Anthony Joshua’s tears and tirade show the burden of the boxing spotlight |  Anthony Joshua

Anthony Joshua’s tears and tirade show the burden of the boxing spotlight | Anthony Joshua

meShortly before 4 am local time, Anthony Joshua was met by the crowd that had been waiting for him. Joined by his promoter, Eddie Hearn, the 32-year-old entered the press conference room at the rear of the Abdullah Sports City media center and took a seat behind the podium. Then he and Hearn started answering questions and everything was normal, until someone asked Joshua if he was proud of the performance he had put in defeating Oleksandr Usyk.

“I am proud of myself?” Joshua said. “It’s hard to say if I’m proud of myself. I’m upset. Really, deep in my heart…” Everyone was waiting for him to finish his answer, but he had no more words. Just emotion. Joshua leaned forward, covered his eyes, and was clearly crying.

It had been that kind of night, one of intense sporting action but also in which the athlete surrendered to something more human. A rawness that was as fascinating as it was difficult to watch.

It was surprising because it came from a man who has for so long been the epitome of restraint. Joshua may beat people up for a living, but he seems like a nice guy too. Charming, sweet, the kind of guy a father would happily allow his daughter to have dinner with. But here, on a hot night in Jeddah, the Saudi city on the Red Sea, everything burned down.

Having lost to Usyk for the second time and consequently failing to regain his status as world heavyweight champion, Joshua lost it all again. He threw two of the victor’s three belts out of the ring before walking out himself. Having returned, he exchanged angry words with Usyk before grabbing a microphone. In front of the crowd of 10,000 people, he delivered a curious and foul-mouthed monologue.

“If you knew my story, you would understand the passion. I’m not a fucking five-year-old amateur boxer,” he declared. “I was going to jail… I got bail and started training. It’s because of the fucking passion we put into this shit, man.

“Son of a bitch, I’m not a 12-round fighter,” he continued. “Look at me. I’m the new breed of heavyweight. ‘Oh, you don’t throw combinations like Rocky Marciano,’ that’s because I’m not 14 stone. I’m 18 stone and heavy. It’s hard work.”

Joshua eventually got around to congratulating Usyk, but even that was done with a rudeness that made it seem insincere. According to the rest of the speech, he was also a bit strange.

Overall, it was hard to know what to make of Joshua’s behavior. Initially there was confusion, shock, even disgust. But in the end it was hard not to feel sorry for him. This, clearly, was not just a defeated man, but a broken one.

The prevailing feeling was that of someone exhausted by the life he has led since he shot to fame by winning Olympic gold a decade ago. Joshua turned pro the following year and has been relentless ever since: fight after fight, most of them seeking or defending a world title, with the vast majority being staged in front of large, expectant crowds.

Anthony Joshua exchanges words with Oleksandr Usyk after the result was announced.
Anthony Joshua exchanges words with Oleksandr Usyk after the result was announced. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

With that comes great riches, but it’s also exhausting, both mentally and physically, and while Joshua was probably able to cope with that during the good times, it’s clearly proved too much during the bad, specifically in the period between his loss to Usyk. at Tottenham last September and the rematch on Saturday. As Joshua admitted, he felt the pressure of having to win back his WBA, WBO and IBF titles, and having not done so, it’s perhaps no surprise that he gave up.

“I’m a con artist, I work hard and make sure my team is good, but it comes at a cost,” he said. “It will never break me, but it takes a lot of strength and tonight you saw a chink in the armor.”

Hearn also admitted that Joshua came into this fight with the weight of the world on his shoulders and emphasized that that was behind his erratic behavior. “What he saw was pure emotion,” he said. “People don’t understand the pressure that he has on his shoulders, and he has never ducked that pressure. He is an amazing ambassador. Someone I want my kids to look up to.”

Hearn also praised Joshua for “fighting one of the greatest fighters to ever put on a pair of gloves.” It was fair on his part given his display in his return to Saudi Arabia three years after beating Andy Ruiz Jr in Diriyah. Joshua had promised to be more aggressive than he had been when he faced Usyk in north London and he kept his word. Charging forward in the first round, Joshua secured the center of the ring in the second and consistently hit his opponent with thudding punches, no more than in the ninth round when the challenger had the champion fighting, unleashing hell.

But after returning fire in the tenth round, Usyk took control of the contest through a combination of typically sublime technique and ferocity. Having largely dominated the proceedings, he was not surprised when he was declared the winner, the only surprise was that he went by split decision. Two of the judges gave scores of 115-113 and 116-112 in favor of the Ukrainian, while the other, unbelievably, considered Joshua the winner with a score of 115-113.

For Usyk it was the 20th straight win across two divisions, which in turn fueled talk of a delicious unification fight with Tyson Fury, something both men seem to want, as well as providing much-needed pride and joy to their devastated nation. for the war.

For Joshua it was the third loss in 27 fights and one that leaves him with few paths back to the top of his division. That is likely to lead to increased speculation, both inside and outside of boxing, that he could be finished, something the man himself was keen to emphasize would not happen any time soon. “I am a fighter for life, hunger never dies,” he said.

Hearn went further in describing his desire to see Joshua have “three or four fights next year and win championship belts again.” He also outlined his desire to see Joshua enjoy fighting again, and more than anything, to “be happy.”

Given his state of mind after Saturday’s fight, it seems like very wise advice.

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