EDDIE HEARN had not even finished asking the question and Anthony Joshua had already delivered his answer.
It was as if the two-time heavyweight belt-holder had been wrestling with the reasons behind his motivation to fight in the weeks and months before his promoter had put it to him in front of the world’s media. “Money,” Joshua had said. “I like making money.”
In the cold light of day, the quote made Joshua look like the archetypal prizefighter who, somewhere along the line, pivoted away from building his legacy in the ring to building his bank balance outside it. Nobody 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 attempted to sell the fight from their top table, Joshua delivered a far more measured explanation of what he was getting at.
“Money was just the first thing that came into my mind then but it’s legacy as well,” he says when asked if he stood by what he’d said. “Money is just part of a big jigsaw puzzle.
“The reason I said money was I know how much it helps people. Money is my love language because I can’t be there physically or emotionally because I am working but I can wire you some cash.
“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 out then I will. I know how much finances help and I do a lot of charity work that needs funding.
“I know what it is like to have nothing and for nobody to give you a look-in or care. Being in a position where I can help means a lot and that’s where money comes into it.”
Joshua, for his part, is said to be worth around £130m 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 riches will have remained a key driver when it came to assessing his place in the sport following back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk which truly hurt him.
Indeed, 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 restrained by his cousin Benga Ileyemi and Dereck Chisora before he stormed out of the ring. He eventually made his way back to the ring, found a microphone and launched the now infamous tirade which has amassed millions upon millions of views on Youtube. For him it was an eruption that was years in the making and within a few 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 have taken every challenge that has come my way and I have done my best but I have got to do better that’s for sure.
“Along the journey we really pushed for that ‘undisputed’, we had the ‘Road to Undisputed’ with the JD Sports hashtag, we were pushing it with all the brands and just at that 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 guiding me through boxing, telling me ‘come on son, you’ve got some talent’. I did this shit by myself. I went from grassroots boxing to around the world.
“At age 18 – when I was going down the wrong road – 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 like that when I retire, when I said I am done with boxing, I thought then I feel how much it means to me, but it happened there and then.
“I have no regrets, no way, if you don’t like it don’t tune in because that is what you are going to get from me; raw and uncut. That’s life, it won’t always be perfect. People go through things, it’s a journey and if you tune in you will see it all.
“I haven’t put it to bed, not really, you use it to fuel you. Everything that I have learned I have put into this camp. I can’t just forget the things I have learned, I have to put it all into this camp.”
As it transpired, this camp has involved an entire overhaul of the training staff and location. As such, Franklin has questioned Joshua’s decision to link up with Derrick James after just one fight with Robert Garcia. Franklin’s suggestion was that AJ should start blaming himself instead of others.
But the switch to James, and the relocation to Texas, provided far more than just a new voice in the corner, according to Joshua. This particular move, he says, provided him with some peace and quiet.
“All along I’ve wanted to build things away from boxing,” he says, in reference to his myriad commercial obligations. “Because of all of the stories I heard from boxing where people left the game without a penny to their name.
“Throughout my career I put a lot of energy into building other things, alongside trying to defend my titles, it’s challenging but it is part of who I am and what has 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 per cent of them. I was quite a well-known kid before boxing and then boxing happened and everyone knows me and the phone always rings. I have had the same number since I was 19.
“Then I decided I needed to put a lot of things on the backburner and put my heart into the sport. You can have your mind in the game, because your mind is a computer, it’s clockwork. But to wake up every morning with a passion for life, your heart has to be in something.
You have to be driven by something and when you are driven by boxing again, it’s a different look in life.
“I was fine here but I wanted to search for better and the better was in Dallas. The better could have been here and I would have been comfortable staying here, but it wasn’t. It was never that I needed to get away, it was just about where the best place is for me and it was Texas.”
So why James? After splitting with Robert McCracken in the wake of the first Usyk defeat in the September of 2021, Joshua had allowed for 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 and off to Texas AJ went.
“When I was with Rob McCracken I brought on two extra trainers because Rob was the top guy,” Joshua explains. “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 it was me who chose Joby [Clayton] and Angel and not Rob. The second time around I told Angel to choose because I just wanted to work. It didn’t matter how I saw the trainers, if the coaches don’t get along then it’s not going to feed positive energy into me. 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 am only working with Derrick now but there has been no fall out.”
James is currently considered one of the very top trainers in elite professional boxing thanks in no small part to his work with American duo Errol Spence Jr and Jermell Charlo among others. James said he laughed to himself watching Joshua try and fail to beat Usyk for the second time due to the tactics he employed and has been tasked with leading Joshua back to the top of the heavyweight pile. With Usyk and Tyson Fury around, it seems like a tall order but Joshua insists he trusts what he’s hearing in Dallas.
“He can tell me to do something and I will instantly do it,” says Joshua, who has been actually training alongside Spence at times during this camp. “I am more of a practical learner, I am not really one for theory.
“If I can see or watch someone do something, then I can probably do it after. That’s how I learned boxing so quickly, I watched people and copied them. We talk and he feeds on what I tell him.”
And they’re not reinventing the wheel in Texas either. It’s old school and Joshua is responding 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 director and physio,” he says. “We get up and do our cardio, road work, calisthenics, stretching, breakfast, gym, sleep, core, eat, physio, balance work, film study, bed for 9:30pm. Up in the morning and go again, with two days off.
“When you are in camp you have to give up things, but that helps you gain other things.
Even though it’s a routine with sacrifice, in the long run I am going to gain things and get better, I am going to have more energy, I am going to have more passion for my training.
Do you want to go into a training camp and have shit training sessions because you have been out and not slept? You need to dedicate yourself and get better within the space of two-three weeks and start beating up sparring partners. That’s what I want.”
On Saturday, Joshua returns to punching people for real. Not since he rematched Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia have the stakes been this high for him in a career which will turn 10 years old in October.
Now it is time to see whether there is another jackpot around the corner or whether, in his own money game at least, he is a busted flush.