Anthony Joshua

Usyk vs AJ: Anthony Joshua was under ‘immense pressure’ in training camp for Oleksandr Usyk rematch

"Anthony Joshua has been the face of British boxing for a long time. It's a big weight on your shoulders to carry. It's going to take its toll." A unique insight into the immense pressures on AJ and his brutal preparation going into Oleksandr Usyk rematch from inside Joshua's camp

Anthony Joshua’s troubling outburst after losing Saturday’s rematch to Oleksandr Usyk became as big a talking point as his gallant 12-round effort to win the unified world heavyweight titles back.

After losing a split decision verdict, Joshua unceremoniously dumped two title belts out of the ring before seizing the microphone to launch into a strange speech of his own.

The former champion however is not only one of the most recognisable boxers in the world but he was under intense scrutiny as he tried to avenge his first loss to Usyk in this high-stakes rematch. He was under extraordinary pressure.

It was like nothing he had experienced before. “I’m only 19 so picking up as much experience as I can, not saying no to any opportunities that come my way,” he told Sky Sports.

As an amateur, he only won the national Youth championships last year and he boxes at light-heavyweight, 80kgs. So trying to contain Joshua in ferocious spars was a tall order.

“Joshua’s big, he’s a heavyweight,” he said.

“It was tough but it’s what comes with it. A fight of that magnitude. It’s going to be tough.

Anthony Joshua took the microphone in the ring after his defeat to Oleksandr Usyk to explain his post-fight frustrations and congratulate the Ukrainian

“My speed, my speed of foot was getting me through the rounds. But obviously it’s what he needs as well in terms of the way Usyk boxes. But definitely you don’t want to stand in front of them a lot.

“The first few weeks was quite rough, getting used to the way he boxes, trying to find my rhythm in the spars. But you get used to it.”

Joshua brought the same approach to the sparring as he did to the fight itself. He was closing his training partners down, trying to do damage

Anthony Joshua lost his temper after losing his rematch to Oleksandr Usyk and reacted angrily by throwing two belts and arguing with his team

“There were a few of us sparring partners but every single one he was just trying to get you out of there. That was the gameplan for the fight so that’s what they’re going to do in sparring. When I was sparring, Angel (Fernandez) and Robert Garcia were just telling him forward, forward, forward,” Okoh explained.

“It was very intense spars. They were using me for my speed and my movement so I was doing say like the first two rounds, the first three rounds, then the last three rounds. It was [to] start fast, finish fast.

“Very intense. Like definitely trying to get you out of there. But that was the kind of thing with the whole camp, getting in the mindset of he needs to go in there and bully Usyk and take him out. So why would you not do that in the sparring, if you’re going to do that in the fight?”

Joshua’s attack to the body was particularly effective in the Usyk fight. It was something he had honed on his training partners. That, Okoh confirmed, was punishing.

Oleksandr Usyk used his classy skills to win a split decision after an enthralling rematch with Anthony Joshua

“Mainly they were targeting the body,” Okoh said. “You get caught every now and then!”

Joshua’s behaviour immediately after the contest on Saturday caused a sensation because it was so out of character.

But it is more understandable when considering the dark place he had taken himself to in order to sustain the intensity of his training.

“I know that when we were in Loughborough, he was in the campus of the uni, going to the gym and he’d go back to his room, eat and that’s it. It was like living a prison kind of lifestyle in the camp,” Okoh said.

“It was the same in Jeddah. He’d go to the gym, go back to the hotel, eat, sleep and just the same thing. Doing that for a long time at such a high intensity and training for such a big event, it’s hard,” he continued.

“To stay focused for that long, it must be hard.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said Oleksandr Usyk’s performance was incredible and Anthony Joshua was not good enough on the night despite giving it everything

“I haven’t been in that situation.”

There was no let up for Joshua even in Jeddah. Markers of the fight, images of Joshua were “literally everywhere”. As a public figure, he was as prominent as ever.

“[He was] on the billboards, in the shopping mall, literally everywhere everyone was talking about the fight,” Okoh said.

“He carried British boxing for a long time. Been the face of British boxing for a long time.

“Especially coming off the back of the first defeat [to Usyk], the pressure he must have been under must have been immense. Obviously, he’s got to try and keep it all together because he’s so much in the public eye that he has to remain calm and be the role model.

Isaac Okoh is a young amateur, but got a shock call up to Anthony Joshua's training camp

Image:Isaac Okoh is a young amateur, but got a shock call up to Anthony Joshua’s training camp

“He’s genuinely a great person and he is genuinely a role model. But obviously when you’re in high-intensity fights like that, it’s hard. It’s a big weight on your shoulders to carry.

“Massive fights, stadium fights, stupid amount of numbers on the audience, big press conferences, he’s just always in the public eye. So it must be hard.

“It’s going to take its toll at some point.”

That all appeared to boil over after the fight.

Anthony Joshua
Image:Anthony Joshua’s attack to the body was tremendous

“He just had an outburst of emotions. Obviously it’s all built up, it’s come out, everyone’s human,” Okoh reflected.

“It happens but it’s a shame he acted how he did. It probably was wrong. But everyone’s human, it’s got to come out at some point. As I said, he had this weight on his shoulders for so long, it must have been a bottled-up amount of emotion and it’s just come out.

“I don’t think it will define his career. It’ll be the talk for a little while. He’ll be able to come back.”

Some of the pressure on Joshua could even have been relieved now his saga with Usyk is over.

“The loss might have taken a weight off his shoulders,” Okoh suggested.

“Now Usyk’s going to go on to have his next fight be a big fight, with (Tyson) Fury or whatever. Whether it gives Joshua a bit of time to sit back, have a warm-up fight and work his way back up kind of thing, takes quite a bit of pressure off him.”

For Okoh himself, after that two-month-long adventure, it’s back to normal.

That will entail resuming his amateur career, going up to an assessment with the GB squad and entering the National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs boxing championships.

“Back to reality,” he said cheerfully. “It was chaos, it was crazy, I was just there soaking it all up.

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kind of thing.”

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