EDDIE HEARN hadn't even finished asking the question and Anthony Joshua had already answered.
It was as if the two-time heavyweight champion had wrestled with the reasons behind his motivation to fight in the weeks and months before his promoter laid it on him in front of the world's media. “Money,” Joshua had said. “I like to make money.”
In the cold light of today, the quote made Joshua look like the archetypal prize fighter who somewhere along the line veered away from building his legacy in the ring to building his bank balance outside of it. No one should be blamed for doing that either.
But away from the glare of the press conference, where he and his opponent for this Saturday at the O2 Arena, Jermaine Franklin, had tried to sell the fight from their top table, Joshua delivered a much more measured explanation of what he was getting. .
“Money was just the first thing on my mind at the time, but it's also a legacy,” he says when asked if he stood by what he had said. “Money is just one piece of a big puzzle.
“The reason I said money was because I know how much it helps people. Money is my love language because I can't be there physically or emotionally because I'm working but I can transfer some money to you.
“I can't be there for people, I can't be a shoulder to cry on because I don't have the time or energy for that – I need to train – but if I can help you, I will. I know how much the economy helps and I do a lot of charity work that needs funding.
“I know what it's like to have nothing and no one to give you a look or care. Being in a position where I can help means a lot and that's where money comes in.”
Joshua, for his part, is said to be worth around £130million, which is no surprise when you consider he has been fighting for eight-figure purses for the best part of five years. But the pursuit of more wealth will have remained a key factor in assessing his place in the sport after back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk really hurt him.
The second fight with Usyk, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia last August, is probably best remembered for what happened at the end of the fight. He had thrown Usyk's world title belts out of the ring and then had to be held down by his cousin Benga Ileyemi and Dereck Chisora before storming out of the ring. Eventually he made his way back to the ring, found a microphone and launched into the now infamous tirade that has racked up millions upon millions of views on Youtube. For him, it was an outburst that spanned many years and within hours he was in tears at the post-fight press conference.
“In the ring it was tough,” Joshua recalls. “People might not see how tough it is. It happened quickly. I've taken every challenge that's come my way and I've done my best but I've got to do better, that's for sure.
“Along the journey we really pushed for the ‘undisputed', we had the ‘Road to Undisputed' with the JD Sports hashtag, we pushed it with all the brands and right at the last hurdle I failed and that's what you saw in the press conference.
“In the ring it was just me expressing that I came from the road and the mud, I never had a dad guide me through boxing and tell me ‘come on son, you got talent'. I did this shit myself .I went from grassroots boxing to around the world.
“At the age of 18 – going down the wrong path – I saw another path and it took a lot to make that decision. I got rid of a lot of things in my life to focus on boxing and it hit me.
“I always thought I would only feel that way when I retire, when I said I'm done with boxing I thought then I'll feel how much it means to me, but it happened then and there.
“I have no regrets, no way, if you don't like it, don't tune in because that's what you're going to get from me; raw and unpolished. Such is life, it won't always be perfect. People go through things, it's a journey and if you tune in you'll see it all.
“I haven't put it to bed, not really, you use it to give you energy. Everything I've learned I've put into this camp. I can't just forget the things I've learned, I have to put everything at this camp.”
As it turned out, this camp has involved a complete overhaul of the training staff and the venue. As such, Franklin has questioned Joshua's decision to link with Derrick James after just one fight with Robert Garcia. Franklin's suggestion was that AJ start blaming himself instead of others.
But the switch to James, and the move to Texas, brought much more than just a new voice in the corner, according to Joshua. This particular move, he says, gave him some peace and quiet.
“I've always wanted to build things away from boxing,” he says, referring to his myriad commercial obligations. “Because of all the stories I heard from boxing where people left the game without a penny to their name.
“Throughout my career I've put a lot of energy into building other things, alongside trying to defend my titles, it's challenging but it's part of who I am and what's made me who I am, I am a driven person.
“When I talk about distractions, I know a lot of people. the people you see at Wembley stadium or the O2, I probably know 30-40 per cent of them. I was quite a well-known kid before boxing and then boxing happened and everyone knows me and the phone is always ringing .I have had the same number since I was 19.
“Then I decided I needed to put a lot of things on the back burner and put my heart into the sport. You can have your mind in the game, because your mind is a computer, it's a clockwork. But to wake up every morning with a passion for life your heart must be in something.
You have to be driven by something and when you're driven by boxing again it's a different look in life.
“I was fine here but I wanted to look for better and the better was in Dallas. The better could have been here and I would have been comfortable living here, but I wasn't. It was never like I had to get away, it was just about where the best place is for me and that was Texas.”
So why James? After splitting with Robert McCracken in the wake of the first Usyk defeat in September 2021, Joshua had allowed some familiarity by retaining the services of Angel Fernandez as part of the team that included Garcia at the top of the tree. This time, however, everyone was cut off and off to Texas AJ went.
“When I was with Rob McCracken, I took on two extra coaches because Rob was the best guy,” explains Joshua. “They could then work under him and build an empire and a structure together.
“But it didn't work. It just didn't work because I was the one who chose Joby [Clayton] and Angel and not Rob. The second time I told Angel to choose because I just wanted to work. It didn't matter how I saw the coaches, if the coaches don't get along, it won't give me positive energy. So I gave the reins to Angel to make the decision.
“This time I went on my own, it was my own personal decision and that's how I ended up in Texas. I only work with Derrick now but there hasn't been a case.”
James is currently considered one of the very best trainers in professional elite boxing, not least thanks to his work with, among others, the American duo of Errol Spence Jr and Jermell Charlo. James said he laughed to himself as he watched Joshua try and fail to beat Usyk for a second time because of the tactics he used and has been tasked with leading Joshua back to the top of the heavyweight heap. With Usyk and Tyson Fury around it seems a tall order but Joshua insists he trusts what he hears in Dallas.
“He can tell me to do something and I'll do it immediately,” said Joshua, who has actually trained alongside Spence at times during this camp. “I'm more of a hands-on learner, I'm not really one for theory.
“If I can see or watch someone do something, then I can probably do it afterwards. That's how I learned boxing so quickly, I watched people and copied them. We talk and he feeds off what I tell him. “
And they're not reinventing the wheel in Texas either. It's old school and Joshua responds to that as he prepares for a fight with his career hanging in the balance.
“I wake up early, cardio, we have a house with me and two guys, my performance manager and physical therapist,” he says. “We get up and do cardio, road work, exercise, stretch, breakfast, gym, sleep, core, eat, physio, balance work, film study, bed until 9:30 p.m. Up in the morning and go again, with two days off.
“When you're at camp, you have to give things up, but it helps you get other things.
Even if it's a routine of sacrifice, in the long run I'll get things and get better, I'll have more energy, I'll have more passion for my training.
Do you want to go into a boot camp and have crappy workouts because you've been out and not sleeping? You have to dedicate yourself and get better within two-three weeks and start beating sparring partners. That's what I want.”
On Saturday, Joshua returns to beating people for real. Not since he played Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia have the stakes been so high for him in a career that turns 10 in October.
Now it's time to see if there's another jackpot around the corner or if, at least in his own money game, he's a bust.
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