It was the ultimate reward for a glistening amateur rise and the launchpad for a professional career that would take Anthony Joshua to the pinnacle of boxing.
August 12 marks 10 years since AJ set his pursuit of world title stardom in motion as he clinched Olympic super heavyweight gold with victory over Roberto Cammarelle at London 2012.
It fittingly glossed Team GB’s most successful boxing return since 1920 and marked the host nation’s final medal of the Games, Joshua having since established himself as an honorary member, perhaps even chairman, of the ‘where are they now?’ bunch.
A day earlier Oleksandr Usyk had toppled Clemente Russo to win heavyweight gold after fending off household names in Michael Hunter and unified knockout merchant Artur Beterbiev to preview a decade as one of the sport’s most enthralling technicians.
From introduction to culmination, the pair now find themselves gearing up for a career-defining night at the top of boxing’s most celebrated division when they meet in this month’s Saudi Arabia-staged rematch.
Anthony Joshua’s road to gold at London 2012
- Erislandy Savón (Cuba) – 17-16
- Zhang Zhilei (China) – 15-11
- Ivan Dychko (Kazakhstan) – 13-11
- Roberto Cammarelle (Italy) – +18-18
Reflection warrants recognition, and Joshua’s Olympic glory can account for demanding the investment and laying the foundations of a belt-collecting ascent that collectively galvanised British boxing.
“He’s got me in this position, getting his gold medal, he may not know it but he carried on the funding, he’s put the face of boxing in England,” Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Ben Whittaker told Sky Sports at his Boxxer unveiling in May.
The AJ-spangled persona was mid-manifestation, the Lion’s Den was recruiting its pride in view of a sizeable feast, Britain’s celebrity heavyweight behemoth of today was something of an unknown on the international stage; here was the late-bloomer that had only taken up boxing aged 18 and the merit-over-money, success-over-sterling advocate that had declined thousands of pounds to turn professional early, too early, in his career.
“I didn’t grow up with loads of money around me anyway, and I’m happy with the way things are,” he said at the time. “These memories are priceless. I want to go on and win world and European titles and dominate in the amateurs.”
Live Usyk v Joshua 2: Build-up
Saturday 20th August 6:00pm
Four years earlier, his gold medal opponent Cammarelle was celebrating victory at the 2008 Beijing Games, at which point Joshua had not yet been introduced to boxing. Such was his accelerated rise that Joshua would defeat the Italian on his way to silver at the 2011 World Championships in Baku to cap a year that had also seen him named best Amateur Boxer.
“I thought AJ started to show a bit of maturity and there was just something there,” said Paul Walmsley, the former World Class Programme Coach at Team GB that took Joshua to Baku. “All along, he was very novicey, he hadn’t had schoolboy and junior grounding in the sport. He had come into it late, so he was still a bit raw, novicey. Once that Cammarelle fight was over, I thought he had got it there. He’d got the tactics.
“He was showing signs of something special.”
A certain Ukrainian was watching and studying Joshua as he was forced to settle for second after defeat to Magomedrasul Medzhidov at the World Championships. Usyk knew gold awaited further down the line.
“I remember very well,” he told Sky Sports in 2021, reflecting on his earliest memory of Joshua. “He lost his final fight against Mahommedrasul Majidov.
“I said to my team: ‘This guy is the future Olympic champion’. Next year, in 2012, Anthony was the Olympic champion.
“Why did I think this? I watched his fight. I watched Anthony. I saw him progress, progress, progress.”
How right he was.
Baku served as a road-straightening ‘blinkers up’ response to self-inflicted adversity earlier in the year after Joshua was arrested for possession of cannabis with intent to supply that resulted in a suspension from the GB squad, a 12-month community order and 100 hours of unpaid paid. As much had threatened to torpedo the glistening potential displayed in 2010 when he became British amateur champion at the Great Britain Championships. Upon London 2012’s arrival, the devotion was unwavering, the maturity cultivated and the hype gradually substantiating.
Joshua will, and often does, admit today that boxing deviated his path, and has sought to repay the sport in the form of not only poster boy success but charitable interaction with the communities that helped shape him. From a significant donation to the Amateur National boxing federations of England, Wales and Scotland during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, to his Clean Herts Community foundation that offered local companies in his hometown of Watford the opportunity to promote their business on his social media channels, to visiting swarms of fans in Nigeria in recognition of his African background and vast support network.
A reminder of his Olympic journey has a sense of timeliness: Joshua had been trailing by three points heading into the final round against a stern and experienced Cammarelle, before clawing his way back to 18-18 on the scorecards with a dogged final round and securing gold on countback.
The down-but-never-out theme has presented itself sporadically in Joshua’s career: the mistakes made as a teenager, the Cammarelle fightback, the stunning defeat by Andy Ruiz in New York. And here it is again as he strives to put things right against Usyk on August 20.
Joshua’s obstacles en route to gold have not forgotten about him. Zhang Zhilei, who will fight Filip Hrgovic on the Joshua-Usyk undercard, has since expressed his interest in another stab at Joshua in his effort to elevate boxing in China, Ivan Dychko sign-posted Joshua as an immediate target after turning professional in 2017, and Cammarelle will still tell you he beat the Brit on this day 10 years ago.
Cammarelle was once described by Walmsley as “the old wise fox”; for a period the two-time world champion was the name fellow amateur heavyweights looked for in tournament draws, quietly hoping they may not cross paths. He was fundamentally sound, awkward to break down and flourished with a ‘teacher vs student’ authority. Alexander Povetkin was one of few to experience joy against him, while the Kubrat Pulevs, David Prices, Hunters, Tony Yokas all found themselves second best at one time or another.
The aggression of a youthful, raw, imperfect Joshua gave him a new problem. As it would for so many others.
Upon turning professional in 2013, Joshua enamoured with his speed and natural, destructive one-punch knockout power as a feature to Scott Quigg, Ricky Burns-Terence Crawford and Carl Froch-George Groves undercards. He stopped a Kevin Johnson that had taken the Vitali Klitschkos and Tyson Furys of the world the distance, he blended granite fists with grit to fend off a relentless Dillian Whyte, he laughed off Charles Martin’s world title credentials while simultaneously underlining that of his own.
A Dominic Breazeale fight was purpose-built for Joshua’s ‘life after round three’ development, before an 11th-round Wembley-decapitating knockout of Wladimir Klitschko was the ‘I was there’ landmark and, until that point, the height of a popularity that blended boxing’s die-hards with your fight-night-loving football, rugby, cricket fans.
Carlos Takam and Joseph Parker proved tests of patience and Joshua’s willingness/ability to win without being pretty, without the fireworks; it was the toiling, unflattering London 2012 opener against a tricky Erislandy Savón. You might say defeat to Ruiz at Madison Square Garden equated to the three-point deficit versus Cammarelle, with round three’s comeback the Clash On The Dunes response. The Usyk rematch? Stay tuned.
As he celebrates 10 years on from Olympic gold, the prevailing sentiment from outsiders looking in has conveniently been a call for the Joshua of old when he steps back inside the ring with Usyk. Yes, the shrewdness of a 32-year-old Joshua that 22-year-old Joshua may have lacked, but the imposing power, steely-eyed ‘my way’ self-assurance that fuelled his rise.
Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk is on Saturday August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!