Former two-time champ Anthony Joshua on his journey back to the fundamentals

Anthony Joshua meets late-replacement Robert Helenius on Saturday at London’s O2 Arena in his second fight with Texas trainer Derrick James in his corner.

The two have had a long camp after outpointing Jermaine Franklin in April and Joshua is hoping that, at 33 years of age, he will show progression under the in-demand coach.

“I’ve always wanted to understand the fundamentals of the sport,” the former 2012 Olympic gold medallist said. “I was big, strong, and my thought was when you have someone hurt you blow them out because you have no other option. You don’t know how to pick someone apart. I never knew how to beat someone… I’m 6ft 6, tall, strong, why haven’t I got one of the best jabs in the industry? Because no one ever taught me the importance of popping my jab, working my jab, practising my jab, and I never understood the elements of defence. I never understood how I had to go for 12 rounds.”

James has tried to blend Joshua between making improvements while letting Joshua express himself. Some have felt Joshua has lost his identity as a fighter. He was more aggressive at the start of his career, he went to war with Andy Ruiz but then soundly outboxed him. He tried to outskill Oleksandr Usyk and he appeared to be in something of a transition against Franklin. 

“With what I have in me – because it never goes – versus what I wanted to achieve as a fighter with fundamentals, I just feel like I’m on my own trajectory,” Joshua added. “And secondly, if someone is as good as they think they are. Bring that out of me, if they think they are that good. Bring that killer out of me at your own detriment. Bring that out of me. Why would I go into a fight with Franklin, for example, as tall as I am and as rangy as I am, and start trading with him, start trading hooks with him and give him the chance to beat me? When I could just keep him behind my jab, just pop his head off and on my record it would be, ‘Oh, Anthony Joshua was undefeated for 50 years of his career.’ That’s the legacy. People talk about undefeated fighters legacy-wise, they don’t talk about the fights they had, they just say ‘he was undefeated’. It was more about improving as a fighter and I do believe that everything will come together fundamentally speaking at the right time.”

Joshua has more faith in both his skills and his engine now. He had been due to face Dillian Whyte this weekend, but after Matchroom nixed the bout following issues with Whyte’s VADA test, Helenius took the late call.

“I’m very confident in my jab,” Joshua continued. “I’m very confident in my defence. I’m very confident in going 12 rounds now where before I was never confident going 12 rounds. My defence was too leaky, and my jab’s definitely improved and improved a lot. Secondly, as well, with the 12-round factor Tyson Fury went 12 rounds with Otto Wallin and it was like, ‘Yeah, brilliant 12 rounds, good to get 12 rounds under his belt.’ Speaking in the third person, ‘Anthony Joshua goes 12 rounds with Jermaine Franklin’ and it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s washed up. He ain’t the same fighter.’ And I’m like, How? How? But then he [Fury] goes and has a great fight with Wilder next. Whatever God’s plan is, I say everything will come to pass in the future, but right now, I’m going through the process and that’s why we’re asking these questions.”

The heavyweight division has proved to be a source of frustration in recent years, with the big four, Wilder, Joshua, Fury and Usyk not boxing each other with any kind of regularity despite being some of the most attractive proposed matches in the sport. Is this a golden age for the weight class, or is it a waste of talent given the lack of significant matches?

“Only if the division goes shit after all of us,” Joshua said. “Because we’re all going to depart around the same time. I think if it goes to pot, people might say, ‘Oh, that was actually quite good.’ But if there’s another era of guys beating each other and people saying, ‘They’re rubbish, look at this lot,’ that’s how it will go. Look at Holmes, he never got the credit he deserved, even though he was so good he never got the credit he deserved because the era before him was so good that he came through later on. It depends on the era that comes after you. What makes this era so good is that the Klitschkos were before us, then we kind of like brought some limelight and entertainment back to it. It’s kind of changing now. People are fed up a bit and it’s what the next ones do. Hopefully the next ones eff it up a bit more so we look better than we really are. That’s my logic.”

Joshua lost twice to Usyk, who has three of the belts. Fury has the other strap. Is Joshua’s mission still to be No. 1?

“I used to,” he explained. “That’s what hurt when I lost to Usyk. I used to. But it’s hard to get that notoriety as a British fighter. If I was American it would be different.”

Notoriety or respect?

“Respect. If I was in the States, it would be different. But it’s too difficult here as a British fighter and I have to beat and American like Wilder or one of their best fighters to get that respect.” 

Will Joshua be appreciated more when he’s gone?

“The thing is, you’re never really gone in today’s generation because of social media’” Joshua said. “You’re never gone no more, so you’re not really missed as much anymore. We are very accessible as people now. The world’s become a lot smaller. Superstars aren’t superstars, they’re just normal people, unless you’re a mega superstar, but they’re a small group now where a few years ago if you were mega, mega like Lennox, Bowe, Holyfield, Tyson, Tyrell Biggs, Spinks, all these fighters…”