DEPENDING on who you ask, Anthony Joshua is either the perfect role model and ambassador for British boxing, with the body and base motivational mantras to prove it, or a wind-up toy of an athlete fine-tuned by an army of perpetually-giggling publicists to within an inch of its life.
As for his achievements, meanwhile, depending on who you ask, Joshua is either an overachiever on account of the fact he has won numerous world heavyweight titles and big fights despite glaring flaws, or he is an underachiever and someone who is capable of doing even more with the numerous tools at his disposal.
Wherever you reside, in terms of these two camps and perspectives, two things are certain: one, Anthony Joshua has achieved plenty, and two, Anthony Joshua made his professional debut 10 years ago today (October 5). In that time, he has boxed on 29 occasions, has won an array of heavyweight belts, and has lost just three times. He is also still active at the age of 33 and hopes, with time still very much on his side, to achieve even more in the coming years.
For now, though, here is a breakdown of what Joshua has achieved in each of the 10 years he has been calling himself a pro.
Having turned pro in a blaze of publicity and expectation, due in large part to his 2012 Olympic gold medal, Joshua made his debut against Italy’s Emanuele Leo on the undercard of Scott Quigg’s draw against Yoandris Salinas. Leo had arrived in London with an 8-0 record, which represented his only selling point, and was duly dispatched inside the very first round. He then never boxed again.
Joshua, on the other hand, was out again just three weeks later, this time with a British opponent in the opposite corner: Paul Butlin. The fight was all the better for it, too, with Butlin at least making it into the second round before being rescued by the referee.
Still not content with that, Joshua, eager to stay busy, returned to the ring for the third time in the space of just six weeks, fighting Hrvoje Kisicek, a Croatian, in November. Kisicek fared no better than Butlin, however, and was halted inside two rounds.
Picking up where he left off in 2013, Joshua began 2014 with a second-round stoppage of Dorian Darch in February and then simply kept going and going. In fact, he would in total fight seven times in 2014, which, in the current era, is a quite remarkable feat, one that no doubt helped both Joshua’s development and his profile that year.
Among his 2014 victims were Matt Legg, whom he stopped inside a round at Wembley Stadium on the undercard of Carl Froch’s rematch against George Groves, as well as another Matt, Matt Skelton, who was bum-rushed inside two rounds in Liverpool.
Beyond that, Joshua ran through decent European-level heavyweights like Konstantin Airich (TKO 3) and Denis Bakhtov (TKO 2), plus Michael Sprott, who, like Skelton, was a former British heavyweight champion who had seen better days and found himself blitzed by Joshua in double-quick time. Sprott, unlike Skelton, failed to even see the second round.
This year began with Joshua having his way with a couple of charismatic and entertaining (outside the ring more so than inside it, admittedly) Americans, Jason Gavern and Kevin Johnson, and it ended with him destroying Gary Cornish to win the Commonwealth heavyweight title before meeting Dillian Whyte, his great British rival, in December. That fight, which had the British heavyweight title on the line in addition to the Commonwealth, saw Joshua in trouble for the first time in his pro career, when badly rocked by Whyte in round two, but still he prevailed, eventually grinding Whyte down before finishing him with a savage flurry of shots against the ropes in round seven.
If 2015 was to some extent the launch, by 2016 Joshua was fully airborne and spreading his wings. It started, this year, with his first world title shot – an IBF title challenge – and, as is the gift of most Olympic champions whose path as a pro is one of least resistance, Joshua met a man in Charles Martin who was not only making his first defence but had won the belt via an injury stoppage. As a result, Martin was not the threat Joshua’s promoter tried to make out and was, as expected, brushed aside in merely two rounds.
Following that, Joshua engaged with another American, this one a little more decorated but no more proven. In what was his first defence, Joshua broke down Dominic Breazeale, a man unbeaten in 17 fights, and secured the stoppage win in round seven.
Easier still was a win against Eric Molina, another American, in December of that year. That ended in round three, thanks to a chopping right hand, and Molina, in truth, never once appeared interested in making the fight remotely competitive.
So far the high point and defining moment of Joshua’s career, even if an 11th-round knockout of Wladimir Klitschko remains as such for the remainder, there’s no shame in that at all. After all, there have been few more compelling heavyweight fights to have taken place on British soil in the modern era and, moreover, by recovering from a sixth-round knockdown to regain control and stop a man in Klitschko who is rightly regarded as a legend of the sport, Joshua, when asked to prove what he is capable of in the ring, can simply point to this fight and say, “There. Just watch that.”
Anything after that was always likely to be a bit of a comedown, and so it proved. In Joshua’s next fight, for example, he had to accept the fact Kubrat Pulev was unable to show up for their date at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff and deal with a replacement opponent instead. That meant Carlos Takam, the dependable Frenchman, met Joshua in October of that year and, despite a spirited effort, was eventually stopped, rather controversially, in round 10.
