The story of boxing superstar Anthony Joshua is one of inspiration – and proof you can turn your life around.
The two-time unified heavyweight champion was once facing the possibility of prison time before facing the likes of Wladimir Klitschko in front of millions in the ring.
But, over the years, he has deservedly become one of the biggest boxing names in the world.
Boxing is one of many sports that is famous for getting people off the streets and away from a life of trouble, helping them complete a full U-turn in the process. And who better to prove that than Anthony Joshua.
Before becoming a role model and being a boxer, AJ was fighting with something else other than opponents – the criminal justice system.
Watford born, AJ grew up on the Meriden Estate and, besides from spending some years in Nigeria, he spent most of his early life in Hertfordshire.
After attending a boarding school in Nigeria, AJ returned to England in Year 7 and joined Kings Langley Secondary School, in the village near Hemel Hempstead.
It was here where his passion for sports started and where he got his first taste of success.
Considering he’s 6ft 6 now, whilst growing up, you can just imagine how good he was at other sports like football and athletics.
Like a true sportsman, he excelled at both and broke Kings Langley School’s Year 9 100m record with a time of 11.6 seconds.
Despite his potential future in sports, AJ didn’t take boxing or any other sport seriously until he was 18 years old and, before committing to the sport, he was a full time bricklayer.
Quite clearly, AJ was a late starter in the sport and he only began boxing in 2007, aged 18. It was all down to his cousin, who is also a professional boxer, as he suggested he should start training.
He took him down to his club, Finchley ABC in Barnet, which has produced some great boxers over the years including Joshua and Derek Chisora.
Within two years, the work paid off for AJ as he got his hands on his first trophy – the Haringey Box Cup.
But it was in the same year of 2009 where AJ also got in trouble with police.
According to Joshua, he was facing up to 15 years in jail and was on remand in Reading Prison. He said it was down to ‘fighting and other crazy stuff’.
Speaking on Songs for Life, Joshua said: “Yeah (I was on remand), couple weeks, nothing major, I had been charged and I was on remand.
“I just knew that I was looking at 15 years, I thought I’d do that easy. I’d have been out two years ago. If it’s guilty, it’s guilty, it’s a mindset init.
“My mindset was in a different place, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time type of mindset.
“When I got bailed, I started learning how to box and lift weights because I thought ‘I’m going to do a long sentence, I need to back myself’.”
As part of his release, Joshua was made to wear an electronic tag on his ankle and this put his promising career in the ring at risk.
After spending some time on tag, AJ got back in the ring and again won the Haringey Box Cup in 2010 putting his name firmly amongst the best of local boxers.
In the same year, he won the senior ABA Championships and Joshua’s name was getting bigger and bigger.
The senior ABA Championships is the national amateur championships and gives boxers a good chance to fight amongst the best in their weight category across England.
Shortly after this, Joshua turned down his first professional contract.
He’d only been in the ring 18 times and was making waves in the boxing world but he turned the opportunity down saying he didn’t enter the sport for money, rather to win medals.
And that he did as he won the ABAs the following year and was called up to the GB Boxing team.
This platform for any boxer is massive and AJ took his chance with open arms and closed fists.
Due to the hard work he put in, he became the British amateur champion at the 2010 GB Championships.
2011 was another crucial year for Joshua in the ring but he nearly blew it after more trouble with the police.
In March that year, he was pulled over in North London for speeding and officers found eight ounces of herbal cannabis inside his Mercedes-Benz.
Understandably, he was in hot water and was subsequently charged with possession with intent to supply a class B drug and submitted a guilty plea.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail and his future in boxing was heading for disaster.
For many, a spot in Team GB and the potential to become a world star is all the motivation they need, but not for AJ.
Due to the relatively small amount of cannabis found, and Joshua’s guilty plea, he was given a non-custodial sentence.
He was forced to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and was also given a 12-month community order.
AJ was lucky not to get jail time, and also to have the career he has now, as he was suspended by Team GB not long after his charge.
Ultimately, he was at a crossroads – going one way would end up in him likely being in prison, but the other way would see him focus on boxing.
With all of his hope and ambitions, no one would’ve thought he would have become the number one heavyweight in the world, but he did.
After earning back his Team GB spot, it felt like Joshua had a point to prove in 2011.
