‘What do I say to Fury? He’s got a lot of potential,’: AJ still eyes a unification bout with Fury

Towards the end of the long wait, Anthony Joshua found himself drawn a little to his ancestor in the heavyweight family, Mike Tyson. It was predominantly to watch the old man fight Roy Jones Jr, but it would seem he has also appropriated one of Tyson’s more famous sayings.

Its use was in the context of the Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev, with whom Joshua was originally scheduled to fight in 2017 but will instead collide on Saturday, a year and five days after he gained revenge over Andy Ruiz.

Rather a lot has happened between 2017 and now, in life and in the narrative of Joshua’s invincibility, and suffice to say there are fewer today who see the Brit as a foregone conclusion in a scrap. It was on such a theme that Joshua led himself with minimal prompting to echo what Tyson once said about opponents with grand plans.

Anthony Joshua reclaimed his heavyweight titles after defeating Andy Ruiz in December 2019

‘You’re going to have to ask Pulev how he feels but I’m sure after my loss everybody says, “Oh, we’re going to exploit Anthony Joshua’s weaknesses” and all this nonsense.

‘So we’ll see how confident he is until the first jab or right hand smashes him in the jaw.’

A decent soundbite, but it does play to the mystery of what we will see from Joshua when he enters the SSE Arena, formerly Wembley Arena, before a crowd of just 1,000. By any measure he will be a huge favourite to defend his IBF, WBA and WBO world titles against a 39-year-old who has fought comparatively modest opposition since his only career loss against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014.

But we must wait to see what version of Joshua presents itself – the big-swinger whose vulnerabilities were exploited by Ruiz in their first fight or the jabber who compromised entertainment for pragmatism in winning back his belts in the rematch? Also we have to wonder how Joshua adapts to what will be almost an alien environment.  

Joshua will put his titles on the  line against Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev at SSE Arena in Wembley

Joshua will put his titles on the  line against Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev at SSE Arena in Wembley

By his estimate, it will have been eight years and an amateur bout in Hungary since he fought in front of such a small crowd, and a little over two since the second of his fights in the more appropriate settings of this arena’s neighbour, Wembley Stadium. It offers a glimpse into the chaos and pressure that have accompanied Joshua’s rise that he views the relative quiet as a good thing.

As he said: ‘It is not bad (to have a small crowd). The pressure is off, you can get in your rhythm. And I think I need that sometimes because I am under a lot of pressure.

‘I am going to go in there and perform with no pressure and showcase the styles I have merged together, which is sticking and moving, and aggression and knockout power.’

The risk, of course, is that this relatively understated fight with Pulev comes accompanied by distracting talk about bouts with Tyson Fury. Joshua possibly slipped into a similar trap ahead of the first Ruiz encounter so will be well-briefed in the imperative of not overlooking the task in hand.

Joshua is expected to have a title unification bout against WBC champion Tyson Fury (left)

Joshua is expected to have a title unification bout against WBC champion Tyson Fury (left)

At the very least he is making the right noises, and even used the curious example of Tyson’s exhibition with Roy Jones Jr to make a point about focused minds.

‘I watched the highlights,’ he said. ‘I liked it. But what I really liked was his attitude, the way he conditioned his mind to overcome any obstacle.

‘It’s his mindset. He still has that and it’s important. The biggest-looking men aren’t always the toughest men mentally and Mike, alongside his physical capabilities, what set him apart from a lot of the champions was his mindset. So I took a lot from that, that warrior’s mindset that I’m trying to work on.’

He added: ‘I’m not interested in partying anymore,’ he said. ‘I’m older, wiser, I’ve had to do a lot of maturing, a lot of learning about what it means to be heavyweight champion. Before I was just happy go lucky, going through this boxing industry with a smile on my face, but now I really. So not so much the partying, not with a big crowd anymore, just me and my team and just trying to achieve good things in boxing right now.’

AJ  was inspired watching Mike Tyson (right) box Roy Jones Jr. praising Tyson's mindset

AJ  was inspired watching Mike Tyson (right) box Roy Jones Jr. praising Tyson’s mindset

A fight with Fury appears to be closer than ever, so long as Pulev doesn’t become a hurdle in the manner of Ruiz. In what may have been an attempt to goad Fury into nailing down an arrangement, Joshua suggested he come to work under him at his 258 Management company.

‘I do think he should come over to Matchroom and 258 Management and let us handle his career,’ Joshua said. ‘He’s a superstar, he’s a superstar in the making with the right management. He could go all the way.

‘Build it up, award him Sports Personality of the Year. That video he did (on Wednesday, when he asked to be removed from the SPOTY shortlist) should be him saying, “I’m accepting my award”, not that, “I don’t want to be a part of it”.

‘We’ll have a look at his PR, we’ll strip it all back and make this fight what it’s supposed to be. He’s got a lot of potential.’

A nice pat on the head for a WBC world champion, there. Any fight between the two of them would be one for the ages. Which it makes it even more essential that are no further slips on the stepping stones.

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