REIGNING WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, Order of the British Empire (OBE), is Tribune Sportsman of the Year.
Unknown to many, Joshua began his life as a bricklayer before he embraced boxing, while he also experienced life behind bars in 2009 in UK for what he described as “fighting and other crazy stuff” And made to put on an electronic tag on his ankle after his release.
Joshua has since become a brand and one of the richest sportsmen in the world through his exploits in boxing.
AJ as he is fondly called by his admirers reportedly made £50million when he beat Andy Ruiz Jr in a rematch in Saudi Arabia, while he pocketed £10million from his last fight with Kubrat Pulev earlier this month taking his record to 24-1 with 22 KOs.
He first became world champion on April 9, 2016 when he knocked American Charles Martin out in round two to win the IBF heavyweight title.
AJ outpunched legendary Wladimir Klitscko on April 29, 2017 to retain the IBF tile as well claimed the vacant WBA (Super) and IBO heavyweight titles on the same night.
On March 31, 2018, Joshua gained a unanimous decision over New Zealand’s Joseph Parker at the United Kingdom Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, to retain the WBA (Super), IBF, and IBO heavyweight titles and also claimed the WBO heavyweight title.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Joshua was worth an eye-watering £107million, which made him next to Tottenham forward Gareth Bale among British athletes, while in the Forbes charts, Joshua occupies the fourth spot.
Today, AJ rules the professional heavyweight division with three of the four major titles under his belt -the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organisation (WBO) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF), aside from the fact that, he also holds less-fancied International Boxing Organisation (IBO) belt.
Born on October 15, 1989 as Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, the boxer who hailed from Sagamu, Ogun State during his days as an amateur boxer won a silver medal for England at the 2011 World Championships in the super-heavyweight division and in the following year represented the Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics and won the gold.
The Anglo-Nigerian boxer the following year turned professional while he stopped Italian Emanuele Leo by a technical knockout (TKO) in the first round on his debut on October 5, 2013 in London.
He had wanted to represent Nigeria at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but he could not come to terms with the conditions put in place by the Boxing Federation in Nigeria that for any boxer to represent Nigeria, he must first feature in trials in camp and emerge the best among others.
His round 11 TKO victory over Klitscko in 2017 in front of a post-war record crowd of 90,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium, made him the unified champion makes him since then one of the most-sought after in the pound-for-pound trade.
Earlier this month, reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) champion, Tyson Fury, revealed that AJ floored him during his amateur days in 2011, adding the then ABA champion, at the Finchley Boxing Club, could have sent him to a month’s sideline if he had got a weak chin adding “he gave me a good beating”.
Joshua who loves to call himself Saga Boy referring to his ancestral home in Ogun State, was stunned on June 1, 2019 when he lost all his four titles to less fancied opponent Andy Ruiz Jr at Madison Square, New York.
The match generated controversy till the rematch as some people believed AJ willingly lost to his American-Mexican opponent.
However, Joshua’s defeat marked the turning point in his career as he returned to the drawing board to get a pound of flesh in the rematch of December 7, 2019 held at Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, dubbed the Clash on the Dunes.
Once beaten twice shy, Joshua seemed to have learned from his only defeat in his career as he, this time, in the rematch deployed a strategy to frustrate Ruiz after he gave him a cut in the early exchanges.
At some point, a frustrated Ruiz was even begging to close in on him, but king, has imbibed more wisdom this time, taking his opponent round the ring and scoring points as well without allowing the latter to punch him heavily unlike in the first meeting in US. AJ retained his titles via a unanimous decision with scores of 118–110 on two judges’ scorecards and 119–109 in favour of Ruiz.
ALOS READ: I’ll floor Kubrat in Round 11 -Joshua
His victory on December 12 this year over Pulev brought a lot of grandeur to pro boxing and the best out of Joshua’s career.
Shortly after the bout, he said his target remains how to become the unified world champion with all five titles in his possession, and that is by beating fellow Briton, Tyson Fury next year.
According to Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, the mega-fight between Joshua and Fury has been verbally agreed for May/June 2021, and it is believed that each boxer will go home with £100million which is 50-50 while the winner will receive 60 per cent of the purse for a rematch.
Hearn said: “We are all in for that fight [against Fury]. The only thing that needs to be resolved is where it is going to be and a couple of TV issues. That is it.
“Everyone (on both sides) is completely in on the finances — 50-50 first fight, 60-40 to the winner, two fights.”
Interestingly, WBC champion, Fury, has already begun the prelude to the mega-fight saying he will stop Joshua inside three rounds after watching the latter stop Bulgarian Pulev in the ninth round.
But Joshua seems to be unpertubed by the threat of Fury, as he declared his readiness to make history after his victory over Pulev.
“I am calling it the “Road to whoever is next” because I am knocking them off one by one. Pulev was ranked No 1 by the IBF, a serious challenger. He tried his best and got defeated so we go on to the next.
“Respect to Tyson Fury, he is a talented guy, he’s got loads of fans and he will make for great competition when the time is ready. Ask my manager and my promoter (about Fury), I am just a warrior,” AJ submits.
Prior to his victory over Pulev, Joshua got an overwhelming support back home in Nigeria, especially from his kinsmen in Ogun State.
Youths in Ogun State a day to Pulev showdown staged a solidarity walk to boost AJ in what was tagged ‘OGUN YOUTHS SOLIDARITY WALK FOR JOSHUA’. It was organised by the Office of the Special Assistant to Ogun State Governor on Youth and Sports in conjunction with Anthony Joshua Fan Club Sagamu.
During the solidarity walk, youths carried a banner with the bold inscription “Ogun Youths Stand For Anthony Joshua” amid songs from Sabo [under the bridge], Sagamu to the palace of Akarigbo and paramount ruler of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Ajayi.
Also, on the D-Day, the Ogun State government also created live viewing centres in five different locations in the state – Ota, Ijebu-Ode, Sagamu, Ilaro and Abeokuta in a bid to support Joshua to victory.
No wonder, the victory of AJ was celebrated till dawn by his kinsmen and some sports-loving Nigerians.
In appreciation of his invaluable contributions to the growth of Sagamu and Remoland, a street in Ogun State was named after Joshua on December 23, barely two weeks after his victory over Pulev. The ‘Cinema Road’ in Sagamu was renamed ‘Anthony Joshua Way’ according to chairman, Sagamu Local Government Area, Gbenga Banjo.
Meanwhile, the December 12 victory reiterates the hope of the 31-year-old AJ to rule the boxing world for a long time to come, and gives his admirers hope to expect victory when he finally faces Fury next year.
As the world looks forward to the biggest fight in British boxing history between Joshua and Fury, for having a splendid career in the outgoing year, AJ is adjudged the Tribune Sportsman of the Year.