He’s huge, but he’s a gent, he’s won every single fight with a knockout, is he the sporting role model young people need?
The sporting world has always been full of motivational and inspiring stars. While on the other end of the spectrum, controversy is ever-present and largely associated with huge financial gain. In a world that’s created such role models as Serena Williams and Usain Bolt, it’s also been home to the likes of Lance Armstrong and O.J. Simpson.
But, occasionally we are introduced to someone who’s likeable, talented, driven, and who we hope the kids of this world look up to. Right now, the man that’s taking on this role is heavyweight boxer, Anthony Joshua.
He didn’t come from much, he was into drugs as a teenager and was regularly on the wrong side of the law. He grew up in the same vulnerable position that many young people are stuck in now – no money, no real career aspects and attracted by the means to escape it all or rebel. As corny as the phrase is, boxing seemed to save him.
Boxing has always been seen as a disciplined sport, as well as offering a controlled way in which to unleash one’s anger and frustration. Joshua’s difficult start at life was turned around when he proved to the world he meant business, and became Olympic Champion in 2012.
Since then, he’s kept himself busy training and fighting and is currently the heavyweight champion of the world. But unlike many boxers that stay under the radar aside from with boxing fans, Joshua has become a full-fledged celebrity. He’s a poster boy for Lynx, an ambassador for Sky Sports, a representative for Under Armour and this is just to name a few.
But, why has this non-controversial boxer proven so popular with the general public?
Martin Fitzgerald has been a fan of the sport for years. “He’s British and he’s brilliant,” he explains. “They’re the basics, but then add the ‘troubled youngster to Olympic Hero to Heavyweight Champion of the World’ narrative and mix in the fact that he just seems like such a nice fella, and you have the dream package.”
“add the ‘troubled youngster to Olympic Hero to Heavyweight Champion of the World’ narrative and mix in the fact that he just seems like such a nice fella, and you have the dream package.”
In a sport that’s violent and aggressive by nature, it’s rare that a gentle giant comes along. We’ve seen an unimaginable amount of knockouts. We’ve seen trash talk in the run up to fights that’s verged on actual death threats. We’ve even seen Mike Tyson bite off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. But amongst all of this, Joshua comes across as a pleasant, friendly, and genuinely nice guy.
Video journalist, Craig Connolly is a boxing enthusiast. “He’s a 6ft 6inch man mountain who it seems is also the nicest man on the planet outside of the ring,” he says. “He comes across as smart, disciplined and an inspiration to many youngsters. There is a lot of bravado and seemingly violent talk in the build up to a lot of boxing matches these days, in my opinion simply to sell more tickets. This gives boxing a bad name, it gives youngsters the image that threats and violence pay well.
“However, Joshua is on the opposite end of the scale. He concentrates on himself, thanks God and gives credit to the team around him and that is very attractive to fans because it is not the norm within the heavyweight division.”
But it’s not all about who he is outside of the ring. It’s easy to forget he’s actually an extremely talented boxer. All you have to do is look at his boxing profile.
Jordan Piano is another fan of boxing, and he believes the way Joshua fights is helping to win the public around. “In terms of the sport, people love seeing knockouts and AJ has delivered those time and time again,” he says. “Not one of his fights has gone the distance, which captures the attention of the wider audience.”
He’s not the first inspiring role model to come from the sporting world, but he’s certainly one of the most influential sports starts to come from boxing. Even the boxing fans that aren’t fans of Joshua’s would struggle to find any negative impact he’s having on the sport. As he appears in the media more and more, he brings new fans to boxing.
Fitzgerald believes that Joshua is certainly having an impact. “I don’t think he’s changing the sport, but he is transcending it,” he explains. “People who have previously had no interest in boxing are really into Anthony Joshua and the amount of goodwill towards him seems to outweigh whatever negative connotations surround boxing.”
However, Connolly believes the impact is even bigger than this. “I think he is changing the face and appeal of boxing,” he says. “Joshua is certainly an inspiration and a fantastic boxer who sells out huge stadium venues.”
“I think he is changing the face and appeal of boxing, Joshua is certainly an inspiration and a fantastic boxer who sells out huge stadium venues.”
Joshua is proving to young up-and-comers that you don’t need to be aggressive, violent and disrespectful in order to be successful. He avoids the trash talk, mainly because he doesn’t need to engage in it to sell out an arena. But there’s a reason he sells tickets without any outside-the-ring drama.
Piano believes he knows why.
“Anthony Joshua fights are now called ‘shows’. He puts on a show,” Piano explains. “He’s said himself that he wants the people who come to receive value for money. He doesn’t just want to fight and win in front of them, he wants them to be entertained.
“Fans can get a ticket for £40 to see Anthony Joshua in a football stadium, whereas the cheapest ticket for a Las Vegas fight would be in the hundreds. Sold out fights at Wembley and the Principality of 90,000 and 78,000, respectively, show that AJ is making boxing accessible for more people. He’s not changing the sport itself in my opinion. But the way in which people consume boxing and access it is quickly changing with his growing popularity.”
Joshua doesn’t come from a financially privileged background. He got caught up in rebelling, drug use and trouble with the law. He’s relatable. But on top of that, he’s proven himself as a genuinely nice guy. All of his fights have ended with a knockout, but outside of the ring he’s proving to be a true role model to kids who perhaps don’t see a future.