“Oh, definitely,” Anthony Joshua says as he considers whether his year out of the ring could affect him on Saturday night when he defends his world heavyweight titles against Kubrat Pulev in London.
“That’s what makes this fight so interesting. This year has just thrown every obstacle at us all. I can tell you that I’m a million dollars, I’ve been knocking everyone out in sparring – and then I go in there on Saturday night and I get my head punched in because I’ve got ring rust. Who knows?
“But I feel good. I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t boxed in such a long time but that’s why in lockdown I’ve done lots of training physically and mentally.”
Joshua has not boxed competitively since he regained his titles in a rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr last December and he claims, that, in an effort to steel himself against the rugged Pulev, he has allowed his sparring partners to pummel him. “I’ve done a lot of sparring, getting my body tough again, getting punched up. Sometimes in sparring I think: ‘I’m going to take this round off and let this boy punch me up because I need to get tough. I need to get that thick skin.’”
Joshua won his first 22 fights, while collecting the IBF, WBA and WBO world titles, but 18 months ago he suffered a shocking stoppage loss to Ruiz in New York. Memories of his defeat remain and Joshua believes that chastening experience strengthened him mentally. “The Ruiz fight is buried for me because I made no excuse. I took the loss and I dealt with it four and a half months later [in winning the rematch]. Knowing what losing was like and not wanting to go there again has definitely made me tougher. I want to prove to myself how good I have become after losing, getting back up and then being in lockdown training like an athlete. I want to see what the benefits of training like a true athlete have done for me.”
Pulev has lost only once in 29 bouts – when he was knocked out in his only previous world title fight against Wladimir Klitschko. The Bulgarian cannot match Ruiz’s fast hands, but he is tenacious and resilient. “I’m fighting someone experienced, with a good jab, and so I have to be ducking and diving, slipping and sliding,” Joshua says. “I can’t be straight-up and stiff. I am going to have to adopt an elusive style as well, so I have had to work on all these aspects tactically. So I am really looking forward to that motivation I’ve used after the Ruiz loss. This is the first opponent I have faced after losing and regaining the title, so it will be a good indication of where I am at.”
Pulev and Joshua were originally scheduled to meet in October 2017 in front of a sold-out crowd of 70,000 in Cardiff. But Pulev had to be replaced by Carlos Takam after he was injured during training. “Three years ago might have been too early for me,” Joshua suggests. “I’m more experienced now. I’m wiser. I would never want to lose a fight again. I know what that feels like. But Pulev is wiser as well. With age comes experience and I’m going to be in there with a man who’s mentally strong and experienced.”
Joshua is a heavy favourite to win on Saturday and Pulev would have had more of a chance three years ago. “I was thinking about that the other day,” Joshua agrees before revealing that he has been watching many of his own previous fights.
“I went through a lot of my career not even knowing what I was doing. I was just fighting. I watched the [Eric] Molina fight the other day. I watched a bit of the Takam fight. I watched the Klitschko fight and I was like: ‘Wow! How was I in those types of fights with such little experience? I was just a pup then.’ I feel stronger, I feel smarter and it’s the same thing with the other guys I want to fight. The longer they leave it the tougher it is going to be for them because experience is the best teacher and I’m gaining so much experience every day in the gym.
“Those three years have taught me a lot. So it’s come at a good time for me. You’d have to ask Pulev how he feels but I’m sure after my loss everyone now says: ‘Oh, we’re going to exploit Anthony Joshua’s weaknesses’ and all this nonsense. We’ll see how confident he is after my first jab and right-hand smashes him in his jaw.”
Book and watch Anthony Joshua against Kubrat Pulev on December 12, live on Sky Sports Box Office