Anthony Joshua has said he was let down by his corner when he lost his world heavyweight titles to Oleksandr Usyk last September. “There was a lot going on in the corner and that didn’t help,” Joshua said ahead of the rematch in Saudi Arabia on 20 August. “A corner is like a pit stop. So too many voices at once is definitely not good for anybody, not just me.”
Joshua believed he was winning the fight even though he was out-thought, outfought and, ultimately, outclassed by the smaller Usyk. Rather than being urged to increase the intensity of his work from him in the last rounds Joshua said the instructions from his corner from him were “more like: ‘Double jab, right, left hook.’ It wasn’t like: ‘Take the fight to this fucker. Listen, you’re losing the fight.’ No. A trainer needs to tap into that psychological aspect. Sometimes you need to tell your fighter that: ‘Yeah, we’re losing a world championship fight.’”
Robert McCracken trained Joshua when he won Olympic gold in 2012 and through his entire professional career until they parted amicably after the defeat to Usyk. Joshua stressed his respect for him for McCracken – “He knows what he’s doing, he’s a very good coach” – and all that they achieved together. But he agreed that too many voices were trying to advise him against Usyk. One of his trainers, Joby Clayton, kept telling him wrongly that he was boxing beautifully and dominating the bout.
When asked if he really believed he was winning the fight against Usyk, Joshua said: “I swear I thought I was. I thought I was looking like Muhammad Ali in there.” But he was quick to add that: “I’m not blaming anyone for saying that but I didn’t get any impression I was losing the fight. I thought we were well in it. That’s why when they announced [Usyk’s] name I was kind of like: ‘huh?’”
Joshua also adopted the wrong strategy by trying to box Usyk rather than utilize his considerable height and weight advantage as well as his punching power. “’One of my strengths was my power but I always wanted to go down that path of being a clean boxer,” he said. “’Hit and not get hit’, especially if I want to have a long and successful career. You need to have good defense but I moved away from the ferocious side of boxing where I knew I could hit and stun people.”
After his chastening defeat Joshua visited numerous leading trainers in the US to work out how best he should approach the rematch. He eventually appointed the astute Robert Garcia as his head trainer while retaining Angel Fernandez and Clayton in his corner. “A different environment was needed,” Joshua said. “I wasn’t forced, it was my own decision.”
Garcia, who is based in California but now working with Joshua in Loughborough, has trained 14 fighters to world titles and his most recent champion, the prodigious 22-year-old Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, has emerged this year as the most exciting young fighter on the planet. Joshua has the power to hurt Usyk and Garcia will encourage him to try and steam-roller the new champion rather than make the mistake of trying to match his far cannier boxing skills from him.
Joshua seems ready to listen to the clear, lead voice of his new head trainer. “I do miss the days of slicing people’s faces open and hurting them, for sure,” he said. “So I am looking forward to getting back to that.”
Usyk, meanwhile, responded with cool nonchalance. “I don’t care how Anthony trains or what he does,” the champion said. “I just worry about my training camp, what I eat, my work, my family and my country. If people are telling Joshua that the only way he wins is to pressure me and look for the knockout, then let them keep speaking.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism