Ahead of the biggest fight of Anthony Joshua’s life against Oleksandr Usyk on August 20, we take a look at the 10 most defining moments of his boxing career to date.
After losing his IBF, WBO and WBA titles to Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September last year, Joshua has the chance to regain them as he takes on the unbeaten Ukrainian in Saudi Arabia, live on Sky Box Office.
The calibre of opponent and the long path Joshua would face to regaining the titles if he were to lose, mean that the stakes have never been higher for the 32-year-old.
However, on his path to becoming an Olympic gold medallist and two-time professional world champion, Joshua has come through several challenging moments, with the results often thrilling.
1. Gold at London 2012
Before the London 2012 Olympics, few outside of the hardcore boxing scene had heard of Watford’s Anthony Joshua.
Over the course of 12 August days, the then 22-year-old announced himself as a household name, coming through four gruelling super-heavyweight fights to claim Great Britain’s final gold medal of a hugely successful Games for the hosts.
Joshua’s backstory, a Londoner who had escaped an at times troubled youth by embracing the discipline of boxing, captured the imagination of the public.
A natural in front of the camera and blessed with a physical appearance that had would-be sponsors queuing up, Joshua was sure to go far regardless of the outcome of his final against reigning champion Roberto Cammarelle.
However, trailing by three points during the third and final round, Joshua summoned that special something only the greatest champions are able to, pulling level with the Italian before being awarded the gold on countback.
A star was born, and there was perhaps the most anticipation about a British amateur boxer turning professional since Amir Khan had revitalised the sport in the UK in 2004.
2. ‘Gatekeeper’ Johnson blown away
Fourteen months on from his Olympic triumph, Joshua would make his professional debut, live on Sky Sports, against Italian Emanuele Leo, scoring the first of several eye-catching knockouts that would follow as he toured the country on the undercards of some more established pro fighters.
While Joshua wasn’t topping bills at this stage of his career, fans all over the nation would be sure to arrive early enough to see the Londoner deliver what were becoming trademark displays of brutal power.
Fast forward to May 2015 and Joshua had won each of his first 12 professional fights by knockout, and was deemed ready for a step up in opponent as he was matched against experienced American Kevin Johnson, who had never been stopped in 36 fights, which included points losses to Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora.
Only the bell saved Johnson from a first-round knockout as Joshua had him down in the opening three minutes, before the Brit finished the job in the second round, sending out a vicious statement to the rest of the heavyweight division.
3. Commonwealth champion as knockout streak continues
Next up for Joshua was a shot at a first significant title, as he took on Scotland’s Gary Cornish for the Commonwealth title.
Cornish came into the bout with a 21-fight unbeaten record of his own, and unlike some of Joshua’s previous opponents, showed plenty of intent in the opening seconds as he sought to land.
However, it was that intent that helped ensure the result was the same as it had been for each of Joshua’s 13 other victims. Attempting to come forward, Cornish walked onto a big right hand, and although he got up once, failed to see out the first round.
Joshua, by this point headlining Sky Sports box-office shows at the O2 Arena with regularity, celebrated matter-of-factly, knowing bigger challenges were ahead.
4. Thrilling grudge match with Whyte
In his 45 amateur bouts, Joshua only lost three. Two came on big occasions, in a 2011 World Championship final and a 2011 European Championships quarter-final. But his first taste of defeat came in just his third fight, against fellow Londoner Dillian Whyte in February 2009.
Six years on, with Whyte also unbeaten, after 16 pro fights, Joshua was given the chance to avenge the loss. The build-up was hugely entertaining, with the dislike between the pair evident as they traded insults in the weeks leading up the bout. Anticipation was only heightened as Joshua came to the ring with UK recording artist Stormzy performed his hit song ‘Shut Up’, with the lyrics adjusted to target Whyte.
Joshua appeared to be fulfilling the song’s message as he almost blew Whyte away in the first, which ended with both fighters’ entourages flying into the ring after punches were thrown after the bell. However, as Joshua looked for the finish in the second, Whyte landed a big left hook of his own, and Joshua was left badly shaken for the first time in his pro career.
The Olympic champion looked sluggish for a couple of rounds as he took time to get his legs back beneath him, but eventually re-established control, before finishing Whyte with a stunning upper-cut in the seventh round.
5. World champion after 16 fights
Retracing the steps of Joshua’s pro career, it becomes clear that after an initial bedding-in period, the Brit simply went from one big fight to another.
Next up after the thrilling London battle with Whyte was a first world title shot for Joshua, as he took on unbeaten American Charles Martin for the IBF belt in April 2016.
At the age of 26, and in just his 16th professional fight, Joshua became Britain’s sixth heavyweight world champion. He was also the fourth man to win a pro heavyweight tile while still being a reigning Olympic champion.
