Anthony Joshua’s tears and tirade show boxing’s burden of spotlight | Antoine Joshua

IIt was shortly before 4 a.m. local time that Anthony Joshua met the crowd waiting for him. Alongside his promoter, Eddie Hearn, the 32-year-old entered the press conference room at the back of the King Abdullah Sports City media center and sat down behind the podium. He and Hearn then started answering questions and everything was going as normal, until someone asked Joshua if he was proud of his performance in defeating Oleksandr Usyk.

“Am I proud of myself?” says Joshua. “It’s hard to say if I’m proud of myself. I’m upset. Really, deep in my heart…” Everyone was waiting for him to finish his answer, but he had no more words. Only emotion. Joshua leaned forward, covered his eyes and, very clearly, was in tears.

It was that kind of night, one of intense sporting action but also one where the athlete surrendered to something more human. A crudity as captivating as it is difficult to watch.

It was surprising because it came from a man who for so long was the epitome of restraint. Joshua may punch people for a living, but he also comes across as a nice guy. Charming, sweet, the kind of boy a father would gladly allow his daughter to have dinner with. But here, on a hot night in Jeddah, the Saudi city by the Red Sea, everything burned.

After losing to Usyk for the second time and consequently failing in his attempt to regain his status as world heavyweight champion, Joshua lost it all once again. He threw two of the winner’s belts out of the ring before stepping out himself. Returning, he then exchanged angry words with Usyk before grabbing a microphone. In front of the crowd of 10,000, he delivered a curious and rude monologue.

“If you knew my story, you would understand the passion. I’m not some fucking five-year-old amateur boxer,” he said. “I was going to jail…I was released on bail and started training. It’s because of the fucking passion that we put into this shit, man.

“Bitch, I’m not a 12 round fighter,” he continued. “Look at me. I’m the new breed of heavyweight… ‘Oh you don’t throw combinations like Rocky Marciano’. That’s because I’m not fucking 14 stone. I do 18 stone and I I’m heavy. It’s hard work.”

Joshua eventually managed to congratulate Usyk, but even that was done with a rudeness that made him insincere. In line with the rest of the speech, it was also a little weird.

Overall, it was hard to know what to make of Joshua’s behavior. At first there was confusion, shock, even disgust. But in the end it was hard not to pity him. This, clearly, was not just a defeated man, but a broken man.

The prevailing sentiment was that of someone exhausted from the life he has led since being thrust into the limelight by winning Olympic gold ten years ago. Joshua turned professional the following year and has been relentless ever since: fight after fight, most of them chasing or defending a world title, the majority taking place in front of huge, eager crowds.

Anthony Joshua exchanges words with Oleksandr Usyk after the result was announced. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

That comes with vast riches, but it’s also exhausting, both mentally and physically, and while Joshua was probably able to cope with that during the good times, it clearly proved too much during the bad. – particularly in the period between his loss to Usyk at Tottenham last September and Saturday’s rematch. As Joshua admitted, he felt the pressure of having to reclaim his WBA, WBO and IBF titles, and having failed to do so, it is perhaps unsurprising that he relented.

“I’m a hustler, I work hard and make sure my team is good, but it comes at a cost,” he said. “It will never break me, but it takes a lot of strength and tonight you saw a crack in the armor.”

Hearn also admitted that Joshua came into this fight with the weight of the world on his shoulders and pointed out that was what was behind his erratic behavior. “What you saw was raw emotion,” he said. “People don’t understand the pressure on his shoulders, and he never ducked that pressure. He’s an incredible ambassador. Someone I want my kids to look up to.

Hearn also praised Joshua for “fighting against one of the best fighters to ever put on a pair of gloves.” It was fair of him to do so given Joshua’s display when he returned to Saudi Arabia three years after beating Andy Ruiz Jr in Diriyah. Joshua vowed to be more aggressive than he had against Usyk in north London and kept his word. Charging forward in the first round, Joshua secured the center of the ring in the second and consistently stabbed his opponent with thumps, no more than in the ninth round when the challenger scrambled the champion, having unleashed all hell .

But after fighting back in the 10th round, Usyk took control of the contest with a typically sublime combination of technique and ferocity. Having largely dominated the proceedings, he was not shocked when he was declared the winner, the only surprise being that it was via a split decision. Two of the judges delivered scores of 115-113 and 116-112 in favor of the Ukrainian while the other, incredibly, deemed Joshua the winner via a score of 115-113.

For Usyk, it was a 20th straight two-division win, in turn fueling talk of a tantalizing unification bout with Tyson Fury – something both men seem to want – while also bringing a sense of pride and much-needed joy to his war-torn nation.

For Joshua, it was a third defeat in 27 fights and one that leaves him little way to the top of his division. This will likely lead to increased speculation, inside and outside of boxing, that he might call it a day, something the man himself was keen to point out isn’t going to happen anytime soon. . “I am a fighter for life, hunger never dies,” he said.

Hearn went further emphasizing his desire to see Joshua have “three or four fights next year and get back to winning championship belts.” He also expressed his wish to see Joshua love fighting again, and more than anything, “to be happy”.

Considering his mood in the aftermath of Saturday’s fight, that does sound like very sound advice indeed.

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