ANTHONY JOSHUA was contemplating and discussing the potential freedom he’ll be able to relish in retirement when Dereck Chisora entered the room he was sitting in to show his face.
Whether or not the timing of Chisora’s arrival and the juxtaposition between them registered with him remained unclear. Chisora, 39 years old and jeopardising his health with every passing day that he refuses to retire was, for all of his rapport with Joshua, present to ensure he remained relevant – as he was two days earlier at the fight week launch party hosted by Matchroom and DAZN that was largely populated by influencers with the very same target in mind.
Not unlike he had when Saturday’s fight with Jermaine Franklin was first announced, Joshua, speaking at Wednesday’s press conference, said, “I want to secure the bank and move on in my life.” Chisora has never and will never know anything like Joshua’s financial security, and yet even at a time when his diminishing skills, athleticism and punch resistance have contributed to him recording four defeats in five, in comparison to Joshua his career continues to appear to give him greater joy.
Joshua had been asked if he was looking forward to being a “free man” at around the time Chisora had arrived, and he responded: “Yeah. There is an element of – I admire [Wladimir] Klitschko and at the age of 40 he’s still in training camp. Training camp takes a lot out of you; you distance yourself from the world and with everything being so connected I can see so much fun being around and you’re stuck in a bedroom which is dark most of the time. He was such a regimented guy.
“Sometimes you do want to taste that bit of freedom. Even though we take a holiday after a fight, you still worry about what you eat; about what time you sleep. So even though you’re free, it’s always in the back of your mind. Complete freedom would be nice one day – as it stands it is a commitment, and it is a sentence I put myself under.
“I want to enjoy myself because you sacrifice, like everyone, but in sport, you do make sacrifices. That’s what winning is about. We spoke about it in camp. Sacrifice isn’t actually a bad thing – it means good things. It shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing. The biggest sacrifice is probably you have to be open because people want to have a look into your life if you’ve achieved certain things, so there’s an interest. You create the hype.
“The sacrifices – I’m putting myself forward in a position I’ve never been nurtured for, so I’m standing up in front of the Queen for example, reading a speech at Westminster Abbey that I’ve never, ever really been prepared for. I’ve never come from that walk of life, and the sacrifice is getting up there and presenting yourself to the public. After that gig I’m going back to the estate with my mates so it’s a sacrifice because you want to do better but you haven’t come from there.
“I never have [considered myself an entertainer]. It’s just business. It’s here today; gone tomorrow.
“If it weren’t for boxing, I think I wouldn’t have developed or seen so much. It’s helped me develop, but at a rate I wasn’t ready for. I’ve never been prepared for this pressure or these situations I find myself in, so I’m learning on the job.”
Yet if it was “just business” and if the financial rewards were the priority he maintains then it seems unlikely that the 33-year-old Joshua would have relocated to Dallas to train under the recently recruited Derrick James for Saturday’s fight, at London’s O2 Arena.
If it was just business – and not an often complex and unconventional culture – it also seems unlikely that Louis Theroux would have been present to not only observe Joshua and his opponent Jermaine Franklin, 29, again come face to face, but even to speak to Chisora, a fighter who has endured considerably more lows than Joshua is ever likely to, but who lacks anything like his friend’s – or indeed the divisive Theroux’s – perspective.
Joshua had not long described wisdom as “the most valuable thing” in reference to his seven-year-old son JJ when he continued: “Losing kind of teaches you. You ask yourself questions and disconnect from the noise. I learned about mind control, self-improvement, and that’s how I found myself in Dallas, in Texas, because I thought, how can I get better? Where should I go? Who shall I contact? How am I going to set up the next phase of my career? Do I want to go on the same trajectory or do I want to take it up a notch?
“Asking myself all these questions is how I found myself in Texas, so what I found is even through failure, let’s say failure – it’s not failure because I got to a certain level but I plateaued there – and I now realise that if I want to achieve again I’ve got to go to another level, and I’ve just found out that what I thought was good enough wasn’t, and sacrifice is not a bad thing because throughout this struggle I’ve had to take myself through I’ve actually found potentially better than what I had before.
“You can start listening to everyone else and you start losing trust in your own self.
“That’s why I don’t value or put pressure on myself from outside conversations, family pressure, boxing pressure – it becomes too much. It can actually hinder you from progressing so I’m just going to go out there and do it for me. No entertaining for anyone; none of that. I’m just going to have fun.”
Others had since arrived to see Joshua as had Chisora, who had left and largely been forgotten when Joshua started to sound more like him for perhaps the very first time.
“I can’t keep on arguing with the opinions and taking into account what other people are saying, because sooner or later I might start thinking, ‘If I lose, if I lose’,” he said. “Why would I worry about that? So I just said, ‘Alright, cool, if that’s the case, if that’s the narrative, I will retire if I lose’.
“It’s just like what’s the big deal about this whole retirement? I know people have got to ask questions but I just didn’t want to entertain it and get into a debate with someone. ‘Why would I retire? I wouldn’t retire, I’m not going to lose, I’m going to win’. I know myself; I know I’m focused on winning and I know when it’s time to retire I’ll make that decision and, as for Saturday night, I’m focused on winning and that’s all that matters.”
He is a sufficiently big favourite against Franklin that the most relevant details of Saturday’s fight may come in what James has changed in him technically and not – for a fighter who remains relatively fresh – what, physically, he has left.
“We are so connected now it’s hard to get disconnected from a lot of things,” he said when explaining why he finds it easier to be in Dallas than London, before proceeding to sound like his time under James and around Errol Spence and the Charlos may even have given him a spiritual edge.
“When you’re searching for certain answers you can actually listen to yourself a bit more when you’re disconnected. Being a bit further away from the distractions and the hustle and bustle and small distractions. Being further away has been better. Being home is harder.”