Anthony Joshua: Walking is, in a way, a ritual thing. Before a fight or after I’ve completed a tough training camp, it’s like a, whew, sense of relief. I walk for therapeutic reasons. I walk to reconnect with my ancestors. It’s the way my ancestors used to get around and move their legs before horses and cars. So walks, for me, brilliant. I love them especially now we’ve got some got some good weather in London. It’s a way of me finding peace and happiness amongst God’s creation.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time to Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives.
As part of a series on world-class athletes, this episode features champion boxer and gold medalist Anthony Joshua. He is the first British heavyweight boxer to win Olympic gold and holds multiple world championship titles. On this walk, he talks about why vulnerability can help you find the best version of yourself and how life has changed now that he’s a dad.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Anthony Joshua: So, right now, we are currently outdoors on a lovely, I’d say breezy/sunny day. Some people have their jackets on, obviously not as tough as I am. I’ve got my t-shirt on. We’re strolling through a park right now.
When I was 18, I started boxing. I wanted to get into fitness. I wanted to, you know, change the way I was living. I would come to this park where we’re walking now, and I would go running with the boxing team. And this will be my 31… so this was like 13 years ago I’d come here. And it was so tough running with guys who were conducting themselves in the right fashion in order to live a healthy lifestyle. So that’s when I realized I need to change my ways and change the way I live. And now I can walk through here as a champion with you.
It’s a local park for me, to a certain degree. It has a lot of history for us Finchley boxers, my boxing club.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
There’s this period between that time when you leave school, and you’re figuring out what you want to do. We leave school here at 16, and a lot of people just go from school to college to university, then to get a job. So I was, like, at a stage where I was figuring out what I want to do.
My dad was in Nigeria a lot. So I was quite independent. I was, like, my own man of the house. But, at the same time, I’ve got a sense of freedom. And that freedom is what we call time. I start smoking, having some time in the clubs, partying and stuff like that, sleep until whatever time.
So I go through this situation where I get in some trouble, and I had to move to London with my mum. So I’m now stuck out in London. It went from being me amongst 50 of my friends that I grew up with to now being just me and my cousin. And at the time, my cousin was into sports.
I’m on a court case, and I have to enroll in college to show that I’m a good citizen. So I’m studying bricklaying because I wanted to do something positive. I’m on house arrest, and I’m bricklaying. There was this transition because I was bricklaying at the time, which I was serious about. It’s a good trade to have. And then I was also boxing at the time.
I had watched Mike Tyson come from this young 13-year-old getting in trouble to then becoming the youngest heavyweight champion of the world. Just purely due to the right mentors and the right discipline and commitment, he achieved some amazing goals.
And I thought to myself at 18, “So all it took was him to just commit himself and be dedicated to the sport, and this is what he went on to achieve. So that means that anyone can do it.” So I started looking at what time was he running? 4:00 in the morning. I started running at 3:30 in the morning.
I didn’t need much in order to compete, whereas, like, sports like tennis, I might need to spend 150 quid on a good tennis racquet. Then I’ve got to pay a coach.
But with boxing, we used to pay £2 a session. Lovely job. You have a great workout, very physical. I felt drained after, and I could progress my fitness levels. I could actually track how fit I was getting, which was nice. So one run, I would do in 20 minutes, and one I would do in 18 minutes. You start training better, and you start enjoying that self-love and self-care, and that’s what I loved about boxing.
So I’m caught between two parallels. Do I do bricklaying where I can become my own businessman? It was good. I feel like bricklaying’s a good trade to have. I feel like it’s good to have a trade behind you at a young age, whether it’s electricals or plumbing.
And I remember there was a time when Finchley offered me to go to Las Vegas to represent the boxing club. And I told the boss, I said, “Look, I’ve really got this great opportunity to go and compete for my boxing club where I can represent London. I’m going to go fight in Las Vegas.”
He said, “Listen, mate, in this type of game, it’s one in, one out. If you want to take time out, out of the trade, when you come back, you can’t guarantee yourself a job.” I was like, “No way.” He’s like, “Yep, being deadly serious.” I said, “You know what? Forget bricklaying, anyway. I never liked this trade, anyway.” And I did, but it was kind of me letting him know that, “I’m going to show you I can do something else.”
