Anthony Joshua has accepted that the return fight in the desert with Andy Ruiz Jnr in two weeks is as much about redemption as it is claiming back the three word heavyweight title belts he lost in New York five months ago.
The Briton who had barely put a foot wrong for eight years – through claiming Olympic super-heavyweight gold to a rapid climb in the professional ranks as a world champion – has had a sobering period in which he now views himself as fighting for both his reputation and respect in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, on Dec 7.
“After I took the loss, you start hearing what people really thought,” explained Joshua from his training base at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield, this week. “I do feel like we don’t get the respect we deserve, especially in America.”
Joshua arrives in the Middle East on Sunday, giving himself a fortnight to acclimatise for his most important scrap thus far, a pivotal moment as important as his mega-showdown with Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium 2½ years ago.
“Before [the defeat by Andy Ruiz] that’s what [people] were asking about: Do you think you’ll be in the No 1 position if you win your next fight. It’s like, why was I even debating that conversation before, trying to prove myself. It was clear to see, I was the man on the table with four of the belts out of the five and I was still debating where my position was in the heavyweight division.
“Now I feel like, when I listen to people talk, they don’t really know what went into my last training camp. Even why I handed Ruiz the belts,” he explained, of his willingness to let Mexican-American Ruiz hold the belts in New York on the day of their news conference. “I know the reasons why things happened that week but people just assume. People have always underestimated me – which is a good thing. That’s why it’s good that people don’t really know the full information or situation you have been in behind the scenes.”
“We should have had that respect way before. It took 16 fights for me to become a world champion. Compared to the guys everyone is praising today, I just never really looked at it and understood why they would get all the credit after having such a long career and so many fights under the radar.
“We came to take over, not to take part. If you take me out of this seat and I was the next heavyweight coming up – Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois – and I was doing what we did, I’d be thinking, ‘F—– hell, they’re a force to be reckoned with, I have to respect these guys’.”
Hurt? No, says Joshua. Just sharpened, and sober. Ready to go again. There was even a little dig at Tyson Fury, over his recent WWE venture in pro wrestling. “I’d never do that,” said Joshua. “We are going to Saudi for our respective crafts. Other people go to Saudi for a pantomime. All I want is my respect in boxing.”
Manny Robles, the trainer of Ruiz, told The Sunday Telegraph he believed Joshua must make all the adjustments when the two fighters meet for the second time in a ring. “The onus will be on Joshua to adjust. Andy’s already used to fighting big guys like Joshua. He’s been fighting them his whole career.”