The Fame Game

The na­tion’s me­dia de­scend on an An­thony Joshua train­ing day in Sh­effield. El­liot Worsell watches the event un­fold

Boxing News - - Media Day -

THE only thing worse than watch­ing other peo­ple watch a top­less An­thony Joshua’s ev­ery move is watch­ing the peo­ple who watch other peo­ple watch a top­less An­thony Joshua’s ev­ery move. But this is what can tran­spire on a Joshua me­dia day when en­closed in so-called ‘pens’ and when wait­ing pa­tiently for that nod of ap­proval, or that wave, or that shout from some­one of im­por­tance for you to es­cape and make your way to­wards the man on the throne.

I was in that po­si­tion last Wed­nes­day, the day af­ter Box­ing News cel­e­brated its 109th birth­day, and what a four-hour wait it turned out to be. Ba­sic rule: if the signal ar­rives, you’re in. You’ll get what you want – whether a pho­to­graph, selfie, video, or sound bite – and you might even get home on time. Yet, for those less for­tu­nate, the wait can be gru­elling, the queue never short­ens, and the faces of those in the way be­come all too fa­mil­iar.

In terms of the set-up at the English In­sti­tute of Sport, there were writ­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers and spon­sors in pen one, film crews in pen three, and then be­tween these two pens, en­sur­ing there was no cross-con­tam­i­na­tion, were mem­bers of Joshua’s team. I’ll call them ‘dis­ci­ples’ for now, but, what­ever the cor­rect ter­mi­nol­ogy, these blokes, vary­ing in size and rel­e­vance, were re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing the herd, all of whom wanted some­thing from Joshua, all of whom ob­served his ev­ery move, un­der con­trol.

It was quite an oper­a­tion, too. They were slick with it, strict with it, and clearly keen to sieve the over­whelm­ing in­ter­est. When Joshua was on the scene, for in­stance, the dis­ci­ples got busy. Did stuff. Moved around. When he cracked a joke, they laughed louder than I’ve man­aged to laugh at any stage in my adult life and did so with thigh slaps. They shep­herded. They scowled. They schmoozed. There was an itin­er­ary to fol­low, and they fol­lowed it, ex­pertly.

To help their quest, there were metal bar­ri­ers and se­cu­rity. “Ever get any trou­ble at a me­dia day?” asked a co­me­dian, an ac­tual co­me­dian, later on. “All the time,” said the brute on the door and there was ev­ery chance he was se­ri­ous. The im­pa­tience, the frus­tra­tion, the hunger, who knows?

Obliv­i­ous to it all, Joshua rat­tled through a pad rou­tine with his coach, Rob Mccracken, in the ring. Most of the peo­ple watched. For those at­ten­tive, his left hook looked sharp, es­pe­cially when thrown off the jab, he ap­peared leaner than usual, and his hair had vol­ume.

Joshua then hit the speed­ball. Rat-a-tat-tat. From my van­tage point in pen one, I could just about hear the sounds above Bill Withers’ ‘Just the Two of Us’ and reck­oned, upon study­ing a swarm of videog­ra­phers gather around Joshua, there could be no bet­ter song for such a mo­ment.

Ed­die Hearn, mean­while, found a qui­eter space back­stage to sit down with the writ­ten press. At this point, de­spite having ev­ery in­ten­tion to write about Joshua’s Septem­ber 22 fight, I de­cided to step away from the pack and re­turn to the spon­sors and pho­tog­ra­phers in pen one. I say de­cided, what I ac­tu­ally mean is asked – po­litely asked.

Mo­ments later, Joshua per­formed some cool-down ex­er­cises in pen two, and I watched, care­ful not to in­ter­rupt, only to no­tice two dis­ci­ples in Un­der Ar­mour track­suits siz­ing me up and talk­ing be­hind their hands.

“Where are you from?” the skin­nier one even­tu­ally asked, ap­proach­ing as though I’d been lin­ger­ing out­side a school play­ground in a trench coat. I told him, aware it hardly mat­tered, and was duly in­structed to re­turn to pen one. Im­me­di­ately.

Thank­fully, it wasn’t far from there, an hour and a half later, that Hearn, some­one whose abil­ity to talk and keep talk­ing is manna from heaven on a long Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in Sh­effield, emerged.