And I really then, after that, I just said, “Do you know, I’ve got to make this boxing work.” And that was a transition where I made that commitment towards staying focused and dedicated to my boxing craft. But if I would’ve tried to hold on to something like bricklaying, I would’ve never been in the position where I would’ve had the opportunity to figure out how far I can take boxing.
So sometimes you’ve got to let things go in order to find out what else is out there for you. Like, don’t get too attached to certain things in life. Be free. Try new things because you never know what’s out there waiting for you.
And I’m now heavyweight champion of the world. It’s like one door closes, and another one opens.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Man: I want to talk to this man.
Anthony Joshua: How are you, boss? You all right?
Man: How you doing?
Anthony Joshua: I remember. What’s happening? You all right?
Man: Yeah, yeah, yeah. How are you then?
Anthony Joshua: A long time. You all right, yeah?
Man: Wow, you’ve come a long way, mate. Take care, yeah?
Anthony Joshua: God bless you. Good to see you. Be safe, yeah.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Most kids that go on and do really well in sports, you can kind of track their progression from kids. Like, their parents took them to the gym. They went to an academy. They were developed. They were nurtured, and then they… Like, look at Tiger Woods, Cristiano Ronaldo, you can follow, like, certain paths of success.
I was never meant to be boxer. So there wasn’t a kind of time for me to ever… someone to sit down with me, say, “Let me teach you about what this actually means, what you’re about to get yourself involved in.”
I had to learn on the job. You know, through boxing, I’ve learned what being vulnerable feels like. And I’m in a sport where I expose myself to the world. I started boxing in 2008. And, by 2010, I’m now being called up by the Great Britain Olympic Boxing Squad to come and represent Great Britain.
I fought my way to being the number one pick representative of Great Britain. So that means that now Anthony Joshua goes out to represent Great Britain to compete against the rest of the world. So Cuba would have their number one, Great Britain has their number one, America has their number one, Russia has their number one. So I’m representing Great Britain.
I’m thinking, “What’s this?” Like, I’ve never… I never even really knew or watched the Olympics. I was never heavily involved in sport growing up. Neither was my family. So this is all quite new to me.
Three years ago, I was a young… a young kid who was in college, smoking and drinking and getting kebabs. And now I’m now going to be representing my country in one of the biggest tournaments in the world. So, because I’ve been thrown into the deep end, I know how scary it is when you can’t actually swim. I know how scary it is.
I remember when I went to the World Championships, we fly to Azerbaijan where the tournament’s held. I’m about to meet the majority of my competitors who I’ll be facing in the Olympics, providing I qualify. None of these guys know who the hell I am. I’ve been boxing three years now from the day I walked in the gym. So I haven’t got much of a track record. I’m just, like, looking around, spinning around, just taking it all in, really taking it all in.
So it’s my time to fight, round one, boom, bam, bam. AJ wins. It’s nice to get through the first one, you know, shake the rust off. Boom, bam, AJ wins again.
And with prayers, hard work, good preparation, but a solid, solid mindset, I get to the final hurdle now. So I’ve qualified for the Olympics because if you reach the quarterfinals or the semifinals, you are now qualified for the Olympics. So I’m in the finals now. I’m facing the hometown guy. So he’s from Azerbaijan. He’s knocked out probably five of his six fighters, very strong guy. I know my coaches are thinking, “Listen, I know Joshua’s good, but he’s probably going to get his a** kicked.”
So I go in there now, and I think, “I don’t want to put myself through this type of fight. I want to go back to my local area and compete with guys I know I can beat.” I don’t want to be in the World Championships fighting guys who are the best in the world. I’m so inexperienced. I’m relatively new.
So I’m now in the fight, boom, bam. This guy is strong as an ox, and I’m hitting him with the kitchen sink. It’s doing just enough to keep him at bay, but he keeps on coming. So we’re scrapping now.
The final bell goes. I believe I won, as you do, and he believed he won. And he won by one point. What do I do now? I’m upset. Do I carry on? Am I as good as what I thought I was?
I was just really disheartened, but it made me realize, hang on a minute. I’ve just got to the World Championship Finals with only having about 20-something fights compared to these guys who have had 150 fights. That amount of experience… I must have something to give.
