Anthony Joshua taking on a big fight in Tottenham may bring back some memories from his teenage years.
Saturday will see the Watford-born boxer take on Oleksandr Uzyk in a fight for the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles. This will be held in front 60,000 Tottenham Hotspur Stadium fans.
Just a decade ago the heavyweight champion of the 31-year old was fighting in the Opera Nightclub. Danny Dyer was once a regular guest DJ.
‘AJ’ would often frequent the hot spot with his amateur team-mates from Finchley & District Boxing Club.
“So one of the coaches was a bouncer,” He said.
“So when you go somewhere, you need to know you’re going to get in.
“When we were boxing we would train Monday, Wednesday and Friday and we would all go out on the weekend.
“We are all boxers, you can’t really fight us. There were 10 of us going out.
“We would get in and if we would get into a fight, the bouncer is going to sling them out anyways and then he is going tell us where they are.”
Joshua bursts out in laughter as he remembers the days.
He continued: “He would say ‘They’re round the corner, there’s one of them walking down there’.
“We was always on top. So yeah Opera House, due to the fact we knew a bouncer there. They were fun days, it’s gone quick.”
It has gone quick. Joshua, who started boxing at age 18, has been an Olympic champion and unified heavyweight ruler, as well as a global star, an attraction for boxing, and a sponsor’s dream. This is despite his defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr.
Despite his rise, he hasn’t given up. It’s far from the truth.
“I’m sure a couple of people do remember the days when I was about,” He said.
“I’m still about. I’m not about like that, but I am still about.
“With me, I’m still on the streets.
“When I don’t box in camp, I’m on my estate so people still respect me.
“I wasn’t ever like a p***y, so people still respect me.
“I can stand on a corner like I’m a normal person so it’s not like I’m some celebrity superstar going ‘Oh my God stay away, I’m not used to all this’. I’m like, ‘What?’ [punches chest] I’m here.’”
Back then, Tottenham was all about the good times.
“Courvoisier, 20/20, cider, that £2 drink – The lightning one, White Lightning and drink that in the car,” He laughed.
“I was in the passenger seat!”
He said that he used to take the 258 bus from Watford, England, to Harrow, then on to Edgware Road. His management team is now 258.
Joshua, despite being the most prominent name in British boxing and multi-millionaire is still in touch. They would be meeting down the road from Usyk’s home tonight.
He also donated a significant amount to England Boxing clubs during this pandemic.
Covid-19 lost Colin Webster, the coach at the nightclub doors, in March 2020.
But Sean Murphy is still running the boxing club in Finchley and will be tasked with ensuring tickets are shared out amongst the current and old boys so they are in the stadium tonight to witness one of the biggest challenges of his career..
“Boxing won’t change me,” he said.
“Through the lockdown, that was the best time of my life. I was one way living a certain life and then I found boxing, my whole world flipped on its head.
“Then during Covid, I got to poke my head back out and be like, ah, back to normal again.
“So I was like motorbikes, scooters, just like—it was just a blessing to have that free time.
“The sun was shining, garden, it was just nice being normal as much as possible.
“The only difference is boxing takes up a lot of time, you’ve got to make certain sacrifices.
“But other than that, other than the sacrifices, the commitment I made to the sport, I’m just chilling, bro, just—this is going to be a nice night, Saturday, Sunday will come.
“Do you know what I’m most looking forward to about this fight?
“It’s getting back to training. Honestly, I was saying to the boys the other day, I was like, you know what?
“The best thing about fighting Saturday is that I can get back to training in a week or two so I can get my practice in.
“Because I can see myself getting better again.”
So it goes from chasing thugs who tried to start on his mates in a rough nightclub a mile down the road, to packing out a stadium for a heavyweight fight against the undisputed cruiserweight champion who is bidding to take him down.
In those days, brave challengers would think they could defeat a large man. Now Usyk is the smaller guy trying to overthrow him.
It is a formidable challenge against a top fighter who wants to be a two-weight champion in the world. This is far more difficult than any drunk punter hoping for his chance.
Victory could also keep alive the possibility of a fight next year with Tyson Fury, WBC champion.
“It has come with a lot of hard work,” He said.
“In a way it is crazy but I do understand why there is 60,000 people coming out.
“I know how committed boxing fans are to the sport so I made sure I made a commitment to them to try to repay them.
“I make sure I try to keep boxing mainstream, we work with great partners in the business, Matchroom Boxing does a great job.
“Everyone plays a big part and I try to play a big part in pushing boxing.
“This just shows where boxing is and the potential it has. It has massive potential but it needs stars to keep coming through, we need to invest in the amateur code.
“When there was no funding for amateur clubs during the pandemic, we had to put some funds up to help keep the lights on in boxing gyms.
“The two heavyweight champions of the world are from here, one Manchester and one London. They come from amateur gyms and are ruling the world of boxing.”