Olympic star Anthony Joshua has trodden in the footsteps of sporting greats before him, including Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. Matt Fortune greets him at the top of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah – the world’s most luxurious hotel.
Nice guys finish last, so the adage goes. Try telling that to Anthony Joshua, the 28-year-old world heavyweight boxing champion, who recently joined the pantheon of sporting greats in performing on the iconic Burj Al Arab helipad. The stunt, which saw the Olympic Gold medal-winning Briton put through his paces by his coach in a custom built ring, went viral around the world, and put him, if he wasn’t already, alongside Roger Federer and Tiger Woods in the history books.
But it’s not the status that comes with such feats, or even the reputation of being the best thing in a generation to happen to an often controversial sport, that drives the 113kg gentle giant on.
‘Stay Humble’ is Joshua’s slogan – and available on all the usual official merchandise that comes with being a superstar these days – as much as it is his way of life.
This is no catchline thought up in hours-long brand marketing meetings, it’s at the very core of everything the affable former bricklayer does, as was evident in a hugely revealing interview and afternoon spent with the Champ at Jumeirah Al Naseem in the days following his stunning training session 200m above the Arabian Gulf.
The two hours promised, quickly turned into five as Joshua and his entourage of school friends, kicked back across the resort, explored Wild Wadi Waterpark™ and took time to meet and greet fans from around the world.
The superstar son of Nigerian parents, with an infectious laugh which reverberated around Madinat Jumeirah, discussed the positives of growing up on a council estate just north of London, how he plans to build a legacy in and out of the sport ‘that saved his life’, whether that journey will see him fight in the UAE, as well as what success would mean to him when he’s hung up his gloves.
Let’s start with what happened on the helipad?
The opportunity came about through my appearance at Dubai Fitness Challenge, and when you get something like that you grab that with both hands. It’s an iconic spot and some of the top end athletes in the world have performed their tricks and skills up there, so now it is my turn. And with boxing, it’s particularly interesting because it such a grassroots sport. So to have that at the very top of the Burj Al Arab and all that represents, was really interesting, such a big contrast.
But to feel like I am transcending my sport, alongside those legends like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, I want to say it is a game to be played. I have an opportunity to create a legacy. I am at the starting blocks right now and have a long way to go, but doing these types of things with these types of names is definitely going to help me. It makes me realise that things are getting serious! Even though we’ve experienced certain things in boxing, when you start transcending your sport for something like this, it’s a whole different avenue we’re going down.
And where will that avenue take you?
If I am going to use this opportunity as a platform to be a spokesman and role model, use it as a chance to change people’s lives, I have to know the direction I am going in. We’re in an era of so much information you don’t know what you want to change, so I slow myself down, pick up some books, reboot my mind, clear my memory and start focusing.
Is that how you measure success, by the positive things you do outside of the ring?
Education for me is important. As I always say, I have a platform to talk about different subjects and hear people’s opinions, but the reason I don’t speak on them too much is because I haven’t educated myself enough yet, while I dedicated my life to sport.
I want to teach people there are enough sports stars, enough celebrities, enough actors, we need people who are educated, who can be leaders, and that is what I would like to do. And that is what boxing helped me do, become a more disciplined man not just from a sports perspective but as a man who takes care of himself, or his household, of my mother and father, I can take on that role, that’s what sport has given me.
People and cultures, family and friends, these things have always been very important to you
My parents grew up in Nigeria and then came to England, so I am first-generation. On the estate I grew up on, there are different cultures everywhere. So stepping out of my comfort zone, which was my home and where I felt, ‘I am still in Nigeria’, out into a mixing pot, that’s what we had to do. The good thing about growing up on the estate is that there was about 40 of us from all over, all together without a problem. That is why I think I can mix with people easily because I wasn’t sheltered.
I haven’t lost touch with anything that goes on over there, where I am from, I know it, I am touch the realities of what goes on in life. I can walk back into my estate, no problem. And I think people respect that.
That’s why the slogan I use, ‘Stay Humble’, doesn’t mean take a load of nonsense and hide in your corner, it just means treat the person on the street who doesn’t have a place to live, with the same respect as a person who lives in a palace, that’s where it came from.
So where are you going, from a boxing perspective?
From the point of view of, ‘how long do I want to get punched in the head’, it’s not long. My coach will say you only need four or five more fights. But from a business perspective and a legacy perspective I have to do it for 10 years. For the people, for the legacy, what we want to create, I need to be in the game for the next 10 years.
How 2018 should work is, realistically, no-one can dictate to me what my journey is, these guys aren’t dictators of my career. I plan it how I want. I have worked with people who have achieved way more than me in the sport, we put our egos to the side and made it happen. But nowadays I hear people chirping up from behind enemy lines, and we’re not afraid to go to war. So we come together and we sit down like men and try to come to an agreement, and if it isn’t good enough or they’re not happy what they’re offered, then well, they’re the ones declaring war and then saying they want to buy arms from me?! They should be locked and loaded, but there is no offer from them. What I feel like is we will go to them, but an offer on the table, they’ll start making demands, and we’ll get back to square one.
And will we ever see you defending your belts in Dubai?
110%! It’s not just about when I fight here, it is about who I fight here. It has never been done, so it has to be a mega fight, but I can flip my look on Dubai as a place for relaxing to a place of work. You can’t beat working in a place like this, too. If I can do it back home in the rain and cold, I can definitely do it here.
Anthony Joshua will fight Joseph Parker on 31 March 2018 at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
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