By Danny Winterbottom: Posing for the cameras, gold medal held aloft in his left hand as Lennox Lewis and Audley Harrison held the Union Jack above their heads on either side, Anthony Joshua MBE grinned like a Cheshire cat.
The 6’6” Watford born 23-year-old had just beaten defending champion Roberto Cammarelle of Italy in the London 2012 Olympic super heavyweight final, thus becoming the third London born champion to strike gold after the aforementioned Lewis and Harrison, and in doing so had immediately found himself to be one of the hottest properties in world boxing.
Not bad for a man who, by his own admission, cannot even remember where he was when Cammarelle struck gold four years earlier in Beijing.
Joshua, a strapping physical specimen of a heavyweight, only laced on a pair of gloves at aged 18 in 2007 as part of Finchley ABC, but his raw, natural talent came to the fore in double quick time as he captured the prestigious Haringey Box Cup in 2009, retained it the following year and then in 2011 he sent shock waves throughout the world when, in only his second senior amateur tournament, he claimed a silver medal at the world championships where he beat his Olympic final nemesis on route.
Controversial decision or not (Joshua defeated Cammarelle on count back and then survived an official protest from the Italians camp to land Olympic gold) the big man from Watford would have prospective promoters and managers knocking at his door, keen to sign the latest British Olympic hero.
However, Joshua had resisted a £50,000 temptation to turn pro earlier in his vest and head guard career, saying at the time; “Turning down that 50k was easy. I didn’t take up this sport for money, I want to win medals.”
And following his Olympic triumph inside the Copper Box Arena the cerebral Joshua kept everyone guessing as to what his next step would be. Would he make the jump into the pro’s or would he stay amateur in an attempt to defend his title at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016?
The answer came in July when he announced he had finally decided to leave the unpaid code and join forces with promotional heavyweight, Matchroom. Joshua tweeted at the time ‘I’d like to thank Finchley ABC & I’d also like to thank @gbboxing for everything they have done for me. The time is upon us!’
When Lennox Lewis turned pro following his success at the Seoul games of ’88, where he defeated Riddick Bowe in the final, he fought 12 times in 12 months away from the spotlight where he was allowed to iron out any creases in his style whilst blasting out some poor opposition along the way.
Lewis, 23 when he turned over and the same age as Joshua, stopped 11 of the 12 men he faced in his first year as a heavyweight apprentice and those contests gave him a solid grounding in which he could build upon when he was stepped up in class.
Famously, Audley Harrison chose to ignore the route Lewis took to world glory following his gold success at the 2000 Sydney games.
Harrison signed a £1 million, 10 fight deal with the BBC and acted as fighter and promoter. But his selection of opponents was so laughably bad, they included a private eye, a plastics factory worker and a car park boss; he eventually turned the paying public against him.
‘A-Force’ only had three fights in eighteen months after capturing gold, which lead to the late Sir Henry Cooper saying at the time; “The viewer’s aren’t getting value for money. He should have had eight or nine fights by now but he’s had three”
Audley’s eventual 17 fight ‘adventure’ with the BBC ended on June 19,2004, when he stopped Polish fighter Tomasz Bonin in nine rounds at Alexandra Palace in London and he announced his retirement from the sport this year after a brutal hammering from the fists of American power puncher, Deontay Wilder.
Whatever you chose to make of Harrison’s professional career, and he did hold the European title, it cannot be denied that he paved the way for amateur boxers in Britain, and that alone should never be forgotten.
“Boxing wasn’t a lottery funded sport in 1998 and after I won the Commonwealth Games that year I sat them down and told them if they wanted me to win gold in Sydney, I had to be paid” said Harrison when speaking to Sky Sports last year.
“I set up a boxing union and with my gold medal its part of the reason why boxing is now a lottery funded sport.”
Eddie Hearn, the charismatic boss of the boxing arm of Matchroom Sport, was adamant Joshua would not make the same mistakes ‘Big Aud’ had done to such disastrous effect.
