Anthony Joshua is set to return to the ring August 12 at the O2 Arena in London and he’ll be facing former top contender Dillian Whyte in a rematch of a wild 2015 clash that saw him stop Whyte in seven rounds.
It’s safe to say that both men peaked as fighters after that bout– Joshua went on to become a three-belt heavyweight world champion and Whyte, who was very green at the time of the 2015 tussle, went on to become a top 5 heavyweight.
It’s also safe to say that both fighters are now firmly on the decline as they get set to meet in a rematch that would’ve made much more sense three or four years ago. Whyte is coming off a blowout sixth-round TKO loss to WBC titlist Tyson Fury in April of 2022 and a near loss to unheralded Jermaine Franklin in November of 2022. Joshua, meanwhile, last fought this past April, scoring a decisive but cautious and lackluster decision over Jermaine Franklin. Prior to that, he had lost back-to-back decisions to Oleksandr Usyk.
For those following the decline of Joshua, the Franklin performance was especially telling. Slated to meet an opponent tailor-made to be beaten– and beaten badly– “AJ” showed a decided lack of fire.
As this writer observed at the time in his Monday Notes from the Boxing Underground column at FightHype.com:
“It was a performance well beneath a man once hyped as the future of boxing and the sport’s first billion dollar property. Joshua’s unwillingness to open up for fear of making a mistake and being hurt by a foe who was chosen precisely because he COULDN’T hurt him, was a portrait in frustration for all but his most die-hard fanboys and the DAZN broadcast team. It was like watching a tank cautiously maneuver around a tricycle for 36 long minutes…
“Anthony Joshua…THIS Anthony Joshua…is not a man who poses a threat to any top heavyweight. Derrick James is a great trainer, but he’s not salvaging this Titanic. No trainer or collection of trainers could pull the iceberg out of the hull of this RMS Titanic right now. Joshua, himself, may be able to, but he’s yet to show even the slightest inclination of even being able to understand what’s going wrong with him.”
During the lead-up to this upcoming bout with Whyte, Joshua, himself, has recognized his need to rekindle that inner fire.
“Where’s the fire?” Joshua said in an interview with BBC 5 Live Boxing with Steve Bunce. “It’s the reward. That’s where the fire is. I lay out a fire in front of you and you say, ‘what’s that?’ This is just what you are, it’s your spirit that I’m building here. I’m not worried about no money. I’m building a spirit, which is fighting. So, forget that. I can be naked on a beach in an ice-cold sea. What do I want to go across fire for? It’s the risk. That’s where the fire is. It’s what the risk is. It’s where the reward is. …The spirit. I need to get my fighting spirit back. I need to get busy again.”
Joshua, who began working with trainer Derrick James prior to the Franklin fight, insists that he’s not looking past his opponent on the 12th, despite rumors that he could be facing former WBC champ Deontay Wilder later this year.
“I’m not interested in Deontay Wilder (at the moment),” Joshua said.
“For this fight and future, but this fight, yeah, because this is what my focus has to be on. I have to focus. I have to focus on what’s in front of me. Everyone’s always mentioning other fights. It happens, obviously. But when you’re talking about me personally, me and my life, ‘Are you going to fight this guy? Or are you gonna fight that guy if you win this’—let me just focus on Dillian. That’s where my head’s at.”
“The pot of gold at the end of that fight can sway certain decisions, where if I just do this purely for the spirit, I need to fight, I need to get my warrior spirit up. Number one, you’re testing yourself for causes that are bigger than money and number two, you should win anyway because you’re fighting for something valuable, which is your soul. One thing I noticed with people with money. You don’t know who has money in the airport, in their day to day, walking down the street, or talking to them on the train but what you do know is the character and the soul of a person. That’s worth something. …That’s what will win this fight, the soul.
“I need to ignite it. I need to push myself again. Yeah, it’s going to be tough.”