Wembley holds plenty of memories but AJ won’t crack under the pressure


ASK Anthony Joshua what Wembley means to him and he won’t talk about FA Cup finals, England internationals, Live Aid or Henry Cooper v Cassius Clay.

What it means to Britain’s heavyweight champion of the world is the knock-off market where, as a teenager, he would buy fake CDs, jeans, trainers and flashy belts.

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Anthony Joshua stands on the brink of glory in front of his home crowd

From dodgy belts at Wembley Sunday Market to priceless belts at Wembley Stadium — namely the WBA Super, IBF and IBO world heavyweight title prizes.

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“Wembley?”, says Joshua, like it is some word-association game, “hustling, the market, trying to get fake clothes, man.

“This is where we used to come to get our CDs on Sundays. The best thing I bought? The belts. I also liked the jeans, the Evisu jeans. It was like a statement pair of jeans, everyone knew they were Evisu.

“And Air Force Ones (Nike trainers), they were only about £20.”

No wonder AJ has seemed so relaxed this week, this world-famous venue is on his home turf. This is where he once bartered with the Del Boys, flogging their Trevor Francis tracksuits, from a mush in Shepherd’s Bush.

Beaming, fist-bumping and brimming with bonhomie, it is difficult to recall an elite-level sportsman appearing quite so comfortable in the build-up to the biggest event of his life.

Too relaxed? We will find out at 10pm tonight when Joshua steps into the ring in front of 90,000 fans to face Wladimir Klitschko, the 41-year-old Ukrainian who ruled the division for a decade until his shock defeat by Tyson Fury 17 months ago.

Whether or not Dr Steelhammer is affected by ring-rust, this will be a massive step up for Joshua.


He won his IBF crown from a freak-show champ in Charles Martin — and has yet to face a genuinely world-class opponent in 18 pro fights, only twice going beyond the third round.

Yet here he is reminiscing about his youth, beside his cousin Ben Ileyemi, who inspired him to take up boxing as a troubled 18-year-old.

Joshua, 27, recalled: “Ben worked in JD Sports. I used to come and see him, drive down to Wembley Market or take the train.”

AJ grew up in Watford, just ten miles away from tonight’s venue, yet it has been quite a journey. From scrapes with the law for street-fighting and possession of cannabis, to his status as a multi- millionaire national sporting hero.

Heavyweight’s Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko weigh-in ahead of their world title fight

But Joshua remains genuinely down-to-Earth, claiming he has kept away from the pre-fight hype.

He said: “Nothing has changed. Remember I’ve spent a quarter of the year in training camp. I haven’t seen the hype.

“Maybe afterwards, it’ll be ‘wow’. Maybe when I go to the launderette, where I go every weekend, there will be people waiting outside. Normally I just do these things. I might start seeing a change and that’s when I might see what impact this is having.”

The 2012 Olympic champion has not tasted defeat since the 2011 world amateur final in Azerbaijan, where he was narrowly outpointed by local fighter Magomedrasul Majidov.

Joshua used to spend plenty of time as a youngster in the Wembley area


Joshua used to spend plenty of time as a youngster in the Wembley area

Joshua was in tears on the way back from the ring that night — and admits the fear of defeat haunts his dreams.

He said: “I’ve dreamt about the fight. You dream you’re winning, you’re losing, you’re halfway through the fight and you wake up. Every scenario comes to you. I think it’s the fear of losing, that’s why you want to perform.

“When you get in the ring, you have to control yourself because you want to perform to a level where you’re supposed to be and beyond, which is where greatness is. But if I’m losing in the dream, I just wake up and realise that that’s not reality.

“Because I’ve lost before, I can embrace what happened before. For me, even if you lose and you’ve tried, you’ve still won. When I’ve won, I’ve always got back in the gym and when I’ve lost, I’ve got back in the gym.

Wladimir Klitschko appears confident of getting the first-ever professional win against AJ


Wladimir Klitschko appears confident of getting the first-ever professional win against AJ

“I had to learn from that loss in 2011. I learnt I had to do neck weights to make my neck stronger. Even though I lost, I gained a lot from it.”

Was that night in Baku the last time he cried?

“Yes it was,” said Joshua, “walking back to the changing rooms. You don’t think you’ll cry because you are a tough man — but it’s just a passion.”

AJ opened the show as an inexperienced pro the last time they packed Wembley for a fight — Carl Froch’s victory over George Groves in 2014.

Joshua is confident he can defender his heavyweight title in style

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Joshua is confident he can defender his heavyweight title in style

He admits this super-fight has come sooner than he might have anticipated but is adamant he is ready.

The Brit added: “If I was a bit shy and I was just doing it for other reasons, then you would see maybe people thinking, ‘Josh is big, he’s strong and got a puncher’s chance’.

“But it’s more than that, I’m very capable of doing this job.”

A job which will earn him a £15million purse, which stretches a long way down at the Sunday market.

C’est magnifique, Hooky Street.

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