Anthony Joshua says that shock first professional defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr was a blessing disguise rather than a devastating blow.
AJ’s shock TKO defeat by late stand-in and 30/1 outsider Ruiz Jr at Madison Square Garden in June 2019 sent shockwaves through the fight game.
Some experts thought the man from Watford had been exposed, losing not only his IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles but also the cloak of invincibility which had surrounded him since turning professional.
Joshua though felt the loss had been coming for a long time, and it acted as a wake-up call rather than signalling the beginning of the end at elite level.
He told GQ Middle East: “There were certain things I was talking about perhaps two years ahead of that loss, and the defeat just showcased them. I know people say crazy things like, ‘Oh, we were planning on that loss,’ but it really was a blessing in disguise.
“It highlighted everything I had been concerned about. After that it was simple: these are the changes I’ve been talking about, now you need to listen.”
Joshua did not complain after losing to Ruiz Jr or throw out excuses. Instead he immediately exercised his contractual right to a rematch and set about changing. Changing everything.
“Losing to Andy made me rethink and restructure. I took the positives out of it, but it wasn’t easy,” he explained.
“My training camp was six weeks of pure hell. I had new team members, I had injuries I was trying to overcome. There were so many different issues. But we got there in the end through will, determination and intelligence.”
Joshua of course duly regained his titles and showed off a new gameplan as he boxed smartly from the outside to easily outpoint Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia in December 2019.
Next up is Kubrat Pulev at the O2 Arena on December 12, followed hopefully by a blockbusting unification showdown against fellow British world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
But as well as looking forward to what the future holds, AJ also looks back the past and fighting history. Comparing it to the sport of today.
The differences are stark in some ways – particularly for an elite fighter like AJ. He has a fortune estimated at more £100million by the Sunday Times Rich List and lucrative sponsorship deals with a number of blue-chip brands.
He said: “So, I was sitting eating a chocolate the other day. And I realised that the difference between boxers of that era and now is the luxury. They didn’t have access to this life, to sweets, to luxury clothes.
“That bred toughness and resilience. It’s like when you see a lion kill a zebra, and the lion’s had the zebra’s neck in its jaws for 15 minutes – but it’s still not dead.
“That’s because they’ve evolved physically to have that thick skin, they’re products of their environment. It’s the same for those boxers. Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Rocky Marciano… they were a different breed of human.”