Being the first southpaw that Joshua had faced in the pros, there was an expectation that the powerful American could cause problems.
However, Joshua immediately proved too fast and powerful for Martin, flooring him twice in the second before the referee intervened to end the contest.
6. Clash of the generations with Klitschko
Joshua would go on to defend his title against another dangerous unbeaten American in Dominic Breazeale and then Eric Molina, before a heavyweight bout for the ages was made as the Brit was matched with former champion Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium.
There was an existing relationship between the fighters, with Joshua having earlier in his career participated in a Klitschko training camp to gain experience and help the Ukrainian prepare for one of his many title defences.
There was plenty of respect between them in the build-up, but as the fight edged closer, needle developed, with both promising victory.
The fight was an instant classic. Joshua put Klitschko down in the fifth, which developed into an all-time memorable round as the pendulum swung to leave the Brit holding on by the end of it. Klitshcko then appeared to have finished Joshua with an enormous right hand in the sixth, but he somehow survived the round.
Both fighters gathered their energy in the few lower-key rounds that followed, before Joshua unleashed a thrilling attack in the 11th, flooring Klitschko three times and eventually ensuring he added the WBA title to his IBF belt.
7. Unification against Parker in Cardiff
Joshua had next been set to defend his titles against Kubrat Pulev, but after a shoulder injury forced the Bulgaria to withdraw, Carlos Takam stepped in and was comfortably defeated in a late stoppage.
That left Joshua able to pursue a third belt, as a unification fight against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker arranged for Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, with London’s O2 Arena no longer big enough to cope with the ticket demands of a Joshua fight-night.
Perhaps having learned from the close shave he had experienced against Klitschko, a more circumspect Joshua showed his boxing ability to comfortably outpoint Parker and claim the WBO title.
The victory left Joshua just one (WBC) belt away from becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
8. Stunned by Ruiz Jr on US debut
Joshua would return to Wembley to deliver another brutal finish against the experienced Russian Alexander Povetkin, before setting his sights on the Big Apple.
A long-awaited US debut for Joshua was set up as he was matched against Jarrell Miller at Madison Square Garden, but when the American tested positive for banned substances, a new opponent needed to be found.
Just a month before the June 2019 bout, Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr was named as Joshua’s new opponent, with the 29-year-old’s apparent excess weight leading many to expect him to be a light touch for the Brit.
However, Ruiz would produced one of the biggest shocks in boxing history, as Joshua was once more guilty of dropping his defences after flooring an opponent.
A wild third round saw Ruiz go down, before getting back up to floor Joshua twice himself. Ruiz would drop Joshua twice more in the seventh round before the fight was stopped, and boxing suddenly had a new heavyweight champion.
9. Boxing clinic in Ruiz rematch
While shock was the immediate emotion following Joshua’s first professional defeat, the conversation quickly turned to whether or not he should take an immediate rematch with Ruiz, who had shown he had the hand speed to counter a significant height and reach disadvantage.
Joshua insisted there was no option but to take the rematch, and the bout was swiftly scheduled for six months later, this time in Saudi Arabia.
In a performance reminiscent of the one that earned him victory over Parker, Joshua relied on his boxing skills to keep Ruiz out of range and dominate the scorecards to reclaim his three world titles.
While the fight was not as explosive as some other Joshua’s other famous victories, the discipline he showed in blunting Ruiz’s attacks was a sign of his developing maturity.
10. Masterful Usyk wins boxing battle
After the coronavirus pandemic caused a delay, Joshua would offer a reminder of his power when he finally met Kubrat Pulev in December 2012, delivering a devastating ninth-round knockout after having had the Bulgarian hurt earlier in the fight.
Much talk followed about a possible undisputed unification fight with Tyson Fury, but the WBC champion was ultimately forced to take on a trilogy fight with former champion Deontay Wilder. That left Joshua facing a mandatory defence against pound-for-pound star Usyk.
The Ukrainian, like Joshua a 2012 Olympic gold medallist, had become undisputed champion of the cruiserweight division, before stepping up to heavyweight, where he had outpointed Derek Chisora in his second fight.
There was no doubting Usyk’s boxing ability, but the question was whether he would be able to handle the physicality of the much bigger Joshua.
There’s an argument that we still don’t know the answer to that question, because Joshua’s game-plan, which appeared to be to outbox Usyk, saw the Ukrainian deliver a masterful performance and earn a victory by unanimous decision.
The fact that so many observers felt Joshua’s tactics were all wrong means the intrigue going into the rematch is perhaps even greater than it was first time around, with the sporting world waiting to see what will happen if and when the Brit goes for broke.
Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk is on Saturday August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!