“Audley and Anthony are chalk and cheese” promoter Hearn said.
“Audley wanted total control in and out of the ring whilst Anthony is a down to earth kid and ready to listen. He has a very bright future ahead of him and we believe we can guide him in the right way to make the right decisions.”
Now, it is a generally accepted point of view that a new pro will have what the boxing world call ‘knock overs’ for the first 10 or so contests, which is ok as long as you aren’t promoting yourself as top of the bill.
Joshua made his professional bow on October 5, 2013, at the O2 Arena on the undercard of Scott Quigg’s world title fight against Cuban Yoandris Salinas.
The show was tagged ‘Carpe Diem’ and Joshua did indeed ‘seize the day’ as he blasted out Italian Emanuele Leo, who undoubtedly picked up a career high purse, in 2-47 of the opening round. Leo was unbeaten in eight contests but Anthony proved too powerful and accurate for him as long right hands crashed through his guard and piston like jabs slackened his neck muscles until he was pounded into submission.
“Big Josh is going all the way. This is just the start of a phenomenal journey” said Eddie Hearn following the contest.
Three weeks later Joshua was back in action at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield and this time he had domestic opposition in the form of tough guy Paul Butlin.
Butlin, a shaven headed nightclub doorman had shared the ring with Lucas Browne, Derrick Chisora and Edmund Gerber ,but from the off Joshua pawed him around the ring like a cat toying with an injured mouse, as right hands thudded against his pale skin.
“I’m gonna bring non-stop aggression” Butlin had threatened before the contest.
But straight rights drilled him into the ropes, short hooks made him double over in pain until finally, after just 20 seconds of round two, another Joshua right thrown with unnerving accuracy bludgeoned him to the canvas.
Butlin bravely beat the count of referee Howard Foster but that right hand had landed on his left eye brow and he winced excessively as blood poured down his cheek. A left hook to the liver during the follow up attack caused Butlin to turn away and Howard Foster called time on the contest.
“When you go in there you think there are a few things you could do better but I’m still improving and still learning” Joshua told the Daily Mail.
“The key is to relax and box and move, wait for openings.”
In what would turn out to be his final ring appearance of 2013, Joshua faced Hrvoje Kisicek of Croatia at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, on November 29 as part of the UK vs. USA heavyweight Prizefighter tournament.
Kisicek had taken Hughie Fury the full six rounds in Leicester in October but was no match for Joshua.
The Watford man showcased a ramrod jab and the ability to deliver rapid fire combinations; one such flurry trapped Kisicek on the ropes and staggered him, and patience not to rush his work.
A left and right sunk into the belly of Kisicek, deflating him like a burst balloon, and in the second stanza a one two dropped him to the canvas.
Another cuffing right sent him into the ropes where Joshua unloaded his arsenal of head shots with increased velocity. Kisicek was in no position to defend himself but referee Marcus McDonnell made a mess of the stoppage as he tried unsuccessfully to separate the fighters and Kisicek was forced to ship several more unnecessary blows before finally McDonnell came between the two behemoths.
Joshua was watched from ringside by Hall of Fame heavyweight Larry Holmes and the ‘Easton Assassin’ was impressed by what he had seen but warned that Joshua mustn’t be burned out by a busy schedule.
“I was very impressed. He did things he needed to do and he got it done” said Holmes
“I don’t agree with everything his manager says (Eddie Hearn) because you don’t want to leave it all in the gym.”
A niggling bicep injury prevented Joshua from making another two appearances in 2013 but three outings in just over four weeks is good going by anyone’s standards, and gives Joshua a springboard into 2014.
The SecondsOut.com prospect of the year held off some stiff competition, most notably from Puerto Rican standout Felix Verdejo, but a combination of raw talent and his as of yet untapped potential in an increasingly exciting heavyweight division saw Joshua take the crown.
December 24, 2013