Tony Sims casts his mind back to the day a young Anthony Joshua stepped foot in his Essex gym for the very first time.
Joshua was still riding high from his London 2012 gold-medal victory and was now ready to embark on a new journey with Sims.
The renowned British trainer knew he was dealing with a star from the beginning.
“As soon as he walked into the gym Joshua had something special about him,” Sims recounts the story in a conversation with Daily Star Sport.
“We watched him in the Olympics and he had that aura about him. You’ve only got to look at his first professional fight, I think he sold out 10,000 at the O2 Arena. So he’s always had that something special.
“Big superstars do have that about them. You can see that all of the great heavyweights throughout history have that kind of aura when they walk into rooms. Joshua has that aura immediately.
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“You could see then that he was going to be a great fighter and potentially champion of the world.”
Of course, Sims’ gut feeling was bang on the money.
Joshua’s rapid rise to the top in heavyweight has been remarkable over the past eight year. He won his first 15 fights, captured a world title, unified the division in 18th, lost his crown in 23rd and then instantly reclaimed it in 24th.
He has also become the most popular fighter in world boxing today.
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Sims was only involved with 22 of those steps. He was the lead trainer for 17 of his victories.
Joshua’s win over Dominic Breazeale, June 2016, was his second defense of his IBF title. Joshua replaced him with Rob McCracken, Team GB mastermind – though Tony remained in the corner team for five of the fights.
AJ has been a household name since his historic victory over Wladimirklitschko in April 2017, which was his second fight under McCracken. He enjoys an unrivalled level of popularity.
That’s not to say he is without an army of naysayers and critics. Who isn’t?
Some people think that Joshua’s charming, friendly image is just a TV show. Sims is a different story.
“From what I knew of him in the gym with me, he was always a lovely man,” He adds.
He says, “How he appears on camera is basically what he is offline.”
“He’s a nice man, always laughing and joking. But when he needs to do his work he does it, so he’s a good guy to train with.
“I’ve always thought there’s never really been an act with him. He is a great guy.”
Many believe the toughest test of Joshua’s heavyweight career awaits him in north London this Saturday.
Under the bright lights at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, packed out with 60,000 spectators, the man from Watford will defend his unified titles against Ukrainian southpaw Oleksandr Usyk – the former undisputed cruiserweight champion.
Usyk’s expert ring IQ and technical mastery set him apart from the rest down at cruiserweight. He boxed rings with credible opponents, who were meant to threaten his dominance and drag him into deep waters.
The 34-year old has been criticized for his move to heavyweight. After a slow start, Usyk won over Chazz Witherspoon, a rank underdog. Then, he defeated Derek Chisora in a tough fight.
That pair of testing wins whipped up an air of uncertainty regarding his credentials as a heavyweight, and Sims isn’t convinced he will provide Joshua’s sternest challenge yet.
He says: “I think Joshua’s had bigger tests. Klitschko was obviously a massive test for him at the time.
“That’s not saying Usyk isn’t a good fighter, he’s never been beaten. I don’t think he can go from a cruiserweight to a heavyweight.
“Chisora exposed that a little bit, a lot of people thought he won. I thought it could’ve gone either way.
“Usyk did well in the early rounds and Chisora came on strong in the later rounds.
“But comparing Anthony Joshua to Derek Chisora, there’s no comparison. Joshua stands 6ft 6in and is a formidable machine. His right hand – which seems to be catching Usyk — is also phenomenal.
“When he catches you with it it’s game over.”
Fans and pundits agree that Joshua must impose his strength in Saturday’s fight, make his physical superiority count, and avoid a chess match with Usyk.
Sims – who now trains the likes of Conor Benn, Ted Cheeseman and John Ryder – believes it could very well start out that way, but he’s in no doubt about the end result.
“I personally don’t see any way that Usyk is gonna win this fight or even last the distance,” He insists. “Once it goes past the midway point, Joshua’s gonna connect and the fight will be done.
“He insists that it will be somewhat like a match of chess. Because if you take a look at Usyk’s fight with Joe Joyce, the first three rounds are where he was very difficult to land any shots.
“But obviously when you’re in with a big guy like Joshua, it’s really hard to keep them at bay. He’s got long arms, he’s very tall and he punches very hard.
“At first Usyk will try to keep away from him and he’ll be hard to pin down, but there’s only so long you can do that before Joshua catches up with you.
“Once it goes past the halfway mark, I think Joshua will start catching him and it’ll be game over.”