From facing jail to heavyweight glory: The rise of Anthony Joshua

It’s fair to say the rise of Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua has put boxing back on the map in the UK, but not everything has been so glorious in the life of Britain’s most adored fighter.

As a youngster, Joshua had a raw talent in sport.

At school, he was one of the standout performers in football and had a need for speed on the track with times of just over 10 seconds in the 100 metres.

While Joshua had made a great impression in sport, his behaviour outside of it was much to be desired. By the age of 16, Joshua was getting himself into trouble with the law, something his cousin Gbenga Ileyemi realised.

He acted and forced Joshua to sign up to Finchley ABC in 2007 at the age of 18 to combat his aggressiveness in a safer environment. The north west London gym is also the home of fellow heavyweight bad boy Dereck Chisora, who is now signed up to his 258 Management - a company that also looks after Joshua Buatsi, Lawrence Okolie and Campbell Hatton.

Despite being a late starter, 'AJ' had a natural gift and soon enough Team GB came calling after impressing at Finchley. He would receive an invite to the English Institute of Sport - based in Sheffield - and the home for elite amateurs from Britain.

Things looked to be running smoothly as he won gold medals at the English National and Great Britain Championships in Colchester and Liverpool, respectively. That was until disaster struck in March 2011 when Joshua got pulled over by the police for speeding in his Mercedes-Benz.

The authorities would go on to find herbal cannabis inside the car and arrested Joshua for possessing cannabis and intent to supply the drug. With the 2012 Olympics just 18 months away, Joshua was then suspended by Team GB and given 12-months of community service and 100 hours of unpaid work. His dream of fighting in the London Games was left in tatters.

Second chance and Olympic glory

After much consideration by the courts, Joshua was given a second chance of redemption and he didn't look back. A silver medal at the 2011 Amateur Boxing Championships led to him being selected for the 2012 London Olympics.

In an extremely tough draw at the Games, Joshua defeated highly-ranked Cuban Erislandy Savon and Zhang Zhilei, who won silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The 23-year-old then overcame Ivan Dychko of Kazakhstan in the semi-finals with the judges scoring it 13-11 in favour of the home favourite. Deemed as a novice prior to the Olympics, Joshua was now on the brink of glory.

Roberto Cammarelle stood in his way. The Italian would prove to be the ultimate test. At the age of 32, Cammarelle was the reigning Olympic champion and a former two-time world champion. After losing the first two rounds, Joshua fired back with a vengeance in the third which saw the judges score the contest at 18-18 at the final bell - meaning it went to countback.

With the scoring of five judges rather than a usual three, 'AJ' was given the nod by three rounds, much to the dismay of Team Italy who would later unsuccessfully appealed the result.

The Briton, following in the footsteps of Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams in London, claimed Team GB's 29th and final gold medal. His road to redemption had finally been completed, proving that people can thrive when given a second chance in life.

The professional circuit

Amid speculation of Joshua being linked to signing a 10-fight contract with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, Matchroom mogul Eddie Hearn jumped the queue and grabbed the signature of Britain's most exciting prospect. Having disposed Emanuele Leo inside the opening round on his debut at London's O2 Arena, Joshua would go on to rack up 14 successive wins inside the distance.

Having showcased his talents, the Commonwealth titleholder's next battle was with a familiar face on Sky Sports Box Office. That fighter was Dillian Whyte. The bitter foes had previously collided in the amateur ranks in 2009 with Whyte emerging victorious.

The 2015 pay-per-view, which generated an estimated 699,000 buys, saw an overconfident Joshua tagged for the first time in the second round. Joshua would weather the storm to derail Whyte via TKO in the seventh to retain his Commonwealth title while also winning the Lonsdale belt.

The world stage

In February 2016, Hearn announced Joshua's next opponent would be IBF world champion, Charles Martin. The southpaw, who defeated Vyacheslav Glazkov, was making his first defence since taking the title back to America.

Martin got given the chance to fight for the IBF crown after Tyson Fury was stripped of the title for not fighting his mandatory challenger by the boxing organisation.

It was mission impossible for Fury, though due to Wladimir Klitschko triggering his rematch clause. The 'Gypsy King' would later withdraw from the Klitschko fight and relinquish the WBO and WBA championships after being declared medically unfit.

Martin and Joshua fought at London's O2 Arena - a venue the latter had won at on five previous occasions. It soon turned into six as the fight was over in the second. Emulating the likes of Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno, Joshua became heavyweight world champion.