In pursuit of more belts to add to the ones he had already claimed when beating both Charles Martin and Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua connected with New Zealand’s Joseph Parker, the WBO belt-holder, in March of 2018. It marked a return to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, where Joshua had stopped Takam, only this time the fans in attendance were spared the drama of that previous fight. This time, whereas before Joshua seemed intent on stopping Takam to make a statement, the Londoner was quite happy to outbox Parker from the centre of the ring and allow Parker to survive, which, on reflection, appeared to be Parker’s goal from the outset.
Six months later, meanwhile, Joshua fought Alexander Povetkin, the divisive Russian famous as much for his string of failed performance-enhancing drug tests as any notable wins. He caught up with and stopped Povetkin in round seven following what can only be described as an uncertain and nervous start.
Known by some as the year the bubble burst, and known by others as the year Joshua grew up, 2019 will ultimately be remembered for the six-month period in which “AJ” came unstuck against the unheralded and out-of-shape Andy Ruiz at Madison Square Garden and then showed impressive mettle to later get revenge over Ruiz in Saudi Arabia.
The loss, which is easier to remember than the revenge, happened after Jarrell Miller, Joshua’s original opponent, was pulled from the fight due to several performance-enhancing drug transgressions. That then led to the emergence of Ruiz as a replacement opponent and, although at the weigh-in and other pre-fight events he wore the expression of a competition winner, happy just to be there, Ruiz went on to prove that appearances can be deceiving on the night. For although he was dropped himself in round three, Ruiz used this flashpoint as motivation rather than a warning and immediately swung the fight back in his favour, dropping Joshua in that same round – twice, in fact – before stopping him in the seventh.
As for what happened when they met again six months later, let it be a lesson; a lesson not only in the ills of superstardom and the subsequent gluttony but in the benefit of concentration and a little bit of fear. Because second time around Joshua was considerably better, fuelled entirely by the fear of another defeat, whereas Ruiz, who hit the jackpot in June, had eaten the fruits of his labour, only rather than fruit they appeared to him as pizza, chicken wings, and burgers.
A low-key year for Joshua by his usual standards, and for obvious reasons, this was the year he fought Kubrat Pulev, three years later than planned, inside a near-empty Wembley Arena and reminded us all of the need to get back to sold-out venues. With just 1,000 fans allowed to attend this particular fight, Joshua systematically beat up Pulev and was in the end frustrated only by the Bulgarian’s mind games and antics, all of which, given the fact he was stopped in round nine, proved futile.
Whereas the defeat to Andy Ruiz in 2019 could be considered a blip, or an example of a punch from the gods, Joshua’s second pro loss against Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 was the kind to require far more in the way of soul-searching and dissection. After all, while Ruiz nailed Joshua and essentially beat him up, the job Usyk did on him was something considerably more thorough and somehow more conclusive and harder to understand. It captured Joshua looking confused, incapable and out of his depth rather than, as was the case with Ruiz, simply shocked. It also made us realise that Usyk, the former world cruiserweight champion, would now be just as much of a force as a heavyweight and that Joshua, in agreeing to fight his mandatory challenger, had more than met his match, both mentally and physically.
Credit to Joshua, despite the one-sided nature of his first loss to Oleksandr Usyk, he had no qualms about getting back in the ring with the skilled Ukrainian, which he did, with mixed results, in 2022. This time the fight would take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia rather than London, England, and it would also see Joshua have a few moments of success, including one particular period in which he appeared to unsettle Usyk with a series of body shots.
Still, though, no matter how it was spun on the night, Usyk never seemed either in danger of losing or even so much as losing control of an opponent he had, by now, totally figured out. It was for this reason the gifted southpaw won again and perhaps also why Joshua, in the aftermath of the fight, was unable to make sense of what had happened or indeed where he was to now go from here.
Now on the comeback trail, following back-to-back defeats against Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua has so far on this trail produced one measured performance and one stunning blink-and-you’ll-miss-it knockout. The former, which came against Jermaine Franklin in April, saw Joshua at his most circumspect and measured, not unlike how he appeared against Ruiz in their rematch, and few were particularly enamoured with the outing.
The latter performance, however, which came against Finland’s Robert Helenius (who later failed a PED test), did at least feature Joshua gunning for the finish, seemingly uninterested in going the distance. The finish he secured, too, in round seven, when a single right hand, arguably the finest single shot Joshua has thrown as a pro, left Helenius splayed on the canvas, no doubt regretting the day he agreed to fill in for Dillian Whyte (the original opponent who, like Helenius, was also getting up to no good in training camp).