In June that year, he performed at the European Championships and was named the Amateur Boxer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Club of Great Britain.
Later on that year, Joshua fought at the World Championships and burst onto the scene.
He beat the reigning world and Olympic champion at the time and won a silver medal after getting to the final.
Despite losing, getting to the final earned Joshua the opportunity that has made him what he is today – a place at the 2012 Olympic Games.
The Olympics was AJ’s calling and, although he had performed well at the world championships the year before, this was easily the biggest stage he had performed on.
And where better to do it than in London?
Joshua defeated all the odds. In the last 16, he beat the fourth-ranked competitor in the world and after that, went on to beat the 2008 silver Olympic medallist to go on to the semi-finals.
In the semi-final, Joshua beat Ivan Dychko and went on to the finals with the whole of Great Britain and Hertfordshire behind him.
It was in the final where Joshua faced his toughest opponent, the reigning Olympic champion Roberto Cammarelle.
Cammarelle was 32, much older than Joshua, and had plenty of experience in these big time fights – however AJ’s youth and hunger come out on top.
AJ won the gold medal and became the new Olympic champion – his career had officially started.
His heroics at the Olympics say him awarded with an MBE in the 2013 New Years Honours for services to boxing.
It is quite remarkable how much, within a year, AJ turned his life around. But this was only the start.
In 2013, Joshua signed his first professional contract and by the end of the year, he was fighting at the O2 Arena.
From then on, he went on to fight two more times in the year up and down the country. All three fights Joshua won by TKO.
Joshua went on to go 8-0 and had his first title fight and main-event bout in October 2014. He was facing international heavyweight Dennis Bakhtov who was a former champion.
Despite being the more experienced, knowledgeable fighter, Bakhtov was stopped in the second round by Joshua in front of a packed out O2 Arena.
He was now 9-0, 24, and had won the WBC International heavyweight title. The world was at his feet and his criminal life was dead and buried.
AJ went on to go 13-0 in 2015 by beating a former world title challenger Kevin Johnson who had gone 12 rounds previously with Tyson Fury and Vitali Klitschko.
He was no match for the gigantic Joshua who stopped him in the second round.
The next belt in AJ’s sights was the Inter-Continental belt which was held by Gary Cornish, who in the ring, was stopped within 90 seconds of the first round.
The fight happened in September 2015 and before he was even out of the ring, he was already lined up with British boxer Dillian Whyte.
The two had previously fought at amateur level, which Whyte had won, but this time, it was for the vacant British heavyweight title and Joshua’s Commonwealth title.
It was a fantastic fight and one which boxing fans will never forget but mainly because England’s golden boy went on to win by KO in the seventh round.
What was next for AJ? England was behind him and the hope of him becoming a world champion was becoming a reality as his next fight was a shot for the IBF heavyweight title against champion Charles Martin.
Martin was expected to give AJ a real test but in true Joshua style, he knocked him down in the second round and he failed to get up.
That’s it. Anthony Joshua was a world champion.
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His unbeaten record went to 22-0 and he had some memorable fights along the way including the ferocious battle against Wladimir Klitschko.
The two fought it out in front of a packed out Wembley Stadium and the fight did not disappoint.
Klitschko has been one of the greatest fighters in recent times and went into the fight with a record of 64 wins and four losses – 53 of them were won be KOs.
It was easily Joshua’s toughest opponent he had faced and one which would go down in the history books as the IBF and vacant WBA titles were on the line.
It went to the eleventh round and in those rounds, both fighters were knocked down and were throwing everything they could to win the fight.
And it took a Joshua masterclass in the eleventh round for the referee to stop the fight and crown Joshua the winner.
The bout was named Fight of the Year by The Ring and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Joshua, who had never been taken to the distance in a professional fight before, then faced Joseph Parker who did exactly that.
However it wasn’t enough and AJ won on points and claimed Parker’s WBO heavyweight title.
AJ then went on to beat Povekin before he faced Andy Ruiz Jr. who didn’t look like he would trouble Joshua but we was wrong.
The 6ft 2 Mexican shocked the world and beat AJ to win all of his belts only to lose them six months later in a rematch with the champ. This was AJ’s moment and he become the two time unified heavyweight champion.
AJ’s story will go down in the history books and is a lesson for everyone out there – never give up and focus on what makes you a better person.