The former bricklayer recorded successful defences against another two Americans in fellow Olympian Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina in 2016. In classic Hearn style, the promoter invaded the ring instantly after the Molina fight to announce a fight for the ages between Joshua and the legendary Klitschko at Wembley.

Fight of the Century

It would be a unification battle with the vacant WBA (Super) also on the line. A post-war record of 90,000 spectators would attend the event in London to witness history in the making. It exceeded the 80,000 record previously set by Carl Froch and George Groves for their grudge rematch in 2015 - a card Joshua fought on.

In a titanic clash, Joshua came back from the abyss in an extraordinary fifth round to produce an unforgettable TKO in round 11. In doing so, he retired one of heavyweight's greatest. The Watford man was now officially a national treasure.

IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev was expected to be next up for Joshua until the Bulgarian pulled out. Promoter Kalle Sauerland confirmed his fighter had suffered a shoulder injury during sparring.

Cameroonian-Frenchman Carlos Takam replaced Pulev just 12 days out from the event in the Welsh capital. Weighing a career-high of 254lbs, Joshua overcame a rocky start and came on strong in the later rounds to force referee Phil Edwards to halt the fight in the 10th.

Unifying the division

The road to undisputed continued with New Zealand's first-ever heavyweight champion Joseph Parker agreeing to a unification at Cardiff's Principality Stadium. An impressive technical performance saw Joshua outpoint the Kiwi. His unanimous decision victory ended his 100% winning KO streak though.

The 29-year-old was back to normal service against Alexander Povetkin at Wembley though, with a stunning seventh-round stoppage.

Wilder vs Fury and fall from grace

 In a shock move, Fury agreed to fight Wilder in December 2018 after just two comeback fights. The Los Angeles bout ended in a thrilling majority-draw and did the biggest PPV sales for a heavyweight contest since Lewis versus 'Iron' Mike Tyson in 2002. Joshua wanted a piece of the action against Wilder himself and was keen for talks soon after.

The pair were the only two recognised world champions with Wilder holding the famous WBC green-and-gold title. It was THE fight to make in world boxing. Negotiations had previously fallen through several times in 2017 and 2018 but Joshua's camp were optimistic of striking a deal.

Could we finally see the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lewis in 2002? No. The 'Bronze Bomber' instead fought mandatory challenger Breazeale, forcing Joshua to make his American debut in the Big Apple after a rematch with Whyte failed to materialise.

With the backing of streaming service DAZN, Joshua and Jarrell 'Big Baby' Miller were scheduled to dance at Madison Square Garden. That was before the news had broke about Miller's failing THREE drug tests.

Just one month before his debut across the pond, Hearn confirmed Andy Ruiz Jr as his next opponent. Ruiz fitted the bill. He had a strong amateur background and possessed a decent Hispanic fanbase, something DAZN wanted.

A seemingly out-of-shape Ruiz was mocked during the weigh-in as he ate a Snickers bar before lifting Joshua's belts in the air. A routine victory was expected for 'AJ'.

June 1 would go on to become a historic heavyweight moment as Ruiz delivered one of the biggest upsets of the past two decades. Joshua, concussed during the majority of the bout, hit the deck four times during his crushing seventh-round TKO defeat to the 20-1 underdog.

Criticism came Joshua's way following his shock defeat, including from Lewis, who questioned whether he needed to replace trainer Rob McCraken. The 'Pugilist's' comments prompted an aggressive response from 'AJ', who labelled Lewis a 'clown' in his Sky Sports documentary - 'AJ: The Untold Truth'.

Ruiz vs Joshua 2

The rematch between Joshua and Ruiz took place in Saudi Arabia in December 2019 with all of the pressure on the former to re-establish himself in the heavyweight division. Joshua took advantage of Ruiz - who weighed in at 283lbs for the fight, 15lbs more than their first fight - and outpointed the Mexican.

After regaining three of the four world heavyweight titles on offer, Joshua made his first defence of the second reign against Pulev. AJ knocked the Bulgarian mandatory challenger out in round nine in December 2020.

Negotiations of a British blockbuster showdown between Joshua and Fury for August 14, 2021, collapsed following a court arbitration ruling the latter had to face Wilder for the third time.

Joshua will now face Oleksandr Usyk - his WBO mandatory challenger - this weekend at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Should Joshua win, and so does Fury next month, then we could finally be on the verge of history next summer. But as we all know, one punch can change everything...

Read more: Betting preview - Anthony Joshua backed to exploit southpaw superstar

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