AS the world heavyweight champion, boxer Anthony Joshua is not afraid of taking on the big boys — it is something he has been doing all his life.
A hero to the underdog at school, he would see off bullies picking on the little kids and throwing their weight around.
Anthony was known to his pals as “Femi”, after middle name Oluwafemi. One ex-school friend Stuart Atkins, 27, told The Sun on Sunday: “Femi was popular, he was like a smiling, friendly giant but you wouldn’t mess with him because of his size.
“He was the hardest guy and nicest guy in school. He stood up for the smaller kids. He didn’t like seeing people being picked on and bullies wouldn’t mess with him or anyone he stuck up for.”
Few people would choose to mess with him now but on Saturday Carlos Takam will do just that, taking on Anthony, 28, in Cardiff.
The bout is Anthony’s first since taking the WBA title off Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley in April, adding it to his IBF crown.
That fight was watched by 60million people and earned him £15million — easily the biggest payday of his career.
But it is nothing compared to what he is expected to earn in future through endorsements and title defences, with promoter Barry Hearn backing him to become the first billionaire boxer.
Away from the heat of battle and baying crowds, grounded Anthony loves nothing more than playing chess, eating Nando’s and binge-watching Netflix.
He grew up on the Meriden council estate in Watford, where he lived in a flat with his two sisters, brother and mum Yeta, 51.
She split from their Irish-Nigerian dad Robert, 56, when Anthony was still at primary school.
His uncle Daniel, 53, said: “The other kids were always making fun of Anthony because he was so skinny with long legs.”
Growing up, Anthony excelled at sport. During his days at Kings Langley secondary school, he wanted to be a footballer and was a sharp-shooting centre-forward.
His 6ft 6in frame made him a threat in the penalty area — just as it did when it came to protecting his mates.
But the Joshua family were well used to standing up to bullies.
His uncle Adedamola told how they faced racism in the 1950s when they first moved here from Sagamu in Nigeria. Anthony’s grandad, Olaseni, married an Irish woman while studying nursing in the UK and Adedamola recalled a time he got into a scuffle with three men.
He said: “Olaseni single-handedly beat all three of them up. That was in 1952. They’d insulted him, telling him he had no right to marry a white woman. I’m sure that’s where Anthony’s fighting skills come from.
“Olaseni was a notable boxer in Sagamu. Though he didn’t fight professionally, he used his skills to protect his family.”
It is a family that is still well respected in their home town. Anthony is the great-grandson of an African prince and could one day even be crowned king.
Adedamola said: “Anthony’s father is the grandson of one of Sagamu’s greatest men, Omo-Oba Daniel Adebambo. The title ‘Omo-Oba’ literally translates to ‘Prince’.”
But as a teenager, Anthony admitted he also became a “Little G” — or gangster — drinking, smoking and going to nightclubs.
By the age of 16 he was charged with actual bodily harm after attacking another lad during a football match.
Anthony once said: “I was quite a good striker at school but during one game, this guy was trying to wind me up.
“I got him around the neck and threw him over my shoulder. I didn’t know my own strength and he didn’t land too well.
“Incredibly it went to court and I was charged with ABH. Luckily they ended up just giving me a slap on the wrist.”
Mum-of-four Michelle Gallichan, 38, who lived opposite the family, remembers Anthony as a teenage tearaway who was “always in trouble” and raced motorbikes around town.
At 18, Anthony’s cousin Ben Ileyemi took him to the Finchley & District Amateur Boxing Club in Barnet, North London.
He worked out intensively and, within three years, had fought his way into the British Olympic team.
But everything he trained for came close to falling apart.
In March 2011, Anthony was pulled over by police in Sheffield — where he was training for the Olympics — for speeding in his Mercedes-Benz.
During the stop, officers found 8oz of herbal cannabis hidden in his sports bag. Anthony was charged with possession with intent to supply a Class B drug and pleaded guilty.
He was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work and given a 12-month community order.
Since then, Anthony has turned a corner and become someone younger boxers look up to.
His coach and close friend Sean Murphy told us: “That honestly could have been the end for him as a fighter.
“He’s a Jekyll and Hyde character. On the one hand he’s a mean, nasty mother****** with a vicious streak that has got him where he is today.
“On the other he’s a lovely guy who is very generous and will talk to anyone.
“He has his own key to the club and regularly pops in to talk to the young fight-ers. We are going to watch his fight in Cardiff and I’m sure he’ll win — it’s going to be hard for anyone to stop him now.”
In 2012, Anthony was propelled to stardom after winning super-heavyweight gold at the London Olympics.
Donald Langford, who owns the Meriden Fish Bar where Anthony’s sisters Loretta, 23, and Nikita, 18, worked until recently, was given tickets to see the triumph.
He has also been given front-row seats for Saturday’s fight at the Principality Stadium. Anthony’s original opponent for the Cardiff clash, Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev, withdrew with injury last week before the relativelyunknown French-Cameroonian Takam, 36, stepped in.
Donald, 52, said: “I’ve known Anthony since he was a young lad.
“He’d always smile and wave as he went by. It’s great to see him doing so good.
“And he’s bought his former coach Sean a brand new BMW and kitted out the Finchley gym with punchbags.”
But despite his rise to stardom, Anthony has kept his feet on the ground and put his family first.
He bought a £500,000 flat in North London for the mother of his two-year-old son Joseph, even though they are no longer together.
Anthony calls his son his “lil champ” and kits him out in designer gear from Old Bond Street boutique Moncler.
In 2013, he paid £174,000 for the London home he shares with his mum Yeta, a social worker, and their dog Roxy.
Anthony admits he is a clean freak “with OCD” who still does the chores at home and only asks his mum to buy in his fish, meat and chicken.
His success has also earned him an army of celebrity admirers.
Model and actress Cara Delevingne described him as “dreamy” after they first met at a basketball event, and he has been romantically linked with singer Rita Ora. He counts singer Jessie J and former heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill as pals, and his fan base ranges from Holly Willoughby and Peter Andre to The Rock and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While his wholesome image and good looks have helped attract lucrative endorsement deals from Lynx and Jaguar, his success in the ring is also down to his tactical mindset — kept sharp by his love of chess.
It was another British heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis, who first encouraged him to take it up.
Joshua said: “Lennox got it into my mind and then a friend taught me how to play.
“Chess is the same type of thing as in the ring. You need to be two moves ahead all the time.”
FAILURE IS NOT TRYING
ANTHONY is almost as famous for his inspiring philosophy on life as he is his powerful punch.
Here are some of the boxer’s best pearls of wisdom:
- “Just set yourself a goal and try to stick to it. You’ll end up better than where you started.”
- “Failure is not trying.”
- “It’s not just about inside the ring – a championship mentality is throughout life.”
- “You’ve got to do it yourself. If you listen to the people who say you’re good, you’ll take your foot off the gas. If you listen to the people who say you’re rubbish, you’ll give up.”
- “Every fight is a risk, every fight could be your last.”
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