Anthony Joshua Reflects On Milestone Moments Before Francis Ngannou Fight

03/02/2024 - No comments

An action-packed night of ‘Knockout Chaos’ – live worldwide on DAZN PPV – awaits at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh on Friday, March 8, where Anthony Joshua faces Francis Ngannou at the top of another huge card in Saudi Arabia.

With just one week to go until his blockbuster Heavyweight showdown with the former MMA king, two-time World Champion and London 2012 Olympic gold medallist ‘AJ’ has taken a special stroll down ‘Memory Lane’ with DAZN’s iconic lead commentator, Mike Costello, to reveal the fascinating inside story behind some of the key moments during his illustrious career so far.

From turning up in a George ASDA suit at his Matchroom signing over a decade ago in July 2013, to downing a pint of Forged Irish Stout with Conor McGregor, Joshua fondly looks back at a collection of key images from his incredible journey in the sport – before he switches focus to his new link-up with trainer Ben Davison and his plot to bring down Ngannou in Saudi Arabia before climbing back to the summit of the Heavyweight division.

You can watch the full video on the Matchroom Boxing YouTube channel

YouTube video

MIKE COSTELLO: London 2012. When you look at that, what’s the first thing that enters your mind?

ANTHONY JOSHUA: What am I doing here? You know, three years before that I was looking at a long, lengthy court case and a possible sentence in jail – and now, I’m the flag bearer of Great Britain. So, it was fun, but I didn’t know what was coming or how I ended up there, to be honest with you.

MC: You’ve gone on to win a World Title, James DeGale did the same, but it’s only the two of you who have done that in men’s boxing from Great Britain (won have Olympic gold for Team GB and gone on to win a World Title).

AJ: Is it? Wow. I do believe that someone else will achieve it too. It’s like when the four-minute mile was first spoken about. It was impossible until someone done it. For now, it is rare, for sure, but I can’t wait for the next young lot of Heavyweights, or whatever weight they come through, and make us look like ordinary people. I think there’s so much talent out there that hasn’t been discovered yet.

MC: Onto the next one. This is handshakes with Eddie Hearn for your first promotional agreement. You look like you’ve been dressed by your mum for your first day at school!

AJ: Haha! Yes. I used to get my stuff from ASDAGeorge, ASDA! I’d take it to a tailor and get it chopped up for a tenner, then come and present myself to the world. You must remember up until this point, the only time I’d ever really have to wear suits was to court dates or funerals. Now I’m doing big business. From a young age, I always had a hustler’s head on my shoulders so I could stand strong with Eddie Hearn – an educated man, who’s come from a good family. I’ve come from a good family too, but for me, personally education wasn’t always my main priority. I felt like at this stage in my life, boxing wasn’t the hard part. Making sure my business was in the right order was the hardest part.

MC: And that was the promotional agreement that you were so keen to, as you say, ‘hustle’ and keep control of your career from a management side?

AJ: Yes. There’s a saying in Boxing, where Boxing is the only jungle where the lions are afraid of the rats – because you’ve seen what many other promoters have done to boxers before. It wasn’t so long ago, in the 1980s and 90s, when athletes were being taken advantage of by some. It’s such a shame because you see them today – and these are my heroes, and the heroes of so many others – and they’re the guys who really made the Boxing industry work. Thankfully, Eddie has proven to me to be one of the best in the business. The Hearn family and Matchroom Boxing have stuck to their word, so I’ve stuck with them, and I would advise anyone in Boxing to look at them as a promoter and a promotional outfit. They taught me, not only how to navigate my career, but they gave me access to help understand how the business fronts.

MC: And you’ve been good to them as well, and this is where it all started with your pro debut, almost a year after the Olympics against Emanuele Leo.

AJ: Yes, Emanuele Leo. And 8-0 fighter. It’s good to get people talking: “Oh my god, this new boxer is coming in and taking on some guy who has had eight fights and won them… let’s see how he’s going to get on.” We did that and I got the job done.

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MC: What was the standard like and what did it feel like on the night, to come off the back of the standard at the Olympics against [Roberto] Cammarelle, [Ivan] Dychko, [Zhilei] Zhang and all the rest?

AJ: It didn’t really mean anything at this stage if I’m honest. I didn’t know what was going on! I just kind of trained well and gave my best. You must remember before then I never really had any intention of being a boxer. It wasn’t like, “this is my dream”. This was an experience, rather than a dream. So, I was just riding the wave. I call it a situation where if you know where you’re going, you can turn up to a red carpet and know how to walk down it – you’ll know where you’re going because this has always been part of your plan. But, for me, it’s like the red carpet has been rolled out and I’m just a few steps behind it as it’s going and I’m figuring it out as I go along.

MC: So, did it take time to get comfortable in that space and in that environment?

AJ: Yeah, the pro ranks is different. No head guard, different gloves, smaller ring. Your bare. You’re fighting some of the toughest and best fighters in the world, so this was my learning time in the pro ranks.

MC: In this one, we move on to 2017 and this is you with your arms raised after the first knockdown against Vladimir Klitschko. What’s going through your mind here as the referee is counting?

AJ: I thought I had won! And I thought I was going to win it from this point on. This is round five and I went on to fight another six rounds after this. So yeah, I thought I’d won it but there was still a long, steep mountain to climb against one of the former greats in Vladimir Klitschko. What I learned after this fight is that there are levels. This guy [Klitschko] is the first guy who ever took me to 11 rounds and obviously he had the pedigree to be in that position to do that. For me, I’ve always said that I need to be a cut above the rest, so I went away to improve, change my style and so forth… and it has brought me to where I am today you know. That fight is the fight that brought to this point here and big-time boxing is back.

