Joshua: Boxing Kept Me Out Of Jail
New star opens up on his chequered past
Anthony Joshua has it all. The looks, the body, the Olympic gold and the boxing career heading in only one direction.
Should the 26-year-old, as anticipated, beat American Charles Martin at the O2 Arena on April 9 to claim the IBF title vacated by Tyson Fury, the country will have two world heavyweight boxers Joshua, though, has something else. Previous. He might these days look and sound like the boy every mother wants her daughter to bring home.
Not all that long ago, though, he wouldn’t have got past the front door. Because AJ, as he readily admits, has form. Here is your standard, high-rise estate tearaway. Except, like so many young street fighters down the years, he has been saved by sport.
As he says: “But for boxing, I would be behind bars instead of fighting for the world title.”
The story spills out easily enough as he sits sipping coffee in a spa and health club just off the North Circular in London’s Mill Hill.
Joshua celebrates lifting Olympic gold in 2012
Bizarrely, his first brush with the law came as a 16-year-old after a game of football. He said: “I was quite a good striker at school but during one game this guy was trying to wind me up. “I got him round the neck and threw him over my shoulder. I didn’t know my own strength and he didn’t land too well.
“Incredibly, it went to court and I was charged with ABH. Luckily, they ended up giving me a slap across the wrist.
“It was time to stop playing football, though.” But he was already on the slippery slope, spending his time in hostels in Watford rather than back home with his mum in Golders Green. He recalled: “In Watford you have the high street and the bars and the pubs and, later at night, the chicken shops. “Even if you don’t drink, people get in your space and it easily kicks off.
“So, yeah, it kicked off a few times and I got arrested. It was a silly mindset. Living in a room in a hostel, there were no rules — you felt you had nothing to lose. “It was strange because my upbringing was good. My mum always ensured there was discipline in the house. But as soon as I stepped out on the street it was different. And, when you’re in a group, you never make decisions for yourself, it’s al- ways ‘What’s the boys doing?’
“If you are looking for trouble, you’ll find it. “One time, I even ended up on remand in Reading. I wouldn’t be here now if I had been found guilty.
“What did I do? I think I’ll pass on that one. But that was the turning point. “I went back to live with my mum and took up boxing. “It’s hard to believe now but I was on a tag for 14 months, not allowed to leave the house from eight at night until six in the morning. “And I had to sign on at the police station three times a week.”
As it pours out, it’s difficult to reconcile the old AJ with the smart, clean, savvy, updated version. He went on: “Part of the conditions of my release on tag was that I went to college and learned a trade — so I took up bricklaying. I also took up weights. I wanted to make sure that if I was convicted, I was strong enough to look after myself. “Suddenly my life was regimented and had discipline.” And then, right in the middle of his new career and with the 2012 Olympics in sight, he was stopped by police who found cannabis in a sports bag in the boot of his Mercedes. He said: “Cruisin’ in my Merc? What was I doing? I was even wearing my GB tracksuit. “And the police are on the phone to my coach, saying: “Is that Paul Walmsley? We have Anthony Joshua here at the station . . . ” “Now what have I done? So, of course, I got banned from boxing and kicked off the Olympic team — and this is just before the world ABAs. “And then I’m back in Watford and started messing around again with my old mates. My poor mum.” He had originally been charged with possession and intent to supply, which could have landed him in really serious trouble. He said: “Luckily, they knocked off the intent to supply bit and I got a 12-month community order and 100 hours of unpaid work. I ended up down the allotments.” What, growing cannabis? “No, carrots!” he laughed. “And tomatoes and courgettes. And digging the place up and chopping wood.
“Typically for those days, I didn’t take being kicked off the squad well. “I was arrogant and moody — how can they do this to me?” Luckily, that word again, he was reinstated and, within a year, he was standing on a podium with an Olympic gold round his neck. And now he is at the spa in Mill Hill, a reformed character living at home with his mum, with a world title shot just a month away, a career he manages himself and a hefty bank account. Here is a young man whose heroes, unsurprisingly for one reason or another, are Mike Tyson and Cristiano Ronaldo — “I like everything about Ronaldo — the brand, the look, the individuality and the way he has conditioned himself.” Except nothing is going to his head these days, Well, only a bit. He said: “I always fancied a motorbike and a gold chain.
“It’s what boys on estates always want.
“But the bike only cost £800. Yes, the chain was £3,000. But it’s cool. “Because I wear my Olympic medal on it. But that’s it — my only luxuries.
“I have finally got it all together. How lucky am I?”