As former two-time heavyweight king Anthony Joshua gears up to face Swedish contender Otto Wallin in Riyadh on December 23, one wonders what side of “AJ” will be on display inside the ring, but also outside the ring.
Fans witnessed the mellow, almost Buddha-like, version in the lead up to the epic Wladimir Klitschko showdown in 2017. Conversely, there was the hostile and aggressive personality that turned up for Dominic Breazeale, Dillian Whyte and the aborted clash with Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who will be appearing on the undercard on Saturday.
“It’s just about the energy someone possesses,” Joshua (26-3, 23 KOs) exclusively told The Sporting News during fight week.
“It’s more about what happens face to face with me because people will always be different away from your face. I don’t have much to say about [Wallin]. So far, in my face, he hasn’t done too much, so he’s just another opponent that I have to defeat.
“He has a lot of plusses [as a fighter]. He’s been victorious on most of his occasions except for one. He’s very talented and he’s an avoided heavyweight as they say. But he’s someone that I’m taking on, so I give myself credit. He’s a good fighter for sure.”
Wallin (26-1, 14 KOs) is also a southpaw. Joshua won his first world title from a left-hander when he inflicted a second-round drubbing on Charles Martin back in 2016. However, more recently, pound-for-pound southpaw Oleksandr Usyk managed to bedevil Joshua twice, outpointing the Englishman in back-to-back world title bouts.
“Even in the losses, I can still take lessons, and I think they’ve been good,” offered Joshua. “Obviously, being with good people who can help me develop from there has been helpful. I have a great team that’s been with me, that’s pushing me forward.
“I’ve been in the trenches a few times with southpaws. I’ve been victorious and I’ve lost, but [the experience] will do me a world of good when I see another southpaw on Saturday.”
With Joshua being a prohibitive favourite to defeat Wallin on Saturday, the media focus predictably shifts to the proposed 2024 matchup with Deontay Wilder, who is expected to take care of Joseph Parker on the same card. However, the reality is that both AJ and “The Bronze Bomber” have tricky fights to get through before they can put hands on each other.
“I think it’s fair,” Joshua said when asked about the media’s forward planning. “As a fan, I always look at it like, if I was fan of an athlete, then I want to hear what they think of this person or that person. But for me answering, I have to be fully focussed on what’s in front of me.
“With all due respect, I know there’s interest in my career, but, right now, my career is Otto Wallin. My career’s on the line, so yeah, that’s just where my head’s at.”
The year 2023 has been a rebuild for Joshua. In April, there was the workmanlike points win over American Jermaine Franklin followed by a one-punch blast out of late replacement Robert Helenius, four months later.
In terms of this year’s opposition, Wallin represents a step up in class and Joshua appears focussed on the job. “Honestly, I had a bad few years,” acknowledged the ex-champ.
“I can’t say right now, but I feel that we’re going to get better than what I used to be… definitely. We’ll see. So far, I’m building again. I’ve been victorious in my last two outings, but I need to have a few more victories before I can say I’m better than I used to be.
“At this minute, I’m bubbling. We’re gonna get back. I want to hit a new level of strength, a new level of fitness, and it just helps me become a stronger person mentally.
“It’s interesting because a lot of people want to leave at their pinnacle, but I want to stay when I’m at my pinnacle. I’m constantly fighting to get higher and higher. Probably I’ll leave when I’m at the bottom, when I’m getting beaten a million times.
“Why would I leave the game that’s keeping me at the top in terms of my character? Why wouldn’t I stay there? When I’m getting beat and I feel like I need to find something else because I can’t reach pinnacles anymore, that’s when I’ll be done with boxing.”