The eyes of the nation were fixed firmly on Anthony Joshua as he took on Oleksandr Usyk in a well-publicised boxing match on Saturday night. But it’s not the fact that he lost that we’re all talking about, but his emotional and unexpected speech.
I’m no boxing connoisseur but I’ve seen enough matches to know that people don’t make a speech when they lose. Sure, Tyson Fury thanks his wife Paris and gives the crowd a little tune – but to be fair to him, that’s when he’s claimed victory. So why did Anthony Joshua grab the mic and demand the attention of the 10,000-strong ringside crowd and millions more watching on TV?
If you didn’t see the match, let me give you the brief run-down; AJ had already lost to Ukrainian Usyk 11 months prior, so this was his chance to reclaim his titles and get his boxing career back on track. The fight went the full 12 rounds without a knock-out so it came down to the points of the three judges. It was clear even before the winner was announced that Usyk, a devout Christian, had it in the bag. He knelt in symbol of prayerful gratitude to God in the middle of the ring and Anthony knelt with him. The two held the Ukrainian flag aloft in a symbol of peace and solidarity.
When the inevitable was announced – that Usyk had won, it was received with great sportsmanship. Until it wasn’t. A minute later everything changed. He picked up two of Usyk’s belts and dropped them onto the ground outside the ring, he stormed off to boos from the crowd, before returning to challenge his opponent. He said: “You’re not strong – how did you beat me?!”
Let’s bear in mind before we pass judgement on this rant, that the bloke would have been heavily concussed post-fight and utterly exhausted.
He then took the mic and launched into an unexpected rant: “If you knew my story you would understand the passion. I ain’t no amateur boxer from five-years-old that was an elite prospect from youth. I was going to jail, I got bail and I started training my a*** off, I wanted to be able to fight. I’m stealing this Usyk I’m sorry, but it’s because of the passion we put into this. This guy to beat me tonight, maybe I could have done better, but it shows the level of hard work I put in so please give him a round of applause as our heavyweight champion of the world.”
Let’s bear in mind before we pass judgement on this rant, that the bloke would have been heavily concussed post-fight and utterly exhausted while looking down the barrel of the end of his career. At the press conference following the match he said that it was hard for him to say he was proud of himself, but that he was “upset” deep down in his heart. It’s a lot of disappointment for one man to take, particularly on such a huge stage and in a sport that thrives on testosterone and bravado. That’s why Jesus would really come in handy for him right now.
This is a job for the healing power of the Holy Spirit if I’ve ever seen one.
It’s well documented that AJ was raised going to church, but he sadly isn’t engaging with the Christian faith as he used to. According to an interview he did a few ago with the Press Association he follows no particular religion. There were claims that he was converting to Islam and AJ released a photo of himself praying in a mosque but he set the record straight in an interview with iFL TV. He said “I am not a Muslim but I respect Muslims and appreciate Muslims.”
I can’t help but feel sad that AJ won’t be going through this grieving process with Jesus. He does claim to pray – although it’s not clear who he prays to – but this is a job for the healing power of the Holy Spirit if I’ve ever seen one. If Anthony Joshua invited Jesus into a period of lament, I truly believe he would be able to process these many emotions in a healthy and centred way. But in the meantime, we can all be praying for him.