MC: We’re onto ring walks, how big and how important, of the entire experience, are they to you?

AJ: They’re not so much, because fight focused fight focused. There’s nothing bigger than a victory. It’s not how you walk in; it’s how you walk out. That’s my opinion. But at the same time, I do know it’s not for me, it’s for the crowd. I only do it for the crowd. I’ve walked in with no music before. It is a job. You want to get in there and do your job at the end of the day. All of this stuff here, like Prince Naseem Hamed – what a an entertainer, he was one in a million – but it’s not for everyone.
 

MC: This is Conor McGregor after Robert Helenius last year. Talking about entertainment and the whole package, what do you make of Conor McGregor?

AJ: Conor? Larger than life character. He’s someone that you can take inspiration from. Remember, we’re only here once and you have to love live life. A lot of people are like, each to their own, reserved, quiet and just getting through life. He’s someone that is at the forefront of live and living it to its full capacity in his own right – and I like that about him a lot. I like that about him.

MC: Is there any mileage in talking to him about what’s coming up given he fought Mayweather?

AJ: One million percent there’s mileage in talking to someone like Conor McGregor, and even if it’s just like a small gem. Something is better than nothing.

MC: This was taken by a Matchroom staffer at the Day of Reckoning. What does that say? What’s the message here do you think?

AJ: Prayer. Don’t let success get to your head and don’t let failures get to your heart. I was just giving thanks, giving prayer – thankful for another day at the office. Success. I really like that picture.

MC: Three out of three wins in 2023. How do you reflect on the year as a whole? Franklin, Helenius and Wallin.

AJ: It’s in the past. It’s done. I don’t reflect on it in any way. We only look forward.

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MC: Well, let’s look forward to this next one with Ben in the corner. What was fresher? What clicked? Something clearly did.

AJ: Belief. You believe in something. And I listened. I meet a lot of people that want advice but I know they don’t believe in what I’m saying, because they don’t believe in themselves probably. I believe in Ben, so what he is saying is just clicking.

MC: Which philosophy would you follow then; fighters make the trainer or trainers make the fighter?

AJ: Trainers make the fighter. Without a shadow of a doubt. You can’t do it by yourself. You can, but you can’t do it for a long time. Every good fighter has had a great trainer. Well the ones that I admire anyway. Even though people will say, ‘oh he trained himself half of the time’, that’s rubbish. Training isn’t just like throw a jab here and throw a jab there, it’s also like your approach, the gems and the wisdom that you get. The environment that a trainer creates. It’s more than just a trainer showing you how to throw a punch. It’s the mindset it takes to land that punch, and if it doesn’t land what happens when it doesn’t land. It’s all of that. Trainers are more than just someone who teaches you how to throw a right hand.

MC: What’s the role of Derrick James, if any?

AJ: He’s cool. That’s my guy if I’m in the States. I don’t just want to train for the fight. I want to continue training. I spoke to Derrick and Derrick rates Ben a lot. He wants to make sure I’m in safe hands. He was like, ‘yeah he’s a very good coach, I’m glad you’re in safe hands’. I feel like I’m in safe hands as well. The relationship is still good. But I’m going to be based in the UK.

MC: This was taken some time ago; it was in the Matchroom archive. The tattoo. This deep into your career, what does all of this still mean to you and your identify, Anthony?

AJ: Continue to search for greatness. Keep standing up tall in the face of adversity and in positive times. Back straight, stand up tall and just keep on walking forwards. Life if life, life can happen. Life will happen. So many things happen. I don’t want to start going into everything but when life does happen always stand tall. That’s it.

MC: That’s a map of Africa. Nigeria is pinpointed. Next door is Cameroon from where Francis Ngannou comes from. Is there extra inspiration here for youngsters all across that massive country that you can spread?

AJ: 100 percent there is. There’s a lot of inspiration they can take. Right now we’re at war though. There’s a civil war happening.

MC: And it’s the 50th anniversary this year of the Rumble in the Jungle.

AJ: I said that you know. It does resemble that in a way right.

MC: So the last one; three-time. I remember being on the ring apron for the rematch again Ruiz in Saudi Arabia, and before I even asked you a question you shouted two-time. How big is that this year?

AJ: It is big. I’m not looking past Ngannou. That’s my main focus. But we’re talking about the pictures. What I’m trying to say is there’s nothing bigger in sport than winning a trophy and in my sport it’s winning a belt, a Heavyweight Championship belt man. That’s massive. That’s what I go back to that picture before – perseverance. Keep on pushing, keep on searching. That’s why we’re going for the third time. How good can I be? And from that journey from the Olympics not knowing where I’m going, imagine now I’ve got a target, I know where I’m going, that red carpet is already laid out for me. All I need to do is arrive at the destination.

MC: And that kid we showed at the Olympics all the way back there might not be in the same company as Ali, Holyfield, Lennox Lewis – these three World Champions.

AJ: Mad. But you know what’s crazy about it all? No one ever lives forever to tell their legacy. We’re all going to pass on. So you’ve got to do your best while you’re here. That’s when you go back to that McGregor picture and you ask me about McGregor, someone who lives and loves life. While you’re here live love life, be confident, flamboyant, be an extrovert, don’t be shy – because at the end of the day when it’s all said and done, you only get one experience and one chance at life.