Anthony Joshua will be Britain’s highest-profile fighter when he faces Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley next month, but he was very nearly lost to a boarding school in Nigeria.
The IBF heavyweight champion, whose full name is Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, joined his Nigerian mother Yeta in the African nation for six months at the age of 11 and attended a school he expected to remain in.
After a period that he believes taught him discipline, Joshua and his family returned to the UK, and he resumed the path that led to him being discovered as a promising amateur fighter who has since been groomed for exceptional success.
Victory against Klitschko on April 29 would also earn Joshua the WBA title, and ensure that he surpasses David Haye’s record of being world heavyweight champion for three fights.
The controversial and outspoken Tyson Fury’s struggle with depression meant he vacated his titles without making a single defence, while many refused to overlook the fact the London-born former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis represented Canada when he won Olympic gold.
Against that backdrop, if he is not already, Joshua is on course to become Britain’s most popular heavyweight since the long-retired Frank Bruno. It could, however, have very easily been different had he remained elsewhere.
‘I thought I was going there (Nigeria) on holiday,’ said the 27-year-old who also has an Irish-Nigerian father, Robert.
‘I wasn’t prepared for it. It was a boarding school as well.
‘At the time you think ‘Why?’, but as you get older you think it was good that you experienced it. It was good for me.
‘I think my mum was trying to do some business there; maybe she had it in her mind. You don’t just randomly decide to move there. She might have been thinking about it, but didn’t inform us because we were kids. We stayed out there, not long, only six months.
‘It was a change and I thought I was going to go for the full course: 5.30am in the morning, up fetch your water, put like an iron in your water to warm it up. Your clothes had to be washed and ironed.
‘It wasn’t an issue but I wasn’t prepared. It was a good discipline.
‘We got beaten. That’s my culture: beating. The government raise your kids now; parents aren’t allowed to raise their kids, because there is so much control about what you do or what you say.
‘In the (Nigerian) culture it’s family, outside support; everyone has a role in raising the kids.’
Anthony Joshua, who last visited Nigeria – where he still has family in Lagos – 13 years ago, is expected to fight the 41-year-old Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley, the biggest boxing crowd in the UK since the Second World War.
‘I thought I was in heaven (when I returned to England),’ said Joshua, who continues to be linked with having a future fight in his mother’s homeland.
‘(But) when you are in sport you become a representation of people. I’ve got it (an outline of Nigeria) tattooed on my arm, so people can relate to me.
‘I don’t know if (a fight there) will happen.’