AJ, The People’s Champion
In a sport where serious injures and fatalities tragically occur, the majority of boxing fans would have forgiven Anthony Joshua if he was not in the mood to meet and mingle with his army of fans gathered in the St Davids Hall, Cardiff for his public workout.
After all, his unification title fight with the unbeaten New Zealand boxer and WBO World Champion Joseph Parker (24-0) is only days away.
World Championship boxers are well know for ‘going into the zone’ as they get closer to fight night, when they block out all the distraction around them and their only focus is on winning and beating the opponent in front of them.
An opponent that has probably been training relentlessly for 8 to 10 weeks to inflict as much physical punishment upon them as allowed under the Marquess of Queensberry rules, ideally to render them unconscious as quickly as possible.
Boxing fans remember the body language and demeanour of some the World Heavyweight Champions of past and leading up to their big fights.
Mike Tyson, a man who’s name is synonymous with brutal violence, who always had the appearance of a volcano ready to explode and a few times he did.
The young George Foreman, a menacing scowling figure that did not suffer fools gladly. A fighter that in his prime was a human wrecking ball, a boxer that was there to get the job done as quickly as possible and little interest for niceties.
Even Britains Lennox Lewis, an affable gentleman outside of boxing, but prior to his big fights was withdrawn from everything around him including the fans, his 100% focus was on winning the upcoming fight.In his own words he was “cool calm and collected”
Its easy to understand why boxers go ‘into the zone’ as the big fight edges closer, its not just titles, glory, money and pride at stake when they step into the boxing ring, boxers are literally putting their lives on the line every time they step through the ropes.
The pre fight body language and demeanour of the unbeaten WBA and IBF World Champion Anthony Joshua could not be more different from the boxers mentioned above or most other fighters for that matter.
Joshua is the modern day smiling assassin, in the ring he is a fit, fast, and ruthless punching machine and once he has you hurt there is little chance of escape, just ask the great Wladimir Klitschko or any other of the 20 knockout victims from his perfect winning 20 fight record.
But outside of the boxing ring, even with a big fight just days away Joshua is smiling, friendly and genuinely seems to feed off the love and admiration from his fans.
Rather than an irritant or distraction, perhaps the interaction helps keep Joshua’s feet on the ground, a reminder that just 7 years ago he was a young boxing fan trying to get the attention of George Groves after his win over James DeGales but was pushed back and spoken to abruptly by the security staff.
At the recent public work out in Cardiff one of the security team actually told me, in a ‘tongue in cheek’ fashion the problem with working an AJ show was they went on for so long because Joshua always made sure every fan had a picture or an autograph, and this time it was no different.
After his media workout, a number of children from local boxing gyms were ushered into the boxing ring and Joshua sent over 12 minutes speaking to them and posing for pictures.
Then it was into the crowd for dozens of selfies with the fans who treat him more like a rock star that a professional sportsman.
Some people question, is this the real Anthony Joshua? Is it all a show for the cameras? Whats he really like?
Not since the days of Muhmmed Ali has their been a World Heavyweight Champion who has been so accessible to the fans, so happy to meet them to spend time with them
Whether Joshua goes on to be an all time great fighter or not remains to be seen, but Joshua won’t be boxing forever, and fighters like him don’t come around very often, so rather go looking for a negatives lets enjoy the AJ ride for as long as it lasts because he has earned himself the title ‘The People’s Champion’