Joshua: Box­ing Kept Me Out Of Jail

New star opens up on his che­quered past

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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?”

An­thony Joshua.

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