When Michael Sprott was stopped one minute and twenty six seconds into his bout with Anthony Joshua the media couldn’t quite get enough of UK boxing’s brightest ticket. Column inches slathered and drooled with appreciation for the the young man from the streets of Watford. After all, being an Olympic gold medalist isn’t small potatoes for starters. Now the main course of professional boxing is on the table and Joshua is eating like a starving man in a chicken shop. Like one of his often trotted out monikers he intends to #StayHungry. Indeed. Ask Sprott what it felt like being eaten. He knows. It hurts.
But that is the core of boxing really isn’t it: the ability to inflict pain on your opponent while evading the return, like Floyd Mayweather, or simply tolerating the blows like Roberto Duran. And this knowledge is a secret. I mean, how many of you have actually been punched in the face by someone like Anthony Joshua; someone who spends every day of their life in a gym practicing and improving just how hard they can hit a human being? Not many. And it’s this almost secret, closed world of boxing – the difference between those who’ve been hit and those who haven’t – that bonds fighters together in the sport. There is a camaraderie that exists between professional boxers which is simply dead in other sports. Boxers know how hard the game is. And the rest of us can’t ever truly understand.
I’ve never been hit in the face by a boxer – I hope that good fortune continues – and the only experience I’ve had of Heavyweight power was holding a focus mitt for Hughie Fury. Once…… I mean one punch. When I asked him at first he just laughed and said “Really, Ben? You honestly want me to?” Stupidly I thought fourteen and a half stones and a steely right hand could take anything. I held up the pad and Hughie lazily flicked out a left jab, he didn’t even use half of what I’d seen him capable of doing. He was being kind. Instantly, my arm tried to windmill around on the axis of my shoulder. “Erm…..That’s great Hughie….. can we stop there…” It was a pathetic end to the nearest I’ve come to being a boxer. And it proved one thing to me: professional boxers don’t mess around. They can hurt people. Anthony Joshua knows this fact, and so does Dillian Whyte….
Twitter this week was the usual bore-fest of people (including myself) bitching at the latest Matchroom mis-matches, and suckling at the teat of Floyd, but one solitary diamond caught my eye. Anthony Joshua – possibly for the first time since he signed up to Team GB for the London Olympics – let his guard down. And the twitter wolves smelled the blood of a weakened bull elk. They came down from the treeline and picked up the scent of the rabid tweeting public and zoned in. It would take some luck to get away.
What had started out as one of the usual modern traits of hype building in the sport – tweeting fake hater comments at a possible (or booked) opponent to generate interest amongst the stupid – had suddenly touched a nerve with AJ, for reasons unknown, and he took the murky path into ridiculing his comrades. It was a stupid decision.
Dillian Whyte whipped Anthony in the amateur ranks and has come back from his doping ban with fresh venom – mostly aimed at AJ; I guess only he knows why. The latest theme was a boring one from Whyte: ‘I’ll break your face’…… It was nothing; a throwaway comment from a man rebuilding a damaged career – albeit the fact he’s a dangerous fighter – but AJ took the bait. What happened next was probably the lowest point in Joshua’s short career since he was busted on a drugs charge many years previously. Anthony tweeted a picture of Paul Butlin’s face along with the message ‘This is what I do to faces’. If you have never seen that photo the best description is of a man with half his face swollen up to almost twice the normal size. It is of a battered man; battered by Anthony Joshua. It’s a photo of a brave man. There are few who have a bad word for Paul Butlin. Paul reacted by tweeting what a ‘wanker’ AJ was. The whole thing was crass until Joshua made the mistake of emailing Butlin to explain his actions. And this is that email word for word:
“This is the fight game. dw claimed he wants to break my face. The boys 14-0 an not preparing to fight anyone! The pic is proof talk is cheap I can break faces not just talk about it. It’s not a dig at you. You don’t shout on twitter how I took time to email you and show you respect! Yet you scream w****r! So if it’s f**k me!!! its f**k u 2!!! I’m not here to be liked im here to do a good job. It is what it is.”
Breath all that in… Now imagine for a moment being Paul Butlin. Bad taste in your mouth starting to develop? It did in mine – and I like Anthony Joshua a lot! Steve Bunce (the best boxing pundit in the UK in my opinion) waded in with his opinion that Anthony had overstepped an ‘unwritten rule’. Nobody could really argue, though they tried, that mocking a badly beaten opponent was the lowest thing you could do in the sport other than taking a dive, or biting off an ear, or taking PED’s, or settling a good right uppercut into someone’s gonads, or lining up shop dummy after shop dummy to knock over….. I could go on. What I’m trying to say is that I think boxing has other, greater problems.
The Butlin photo was deleted swiftly from AJ’s twitter account but like a guy who has just poured a drink over the wrong man, the damp truth is still there to see, and it isn’t getting any easier to resolve with a handshake. This is not how Anthony Joshua – Mr Clean Olympic Champ – has been marketed by Matchroom. He is the new Bruno, the people’s champ, the good guy with the chiseled physique and the crushing right hand. He’s an Ad Man’s dream. He could sell the desk I’m sitting at to me if he walked through my front door. The man is an MBE for crying out loud! But it’s not entirely the truth.
What Anthony Joshua is, is a human being who just also happens to be a superb athlete. So he got wound up by Dillian Whyte over some old sore that he was picking at, so what? He was a moron for whipping on Paul Butlin. He broke an important rule in the sport; the mutual respect for a fellow warrior, beaten or victorious, but it’ll be forgotten when the bright lights turn on for the next show on the Joshua rocket ride. Whatever the real reasons behind the stupidity of the last few days, I suppose the truth is Anthony Joshua is not ‘Mr Clean’, but neither is he ‘Mr Arsehole’. He, like the rest of us, occupies that dingy and boring and sometimes idiotic middle ground.