Eddie Hearn’s Twitter feed can seriously damage your hearing. As well as tuning in on “your iPhone, tablet, smart TV, games console, Sky and Virgin boxes you can now watch in your local!” Cue klaxons and link to DAZN to buy the fight.
Hearn is relentless in promoting his man. And successful. Yet totally irony free. Ten years after the yearning for conquest began with a first-round stoppage of Emanuele Leo, Anthony Joshua returns to the same O2 Arena against Jermaine Franklin. Say again? Yes, that would be Jermaine Franklin. In a non-title fight. This is not the Alexander the Great route they had planned.
While the economic imperative pursued has enriched both, it has impoverished Joshua as a fighter. There is no shame in prizefighters chasing dollar. The clue is in the descriptor. And as Joshua claims, as a black teenager involved in petty crime he knew how it felt to be powerless and skint.
That early career path did not involve Range Rover ownership and houses with pools. So we forgive him the desire to cash in. But great wealth has come at a cost that plays out every time Joshua steps into a ring.
The desecration of the belts claimed twice by Oleksandr Usyk, throwing them out of the ring following a second defeat to the mighty Ukrainian, was as pure an expression of a conflicted soul as it was an insult to the sport he loves.
Joshua could not help himself. All that he is, the fighter he imagined himself to be, his best self, all of it to no avail, taken down by the better man. Joshua had reached the end of the road. There was nothing left of the warrior king, that powerful idea of himself shredded by a crack operator who was forged in the crucible of 350 amateur bouts.
Joshua was essentially fast-tracked to the top as a consequence of his immense physical gifts. Technically he has always been playing catch-up. To make up for the time he didn’t spend in a ring as a junior required him to invest in ring time as a senior. But then London 2012 happened. Winning Olympic gold as a novice was both a ticket to ride and a brake on development. His renown was greater than his talent was deep. A reckoning was inevitable.
Deep down, you sense that Joshua knew this. He was always mindful of what he didn’t know and, being respectful of the sport’s history and traditions, constantly expressed the need to grow. In early interviews, this deficit in experience – Joshua had barely 50 amateur bouts – betrayed a trace of the imposter syndrome that would engulf him following that shock first defeat to Andy Ruiz in June 2019.
Joshua has taken a decade to total 27 bouts. Mike Tyson fought 28 times in the first two years of his career, 15 in the first and he did not enter a ring until March of that year. That’s how you learn your trade. You cannot simulate match day in the gym, doing sprints or taking an axe to trees, as Joshua’s training routine in Texas revealed. None of that counts towards the 10,000 hours that equip you with an instinct for danger, for sensing the punch that would upend his world.
Ruiz was a short-notice replacement following the withdrawal of Jarrell Miller. The show at Madison Square Garden in New York was supposed to be Joshua’s American breakout. It was all going to plan before Ruiz, on the point of ruin, unleashed a left hook from nowhere to usher Joshua through a sliding door into an empty room. That’s all it took to bring the edifice down, one reactive blow from an opponent who himself was on the point of oblivion.
Thus began Joshua’s retrospective lurch to rectify his shortcomings, to identify and eradicate the weaknesses threatening the so-called “destiny” that he and Hearn had been selling. The journey continues.
Joshua is now on his third trainer in as many fights, with Robert Garcia following Robert McCracken out the door after just one bout. Derrick James is the next guru off the rank, the low-key Texan who has guided the career of welterweight world champion Errol Spence.
Joshua has immersed himself in the rudimentary rhythms of a Spartan environment, believing that a commitment to hard work in the Texan heat will reconnect him in some way to the path he was on before Ruiz (left) let go his lightning bolt.
Joshua is authentic in his beliefs and desire to improve. He feels the weight of the star power he has created and is trying to respond. “When I am not fighting, my name is getting called out every day so it’s a mental pressure of being AJ and holding up a reputation, they go hand-in-hand,” he said.
Yet he can’t have it both ways. Joshua chose money ahead of learning. So big a production did his fights become – the infrastructure organising venues, hotels, television dates, build-up, publicity tours – it could not support more than two fights a year.
So here he is, financially enriched, professionally at the point of extinction against an opponent hand-picked to prop up the fragile threads holding a once-promising career together.