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Anthony Joshua Embarks on Yellow Brick Road

Anthony Joshua

By Eoin Kennedy: In the timeless classic, The Wizard of Oz, the main protagonist, Dorothy, is joined by three friends who march along the yellow brick road all in search of something. The cowardly Lion seeks courage, the Tinman a heart and the Scarecrow searches for a brain. Dorothy is just looking to get back to the familiarity of Kansas. Former heavyweight champion of the world Anthony Joshua has set out on his own yellow brick road it seems, potentially looking for a new trainer. Videos of the Englishman surfaced online this week where he was popping up in gyms across the US. Joshua is said to have met with Eddie Reynoso, Ronnie Shields and Virgil Hunter.

While there has been no official word of a split with long time trainer Robert McCraken, it is clearly evident that Joshua’s curiosity has at least been peaked in the aftermath of his world championship loss to Oleksandr Usyk. The almost universal consensus following the loss was that Joshua fought the entirely wrong game plan. He tried to outbox a master boxer and completely wasted his natural advantages by never imposing his size on the Ukranian challenger. Whether that strategy was McCraken’s advice or a unilateral in-ring decision by Joshua himself, it would have you wondering if the master architect was bereft of the same vital organ as the Scarecrow. Maybe the woeful tactical game plan in that fight has Joshua looking for a coach with slightly more guile. Maybe he’s just on a holiday in America and stopping by to chat to fellow boxing people. Who knows right now?

But if Joshua is in search of something on route to his rematch with Usyk it may not necessarily be a coach that he should be searching for. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Joshua’s game plan against Usyk was the wrong one and even if he was dead set on attempting to box in the beginning of the fight, he should have at least been smart enough to make the adjustment to a rougher, more physical fight as the contest progressed. It makes you think that a coach of McCraken’s experience would surely have given instructions to that effect at some point in the fight. Beyond a poor game plan, what Joshua has looked like he’s really been lacking in his last few fights is killer instinct. There’s been a lot of talk in boxing recently about fighters being dogs or that every fighter needed an inner dog. While Joshua may be searching for a new trainer, what he really needs to discover is that inner dog.

It would be ridiculous to say that Joshua just doesn’t have that dog or killer instinct inside of him because he was at one point the most clinical finisher in boxing, maybe with the exception of Wilder. But on Joshua’s US debut he discovered, much like Dorothy, that there’s no place no place like home. The British invasion was botched when the unheralded Mexican-American, Andy Ruiz, shocked the world by emphatically knocking Joshua out in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Joshua hasn’t returned to fight in the US since. Since that night Joshua just has not seemed the same fighter. Granted he’s 2-1 in his subsequent three fights, the performances tell a different story. The rematch with Ruiz was a very tentative display where it was clear that Joshua was going to box from the outside and avoid engaging at close range with the new champion. The end justified the means and Joshua immediately regained his belts but given the appallingly bad physical condition Ruiz showed up to fight in, Joshua really should have been able to go all out to knock him out. But the knock out in the first fight was fresh in the Englishman’s mind. Where Joshua would once have attempted to walk down his much shorter opponent and impose himself, he instead stayed out of range and opted for a safety first approach. His knock out win over an aging Kubrat Pulev was impressive but also maybe took him a little longer than it should have. Even with this victory coming inside the distance he still showed signs of reluctance to commit at times. The Usyk fight was the most glaring example of a once aggressive come forward destroyer opting to stand back and take his chances boxing from distance.

If Joshua’s career post-Ruiz 1 has taught us anything it is that he is missing something and there may not be a coach in the world that can help him find it. They can’t because Joshua is missing that inner dog. You just get the feeling that since Ruiz repeatedly dropped him and hurt him in New York, that his appetite for a good old fashioned dust up isn’t as veracious as it once was. It would be grossly unfair to suggest Joshua is like the Tinman and doesn’t have heart because he showed it in abundance the night that he famously defeated Wladimir Klitschko in Wembley Stadium, London. It would be absurd to also compare him to the cowardly Lion searching for courage because against most people’s better judgement he jumped right back into a rematch with Andy Ruiz and now he’s doing the exact same thing against Oleksandr Usyk despite the fact that the majority of commentators thinking that the new champion is just too good for him on any night. He was a fighter once built on a reputation for viscous knockouts and now it’s time to return to that philosophy of seek and destroy. It’s the only chance he has of beating Usyk and his most natural and effective way of fighting. But in order to be able to get at Usyk and impose a physical and gritty fight, he has to be willing to take shots, ship punishment and sacrifice himself at times to hurt the Ukranian. In order to do that Joshua needs to rediscover the mojo and approach he possessed before the Ruiz debacle. Promoter Eddie Hearn said the fight will likely take place in March. Joshua has five months to find his inner dog.

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