Klitschko said last week. “Well, he needs to impress, he needs to show what he is capable of doing and I think that all of that in combination is tremendous pressure, unbelievable pressure.”
Is Wlad trying a subtler approach to get at his young challenger? “Of course,” says Joshua, who ties his answer into his own low-key theme, that of the 41‑year‑old Klitschko’s age. “Boxing isn’t just about the Mike Tysons of the world; there are so many ways of expressing yourself. It is a martial art.
“But there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a billionaire. If you have kids, you would advise them to set goals high. Maybe he is using that as a way to attack me because he has been in that situation before. He was accused of carrying out fights to the 12th round to secure commercial revenue, of being too muscular. Everything he has gone through he seems to be throwing at the young champion coming through. I study boxing, I see where he is coming from. I can see his angles. It is important to unsettle a fighter.”
With less than a week to go the last thing Joshua looks is unsettled. He assures people that he can lose it, that his trainer, Rob McCracken, pushes him to the edge: “When he is telling me I am doing my left hook wrong, I want to give him one to see if it is that bad.” But the reality is he will not be fazed before the moment of truth arrives.
“You really have to get under my skin to wind me up,” Joshua says. “I am not the best verbally. Then you have no control of yourself and that is not a good place to be. So I try to reserve myself. You have to just control yourself and that is the discipline of boxing. You have to stay level-headed even when you want to lose your head.
“I’m not saying I am the full package,” he concludes, smiling. “I may not trash talk, I may not throw my left hook like this or my right hand like that but I am doing all right from where I started. I have still got 10 years left in boxing … 14 if I go to 41.”