If I don’t want to go through that again, there’s a whole other level of training and application I’m going to need to put in in order for me to progress because the Olympics is the next tournament I’m going to be involved in. I’m now going to be representing my country in one of the biggest tournaments in the world.
So now the Olympics is upon us, and where else is it other than London, competing in my hometown in front of my friends and family. I knew, if I get to the end, I can win this.
I remember standing in the changing rooms, and I could hear my mate go out to fight. And it reminded me of a gladiator film, where I’m waiting, I’m getting my hands wrapped, I’m getting warmed up. Now, five minutes later, I can hear the ground start rumbling like [ANTHONY JOSHUA MAKES RUMBLING, CHEERING, CLAPPING SOUNDS].
And now it’s my turn. And I’m looking like, “What have I got myself into? Why did I even walk into a boxing gym?”
Boom, round one, win. Boom, round two, win. Boom, round three, win. I am in the finals of the Olympics. Well, this guy is like, the former Olympic gold medalist, top level fighter. That’s an elite level operator. So I knew he was going to come game. So I’m going to come game.
Good fight. I fought my way through, boom, bam. It went to a count back. “AJ is the super heavyweight champion of the 2012 Olympics.”
The hometown fans go crazy. I raise my hands in shock. I’m like, “I can’t believe I’ve done it. I’ve actually achieved one of the greatest heights that amateur boxing has to offer.”
[SOUND OF WALKING]
I’ve been knocked down. I’ve had to get back up. I’ve felt like I’ve been embarrassed, but it’s built such a thick skin in the world where I feel you have to be tough because it’s so unforgiving.
So, whenever I’ve lost, I tend to never look at the other person and say, “He beat me because…” I always just look at myself and reflect on the reasons as to why I let myself down.
When you box, you have to lose your ego. You put yourself in the most vulnerable position. There’s no problem with being vulnerable. That’s where you learn about true greatness. And your greatness may not always mean reaching the pinnacle of success. Like, I may not be the next Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson, but through my vulnerabilities, I find out the best version of me, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve. I’m my biggest competition.
And I truly believe that the minute you can get comfortable being uncomfortable, you probably have a better chance of achieving some of the things that you want to achieve.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
After winning the Olympics at 21, 22, I turn pro. I’m living life. Life is fun. I’m now a recognized figure in the sporting world. I don’t have to queue up anymore in the queue for the clubs. I’m getting, like, different kind of attention. It’s what they call the trappings of success to a certain degree.
I’ve just become British Champion in a barnstorm of a fight. And interestingly, the news at the time, which was bigger than the fight was, “Anthony’s having a child.” It was such an interesting time for me, making that transition in a way, like, a bit of a playboy to now having a responsibility where I’m actually a father.
This is where vulnerabilities, again, can shape you. And I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh. It’s going to be just me. It’s going to be just his mum. You know, my life’s come to an end. Oh my god. What’s happened?”
But actually, an amazing experience. Joseph Joshua, my firstborn son. Even though he’s an addition to the family, it’s a scary one because this baby’s mine. My time to protect, to guide, to build, to nurture, to even learn about myself, what type of father I’m going to be.
I was at a stage where sometimes I wasn’t sleeping that well. I would come home, sleep for three hours. I have to be up for my son and play my part in his life, in his upbringing, which was a really difficult stage. And having my son’s helped me mature in that sense, changing my structure.
Like, the other night, I remember we was up late, and I told him at about 3:00, “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll go on a walk this evening,” because he wanted to go on a walk. So it got to around 8:00, had his bath, “Are we still going on a walk?”
I thought, “Oh, gosh, these kids don’t forget anything, do they?” So I said, “You know what? Rather than saying no, go to bed, and controlling him the same way I control boxing or the same way I’m controlled in boxing,” I thought, “The best thing I can do is let him express himself.” He’s expressed that he wants to go on this walk.
We went out, and it was just nice to see him go on his scooter by himself. It was just me and him, and he got to do something that he wanted to do.
So I look at what it takes to be a father, and I look at what it takes to be a boxer, and I always question: where do I find more challenges? The thing is whatever you put your energy into is what’s going to challenge you. Boxing is something that needs strict structure, rules, and regime, whereas my son, I believe that it’s important for him to find out what he likes. And that experience is what’s going to shape him as a man.
