Former trainer believes AJ was Joshua of old against Otto Wallin

Anthony Joshua turned back the clock with his demolition job of Otto Wallin, according to his first professional trainer.

Joshua turned over after winning Olympic gold in 2012 with Tony Sims in his corner, and while they went their separate ways before Joshua hit the heights, Sims was happy seeing the 34-year-old break up and destroy Wallin last month.

Wallin was supposed to be a dangerman, but he landed almost nothing of note before compassionately being withdrawn by his corner after five rounds. Joshua, often written off by so many, had impressed.

He did, and he [Anthony Joshua] reminded me of the old days when he was younger – he come out of the blocks, he was aggressive,” said Sims. “I just think he took the bull by the horns from the first round and kind of walked through [Otto] Wallin, and I just believed that after the first round he was going to knock him out. Wallin didn’t pose any threat to him whatsoever. A lot of people beforehand, after watching the Wallin-[Tyson] Fury fight, thought he was going to be a massive risk to him, but I was pleased for ‘Josh’.”

There was a feeling that Wallin, as an at-times imposing southpaw, would present Joshua with problems, but with trainer Ben Davison in the corner, Joshua had things his own way, taking the brave Swede apart. Wallin offered little in Saudi Arabia and now it’s Joshua who has the attractive and lucrative options coming his way in 2024.

“As I say, he stamped on his authority from round one,” Sims added, “which he always used to do as well, and you expect him to do, but I thought it was a great win for him, and I was over the moon for him. I’m hearing there’s suggestions that he might fight [Filip] Hrgovic for the vacant IBF title, which will be a good thing, because he’d become a three-time world champion. Now, obviously it gives him pulling power, and the winner of [Tyson] Fury-[Oleksandr] Usyk as well – to have another unification – so that would probably be his best route. Other than that, just wait until the Fury-Usyk fight is over, and then obviously fight the winner. But yeah, he’s got a few good options out there now, it’s opened up for him now after that win.”

On February 17, England’s Fury and Ukraine’s Usyk fight in Saudi Arabia to unify the heavyweight titles, but then the belts will likely be splintered – something boxing is terrible with – and that is likely going to leave the IBF vacant, freeing up Joshua to face the Croat Hrgovic.

Fury is likely going to start a slender favourite against Usyk, but the odds probably narrowed after Fury struggled to beat Francis Ngannou in a 10-rounder back in October.

“Well, before Fury fought Ngannou, I would’ve heavily favoured Fury,” Sims added. “If you looked at the [Deontay] Wilder fights, how big and skillful Fury is, and Usyk didn’t look great against [Daniel] Dubois… But then when you look at the Ngannou fight, it’s kind of given Usyk a little bit more favour, and you start to think that now it’s a 50-50 fight, but in the same breath, Usyk didn’t look great against Dubois either. So they’ve both got a point to prove in this fight, and obviously whoever wins becomes the No. 1 fighter in the world.”

And that could lead to another money fight, perhaps back to Joshua. Usyk already has two wins over Joshua, of course, but if Joshua carries on with his Wallin form into 2024 and Usyk toils in beating Fury, a third fight could happen. Perhaps more pertinently, a Fury-Joshua fight is one of the biggest contests that can be made in the sport and has been for several years.

“That’s right yeah, so that’s going to be sitting in the wings, and then you’re looking at Joshua versus Fury or Joshua versus Usyk,” Sims continued. “Beforehand, where he [Joshua] had those [fights] against Usyk, you wouldn’t have favoured him at all – but after that performance against Wallin, and you see the other two’s performances, now Joshua’s got his foot in the door and it’s becoming a 50-50 fight again. That’s what heavyweight boxing’s like though, isn’t it? It’s up and down, like before Wilder lost to [Joseph] Parker, a lot of people were saying, ‘That’s a bad fight for Joshua’ walking about the Wilder fight. “Wilder whips them in from everywhere” – which he does – “he’s a big puncher, Joshua’s negative” but now, you’d think watching them both fight Joshua would just walk through him and knock him out. It’s just weird that boxing is a sport where you are only as good as your last fight all the time, and that’s a really true saying.” 

And if there was an example that either anything can happen at heavyweight, that you can’t take anything for granted in boxing or that you’re only as good as your last fight, it is true in Wilder’s case, as he was listless and one dimensional on his way to a wide decision loss to Parker on the big Saudi Arabia December 23 bill. That came as a shock. Parker was supposed to be cast in the Wallin role, a stepping stone to negotiate on the way to Joshua-Wilder in March. 

“Well, we all did, didn’t we? I was one of them,” Sims admitted. “I was thinking, ‘Well, if you’re looking at Wilder versus Parker, I’m thinking it’s not going to go six rounds. As soon as he catches him with one of them big looping shots, it’s over’. And if you think, Joe Joyce proper beat him [Parker] up for 10 rounds and stopped him, you’re thinking that Wilder is going to just knock him out cold, and that’s what the sport’s like. You can never say never in boxing. Who’s going to win and who’s going to lose – and that’s what captures the imagination of the public as well – because you can never 100 per cent say who’s going to win, and who’s going to lose in this sport.”