“We’re learn­ing with ev­ery­thing we do,” he told me. “I think here, with AJ, it’s not like a nor­mal work­out where you might get a dozen me­dia. There are dailies, in­ter­na­tional TV, spon­sors. It’s ac­tu­ally eas­ier to man­age be­cause you can cre­ate

‘WE’RE LEARN­ING WITH EV­ERY­THING WE DO’

those ar­eas and say, ‘You are over there.’

“Some peo­ple are say­ing this fight isn’t that big. But what does this turnout say?”

A lot. Most of all, though, it says An­thony Joshua’s fa­mous. Re­ally fa­mous. More fa­mous, in fact, than any Bri­tish boxer in decades. A dif­fer­ent kind of fa­mous, too. Fa­mous in a way that has spon­sors clam­our­ing to not only spon­sor him but then turn up and film his ev­ery move. Fa­mous in a way that makes the pres­ence of co­me­di­ans Rob Beck­ett and Romesh Ran­ganathan at the back of a box­ing gym seem per­fectly nor­mal.

“In box­ing, I think he’s as fa­mous as we’ll see,” Hearn con­tin­ued. “There’s so much needed to cre­ate a pro­file like An­thony Joshua. To have all of it, it’s a one-off. Are you go­ing to find some­one as ar­tic­u­late? Are you go­ing to find some­one whose story is like his? Are you go­ing to find some­one as good? Are you go­ing to find some­one as good-look­ing? Or as ath­letic? Or as per­fect?

“The only thing some peo­ple might say he lacks is smack talk. Peo­ple say he doesn’t talk smack. But, in that re­spect, he wouldn’t be a role model if he did.”

An­other man on the fame ride with Joshua is Rob Mccracken. Yet, so re­moved is the old-school Brum­mie from the me­dia cir­cus and all it en­tails, you sense it’s a ride he wishes would oc­ca­sion­ally break down and let him get off.

“An­thony, like Carl Froch, to­tally un­der­stands what’s re­quired from him,” said the level-headed Team GB coach. “They un­der­stand that they’re fight­ers but that they also have to en­ter­tain. They un­der­stand what’s re­quired to make an event. I think it might come with the younger gen­er­a­tion. I think so­cial me­dia might have a lot to do with it.

“I’m al­ways say­ing to him, ‘Look, you’ve got to take this se­ri­ous, you’ve got to stay off so­cial me­dia and do 10 in­ter­views less than you nor­mally would.’ But you’re deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion. An­thony is part of this younger gen­er­a­tion who live it. I couldn’t tell you how much time this gen­er­a­tion spend on so­cial me­dia but I’m sure it’s a lot. It’s en­ter­tain­ment.”

Joshua fi­nally en­tered pen one at half past three. There, against a back­drop of am­a­teur box­ers spar­ring, do­ing as he once did en route to Olympic gold, the reign­ing WBA, IBF and WBO world heavy­weight cham­pion slipped on an Un­der Ar­mour T-shirt, a fresh black one, glugged from a Lu­cozade bot­tle, on com­mand, and was asked by an in­ter­viewer: “How’s train­ing go­ing?”

Grin­ning, he said it was go­ing well. Re­ally well. He was then asked to name his favourite mu­sic and tele­vi­sion shows. He men­tioned “Satur­day night mu­sic” and some pro­gramme about lions.

Wait­ing in line, with my train soon to de­part but five min­utes with Joshua guar­an­teed if will­ing to miss it, I sud­denly ex­pe­ri­enced a mo­ment of clar­ity: five min­utes might be bet­ter than noth­ing but, where the heavy­weight cham­pion of the world is con­cerned, it’s not nearly enough.

‘THEY’RE FIGHT­ERS BUT THEY ALSO HAVE TO EN­TER­TAIN’

Photo: LAWRENCE LUSTIG

HIGH PRO­FILE: Joshua is now one of the most IDPRXV ĆJXUHV LQ WKH VSRUW

Photo: AC­TION IMAGES/AN­DREW COULDRIDGE

UN­DER OB­SER­VA­TION: Me­dia clus­ter around Joshua as he trains

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