EXCLUSIVE — Anthony Joshua has the potential to rule the heavyweight division for a third time, so long as he can “grab his balls and go and knock out anyone in front of him”.
That’s the opinion of respected trainer Joel Diaz, who spoke to The Sporting News in Abu Dhabi ahead of assisting in the corner of WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol for his title defence against Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez on Saturday night.
Joshua will also be at the Etihad Arena on fight night as he flies out to plot his 2023 ring return with his team and promoter Eddie Hearn.
Huge fights against Dillian Whyte and Deontay Wilder are potentially on the horizon, but it will still amount to a rebuilding phase of the two-time unified champion’s career after back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk.
However, Diaz thinks it is Joshua’s first career loss rather than those points reverses to the masterful Ukrainian that continues to cast the biggest shadow over the 2012 Olympic gold medalist.
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“Honestly, if you want to know the truth from me, if you want to hear my opinion I’ll give it to you straight out — Anthony Joshua, after his defeat to Andy Ruiz, it’s a mental thing,” Diaz said. “It’s not about changing trainers, it’s not about changing teams. It’s about stepping it up and changing his own mentality.
“He needs to step it up and he needs to overcome that fight that happened with Andy Ruiz if he wants to keep in the sport and keep beating people.”
Ruiz produced one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history when he ruined Joshua’s American debut at Madison Square Garden in June 2019, climbing off the canvas to deck the Briton four times en route to a seventh-round triumph.
Joshua boxed at range for a near-shutout win when he faced Ruiz in an immediate rematch six months later and, in his only bout of a pandemic-hit 2020, he stopped Kubrat Pulev in nine rounds.
The defeats to Usyk, first at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2021 and then in Saudi Arabia this September, followed, but Diaz feels there are lingering scars from the Ruiz loss that have made a formidable boxer-puncher unhelpfully hesitant.
“Anthony Joshua has a lot of potential. A couple of years ago, I looked at Anthony Joshua as one of the best because he packs a heavy hand,” he said. “He hits really hard, he has great boxing ability. The only thing he needs to do is, honestly, go get ‘em.
“He needs to be brave. He needs to ignore and overcome that loss with Andy Ruiz. Basically, if you want to hear it from a Mexican, you have to grab your balls and fight and not be waiting for… against Usyk, in those two fights, you cannot fight Usyk at a distance, you have to go get him. You have to be aggressive, go and look for him. Basically have no respect.
“That’s what you need. Anthony Joshua needs to lose respect to his fighters [opponents]. He has the potential to do it, he has the power to do it. All he needs to do is grab his balls and go and knock out anyone in front of him because he can do it, not dance around the ring, not wait for the opportunity or give him a distance. He needs to lose the respect, he needs to get in there psychologically and overcome that loss to Andy Ruiz.”
Hearn told The Sporting News this week that Joshua has not made a decision on whether or not Robert Garcia will remain as his trainer for his next fight, despite the fact that the 33-year-old had been ticking over in camp before a proposed December 3 blockbuster against Tyson Fury collapsed.
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Garcia was brought in for the Usyk rematch after Joshua amicably parted with long-time trainer Rob McCracken. Angel Fernandez, who joined Joshua’s team in the aftermath of the Ruiz defeat, worked alongside Garcia.
His most recent outing showed evidence of greater versatility and a version of Joshua whose skills are still improving. But Diaz feels all of this is moot unless what he believes are underlying psychological issues can be fixed.
“That’s the hardest part for a fighter, fixing that mental part,” he added. “A trainer, a manager, a promoter cannot change your mental issue. It’s his own self who needs to change to make that change.
“He doesn’t need to change teams, he needs to change his mentality. He needs to be brave, he needs to have no respect for his opponents, grab his balls and fight. He has the tools to knock anybody out.”