He was born by Nigerian parents and spent much of his early years in Nigeria before going to the UK to join Kings Langley Secondary School. Last Saturday, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua defeated Charles Martin to claim the IBF world heavyweight title. With Nigerian boxing battling for revival, Kunle Adewale looks at what it could have meant for the country had the 2012 Olympic gold medalist opted to compete for his fatherland instead of Britain
But for GOtv that is working to revive boxing in the country through its GOtv Boxing Night, which enters Season 7 on May 1, the game was virtually dead. Aside from the likes of Olanrewaju Durojaiye, Gifted Cole and probably Segun Ajose, no Nigerian boxer is in a good stead for a world title for now, Nigeria is in short supply of men with the “sucker punch.”
However, there are Nigerian-born boxers abroad who are winning laurels. One of them is the British boxer, Anthony Joshua, who recently won the IBF world heavyweight.
Interestingly, Joshua, whose attempt to represent Nigeria at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China was allegedly frustrated by the Nigeria Boxing Federation, NBF, had played down his IBF world heavyweight title win, saying the Olympics gold he won four years ago would be more cherished.
It was an emphatic, flawless statement from Joshua, the super heavyweight Olympic gold medalist of 2012 cementing his professional credentials when many said he had been rushed into this challenge for the IBF title way too soon. In fact, it was the belt holder whose keen acceptance of the money on offer – rather than choosing a less lucrative but easier option elsewhere – that aroused the more meaningful speculation that he was cashing in while he could. And so it panned out.
“I ain’t gonna get too carried away,” Joshua said of his 16th straight stoppage win from as many fights. But there are others who will do it for him, including his promoter, Eddie Hearn, who was quick to describe him as a global sporting superstar.
“Every fight gets better and better,” the new champion said. “It’s not just about power. It’s about speed and precision. Martin was big and brave enough to bring his title to the UK. Respect to him.”
Joshua admitted that he had felt more pressure going into the Olympic final in London in 2012 than he felt last Saturday night when he took the belt from American Charles Martin, which he won by second round knockout.
“The Olympics was different level. That was crazy. That was different altogether, but it moulded me to deal with these occasions better. I would not downgrade yesterday, but for the fact that where I’ve been, coming through my last fight, the adrenaline that was involved, that helped against Martin, the boxer said.”
Joshua was still a novice – in amateur terms – during the Olympic Games.
“Because it was in London, a home game, it got you used to the noise, the pressure. And amateur boxing at the Olympics is a serious business. These guys are elite. They have been around for years fighting. It is tough at that level,” he added.
Joshua recalled not just the pressure of expectation on British athletes to win in London, but being three points down against defending Olympic super heavyweight champion, Roberto Cammarelle, who was the defending gold medallist.
“How many Olympics did he go to? Three? He knew his stuff. I boxed him in the worlds, so I knew he was a good fighter. So the pressure was there, and you had to deal with it. In these professional fights, you can look yourself away in the changing room, but at the Olympics, you can hear the crowd.
“During the whole Olympics, the loudest noise was at the boxing. How many people were in the athletics stadium? Yet the loudest noise was at the boxing. How mad is that? That’s why I said about that final that it was like ‘Sparta’ night, like something from the film 300. Knowing you are locked away behind stage. You can hear the crowd roaring for blood and you’re fighting next. That was gladiator stuff. That was class, he said.”
Last Saturday night, and the buildup, explained Joshua, had felt like a “smooth” experience. The 26-year-old also felt as if he had boxed better against Martin.
In his previous fight, last December, he had had an emotional build-up against London rival, Dillian Whyte, followed by a seven-round war in the ring.
“Yeah, I was more patient, looking for the shot, setting it up, feinting. Camp was good and I had great sparring, so when I got in the ring I looked back and thought about how I fought against Dillian, but that’s just how we go to war.
“It’s weird because when I stepped in the ring on Saturday night I thought to myself did I really go to war like that with Dillian in here? I could have just outclassed the guy. Boxing is a sweet science – why did I go to war with a guy like Dillian in the ring? I must have looked like a novice the way I fought that night. This was the time to show how good I really am and I fought like a bit of a clown.
“The thing I wanted to do with Martin was take what he had. That was what I wanted to do. I knew he wasn’t going to beat me. “I can improve from here because I’m going to fight better fighters at an early stage. Just 34 rounds of boxing to win the world title. But with two more years, when it comes to serious boxing I should be in my prime. I should be handling my business and beating guys like Tyson Fury in four fights with ease,” the IBF champion said.
Hearn, however, believes that Joshua “would walk through Fury now” and aims to make the match up with the two-belt world champion as soon as it is viable, which could be late this year, indoors, or outdoors in a stadium next Spring or summer.
There will be no holiday, and Joshua could be in camp again in a fortnight.
“No holiday, no, I want to fight again soon if I can. It wasn’t so much the fight that was hard but the camp was. I just need to recover from camp, which should only take a week or two weeks. Hopefully I’ll fight again in early July –maybe July 9. I’m sure Eddie Hearn (Joshua’s promoter) has got dates pencilled in somewhere, a Plan A and Plan B. I’ll hopefully fight soon if possible and keep the momentum going,” Joshua stated.
Joshua also got a sense of his growing fame with celebrities and sports figures ringside last Saturday night, and by the reaction from the public.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s growing. That’s what we’re saying, it’s more like mums and kids and stuff. Eddie said it yesterday and it’s true. Parents are actually saying to their kids to go to a boxing gym. Most parents didn’t like boxing but now they’re advising them to go and do it and take an interest, watch a bit of boxing,” he said.
Joshua was born in Watford to a Nigerian mother and a father of Nigerian and Irish descent. He grew up for much of his early years in Nigeria and went to the UK to join Kings Langley Secondary School. Growing up on the Meriden Estate in Garston, Hertfordshire, Joshua was called ‘Femi’ by his friends and former teachers, due to his middle name ‘Oluwafemi’. He excelled at football and athletics and broke the Year Nine 100m record with a time of 11.6 seconds.
Meanwhile, NBF chief coach, Obisia Nwankpa has denied the claim in some quarters that the boxing federation frustrated Joshua in his attempt to represent Nigeria at the 2008 Olympics.
“His (Joshua) is not the first. We’ve had similar cases like that before. Most of our athletes living or born abroad, anytime they want to represent Nigeria, they do not go about it the right way. Moreover, they believe by virtue of having lived abroad, they could just walk into the team without going through the trials. That is not acceptable,” Obisia said.
Continuing, the man who was called golden gloves because of his finesse in the ring said it was impossible for Joshua to make the Nigerian 2008 Olympic team with the presence of Durojaiye in the team.
“As at 2008, we had a boxer that was very strong called Durojaiye. At that time Joshua was not better than the Nigerian boxer. Even the fact that he won a world title does not translate to his being better than Durojaiye. He just happened to have a faster shot at the title by virtue of living in the United Kingdom, where there are opportunities. Durojaiye only moved to America recently and he is now the WBA number two contender,” the former Commonwealth champion said. Obisia, however, agreed that Joshua would have added value to Nigeria’s boxing had he competed in the colours of Nigeria.
Another boxing veteran, Jeremiah Okorodudu, blamed Obisia and his cohorts in the boxing federation for denying Nigeria a great asset in Joshua.
“He was not taken serious when he wanted to represent Nigeria. He would have added a great value to Nigeria boxing. At least he would have won for the country the elusive Olympic gold medal in boxing,” Okorodudu said.