Watching my son grow, it’s like watching a tree grow. It happens over a long process of sun, rain, of wind until it bears fruit. It may grow to the left. It may grow to the right. It may grow straight. And what I’m saying is my son’s going through his natural cycle of growing. I haven’t been granted more hours or been taken away less. I’ve just changed the way I structure the 24 hours to benefit and fit in line with what I’m trying to achieve, which is being a better father.
There’s no one way to be a father, is there? We all have our own ways. And I’m still learning out how I’m going to build and nurture my son so when I’m not here one day, he can stand on his own two feet. That’s what’s important to me.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
For me, this whole park has memories and has interest for me because this is the park where I started off my boxing career, where I’ve been running around for years and pushing myself to the limit. And what I like about where I’m walking is kind of like a… It reminds me of a walk to a fight because we’ve got trees on either side of us, all lined up like I’m heading towards… Because I’m a fighter, I can describe it as something like the days of Olympia where they’ll walk to the arena or to battle to go and fight 100 men, and it’s last man standing.
And, yeah, I like this type of scene because I’m just looking straight ahead of me. It’s a straight path. there’s trees lined up for about 200 meters ahead of me, hundreds on my left, hundreds of trees on my right. I bring my kid here now, my son. It’s nice to be able to bring him back here and him to enjoy himself. It’s just a nice experience, and it’s nice that he’s got his local friends, as well. This is the park that I’m sure that he’ll have great memories in.
The power of music is the power of influence. It’s frequency, vibration, energy, hidden messages. I can memorize more lyrics than I probably can combinations that I’ve been taught in boxing. It has such a big impact on us, whether we like it or not.
I spend so much time finding the right song to ring walk to, and that’s what I find so funny. I find it so difficult to find the right song because it has such an impact on the crowd and myself and how I’m going to feel going to knock this opponent out.
I remember when I heard Earth, Wind & Fire, “Fantasy”, I was watching a series that’s based around sports people. And the guy was living that end of career dream, wife, life looked good, sunshine. And he’s cruising in his car, and he’s singing that song…
[MUSIC FADES IN]
… “Fantasy”. [ANTHONY JOSHUA HUMS A LINE FROM “FANTASY”] Yeah, anyway, I can’t sing. It just touches me every time I listen to it because it’s like that end-of-the-road goal where you finally got to where you want to get to.
[MUSIC - “FANTASY” BY EARTH, WIND & FIRE]
With Marvin Gaye, “Inner City Blues,” it’s that real inner city blues feeling. It’s understanding the reality of the situation a lot of us are facing. Inflation’s going up, bills have to get paid.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
It’s a tough, tough, tough world out there for a lot of people. Even though I talk about what “Fantasy” means and retirement and sunshine, I cannot forget how tough it is for the inner-city people, as well. Some people are really struggling. As much as I want to progress in life, that’s why I try and keep my feet on the ground because you just never know.
[MUSIC - “INNER CITY BLUES” BY MARVIN GAYE]
This is Nas, “Mastermind”, one of my favorite tracks. What a man. I feel like he’s not just someone who makes music for the fun of it, a true poet.
You know, I love the saying, “This is chess, not checkers.” Boxing is chess, not checkers in the sense where you have to plan four to five steps ahead in order to make sure that you can execute and checkmate your opposition. And you have to plan ahead because, as seemingly beautiful as our plan is, there may be some pitfalls. So you have to plan for these things, as well.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
And that’s what “Mastermind” is all about.
[MUSIC - “MASTERMIND” BY NAS]
This walk makes me realize how beautiful the outdoors is. Being outside here, just talking, getting fresh air made me realize you don’t actually need much.
In a way, this whole walk has resonated with me in terms of the ancestors because that’s where it all began. So, if anyone’s out there on the walk themselves, you can think of your forefathers that had done this to be in the position that you are today, and also remembering that what you do today might really be honored in your family’s heritage and lineage. And that’s what, like, this walk kind of represents, just talking about that journey, having this thought process of what it’s all about, where we’ve come from, where we’re striving to get to.
Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.