Anthony Joshua believes the lockdown was good for him. It took him away from the treadmill of preparing for defense after defense and allowing him to just work on getting better.
Joshua defends his WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles against Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday night after the quietest time in his career. Having lost the chance to make a defense last summer due to the pandemic, then seen the long overdue fight with Tyson Fury slip away this year, he has only boxed once in the past 21 months.
Joshua had not walked into a boxing gym before 2008, but just four years later he was an Olympic gold medallist and four years after that he won his first world title.
He has been effectively learning his craft on the job, with each camp designed around preparing for one opponent and one fight. That would perhaps give some idea that when Ruiz replaced original opponent Jarell Miller at short notice, after Miller failed a drugs test, things did not go too well.
“Through the lockdown, that was the best time of my life,” Joshua said. “I was one way living a certain life and then I found boxing, my whole world flipped on its head, it happened so quick.
“Then during COVID, where the world flipped on its head, I got to poke my head back out and be like, ‘ah, back to normal again’. The sun was shining, it was just nice being normal as much as possible.
“The only difference is boxing takes up a lot of time, you’ve got to make certain sacrifices. But other than that, other than the sacrifices, the commitment I made to the sport, I’m just chilling.
“The best thing about fighting on Saturday is that I can get back to training in a week or two, so I can get my practice in. Because I can see myself getting better again.
“You’ll see a lot of improvements from the Pulev fight and then from this one to the next one you’ll see another mass improvement. And I’m actually looking forward to getting back, because when I’m in training I feel like I’m at my most, like that spiritual realm.”
When his training camp at the EIS in Sheffield was closed, he was given the keys to his old amateur club, Finchley, and even called up WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie for sparring when he needed it.
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He has also cut down seeing his family during this training camp, staying in Sheffield at weekends rather than coming back to London and spending hours on the road.
“I didn’t really see my family, my boy, over that period,” he said. “But sparring partners do it, they are away from their family. So why shouldn’t I? I just made that commitment to kind of live and actual boxer’s life rather than going home every weekend.”
The result is a boxer who is very confident in his ability right now. There is certainly respect for Usyk, but no sense of worry.
“I wouldn’t like to be him facing me,” Joshua said. “Good luck to him.”
Whether Joshua or Tyson Fury is considered the world’s No 1 right now, there is no question who sells more tickets. No boxer in British history has performed in front of so many fans as he has in his career.
“It has come with a lot of hard work,” Joshua said. “In a way it is crazy but I do understand why there is 60,000 people coming out. I know how committed boxing fans are to the sport so I made sure I made a commitment to them to try to repay them. I look back at fights and see how far I have come.
“This fight is going to be fun. It’s big-time boxing and I’m comfortable in this environment.
“You don’t get to world championship level by luck, you’ve got to put in a lot of hard work.”