• The Centre for Inclusive Leadership

Black History Month- Anthony Joshua

As a part of Black history month we asked our colleagues to write a piece celebrating the life and achievements of a black or brown figure (past of present) who has inspired them. This week our Head of Digital Paul Walsh article on Anthony Joshua.

After being asked to write about an inspirational black or brown figure in my life, several names came to mind but the one name that kept coming back to the front of it, was one Anthony Joshua. As a passionate football and boxing enthusiast, the story of Anthony Joshua (AJ) is one that always struck a chord with me. The typical cinderella, rags to riches story. It is the story that every young fighter aspires to achieve.

Joshua began boxing in 2007 aged 18 and was actually introduced to the sport by his cousin. AJ was never the most skilled but with a strong work ethic and determination he excelled in boxing at a very early stage winning his first trophy is 2009, but that was also the year he had his first run in with the law. This turned out to the first of many, as while boxing did a lot to help Joshua clean up his act, he couldn’t resist the lure of the streets. Joshua was once on record admitting he was facing up to 15 years prison time for all his past misdemeanours.

AJs amateur boxing career progressed at an immense rate. In 2010, he won ABAs and the following year he was called up to the team GB boxing. In the midst of this success, AJ, once again couldn’t resist that temptation of the fast life. He was caught with 8 oz of herbal cannabis and was charged with possession and intent to supply. Joshua pleaded guilty and was lucky to get off with a non-custodial sentence. As of a result, he was suspended from team GB. This was a massive wake-up call for Joshua and you could argue the turning point in his life as it was the last time he had any encounters with the law.

True to his character, his hard work and desire to improve led to him quickly regaining his place back in team GB boxing in 2011. Later that year, he won the European championships and went on to win a silver medal at the World championships. In 2012, he qualified for the GB team at the 2012 London Olympics and in doing so, defeated all the odds to win gold beating former champion and overwhelming favourite, Italian Roberto Cammarelle, in the final. 2013, he won his first heavyweight championship and was honoured by the Queen with an MBE in 2013 for his services to boxing.

His professional career followed the same upward trajectory and the AJ train kept rolling on as he literally blew away all comers, culminating in a career defining victory against boxing legend Wladimir Klitschko. Who he stopped by 11th round TKO in a gripping match up in front of 90,000 at the national stadium Wembley. The stadium fights kept coming and AJ’s popularity continued to rise in and out of the ring. Huge sponsorship deals with giants such as Hugo Boss, Under Armour, Beats by Dre and Audemars Piguet came. Further showing that AJ is more than just a fighter, he is a brand and this is something of an anomaly for fighters, especially black fighters. Even his own management company 258 and his ever growing stable of fighters. AJ is creating a platform for himself and people like him for now and long after he retires from boxing.

Still unbeaten at 22-0, the biggest night of adversity in AJ’s career came on his American debut as he was stopped on his feet against Mexican American Andy Ruiz Jr. Questions will always be asked about that night in NYC, even though AJ, humble as ever never made any excuses for the loss. After that shock defeat AJ accepted the immediate rematch, locked himself away for 6 months and reclaimed his titles in a stunning display in the dunes of Saudi Arabia, easily outpointing Ruiz Jr to become 2x heavyweight world champion. A win he still doesn’t get enough respect for in my opinion.

In his latest fight, failed negotiations with Tyson Fury for the undisputed clash meant that AJ was left to make a mandatory defence against unbeaten cruiserweight king, Alexander Usyk. In another exhilarating stadium fight, AJ came out second best as he was expertly taken a part by the Ukrainian. Now, AJ once again finds himself in a familiar situation and one would be smart to not bet against him overcoming the odds once again as he has done so many times not just in his career but throughout his life.

He has always said he is not doing this for the money or the fame, both of which he has plenty of. For AJ this is all about legacy, he wants to be considered as one of the greats. For me he is a fine example of how hard work, self-belief and dedication can help you achieve anything you set you mind to and I wouldn’t put it past him becoming 3x world heavyweight champion…it has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?