Wladimir Klitschko taught Anthony Joshua the importance of good sparring partners and that has helped the world heavyweight champion get into tip-top shape ahead of his first bout in over a year against Kubrat Pulev.
Saturday will be the first defence of the 31-year-old’s second reign as holder of the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts which he won back with a points victory over Andy Ruiz Jr last December.
A June date had originally been pencilled in but the coronavirus pandemic forced it to be put back six months and it extended Joshua’s time outside of the ring.
Despite the long gap, the Briton has followed in the footsteps of Klitschko by being put through his paces with intense sparring sessions to ensure he is ready when the bell sounds at Wembley’s SSE Arena.
“Klitschko invited every heavyweight to his training camp,” Joshua said.
“I have never had a problem with sparring, with anyone getting stuck in. That’s been the best way and what I’ve learned from Klitschko is the value of getting all the best talent into one space to challenge me as champion.
“Four rounds with one, four rounds with another one. I’ve been out for a year and they’ve got me tough, they’ve got me ready.”
Joshua, Klitschko and Pulev were first inadvertently linked as a trio back in 2014 when the Watford-born boxer was a sparring partner for then-world champion Klitschko as he prepared to take on Pulev.
It clearly had the desired effect with the Ukrainian able to inflict a devastating fifth-round stoppage on his Bulgarian opponent and it remains the only defeat of Pulev’s 29-fight career.
“At the time I didn’t really understand the whole implications of the way Wladimir was training, but I have actually implemented some of the stuff he did in my training for this camp,” Joshua admitted.
“Every fight is different. Kubrat fought Klitschko, that was different. I fought Klitschko, that was completely different and now I’m going to fight Pulev, that’s going to be different again. Preparation is key, experience is important and I have learnt from the best and it will pay off.”
Trainer Robert McCracken had to rein Joshua in this week, with the champion sparring on Wednesday and eager to do the same on Thursday before being told he was not allowed.
While the 52-year-old later confirmed it was more “technical, touch stuff”, it increases the feeling the Olympic gold medallist is determined not to underestimate the IBF mandatory.
Joshua added: “The body can get soft easy. You’ve got to stay switched on, shots coming at you, gauging distance, feeling different shots. I want someone in the ring imitating Pulev, so that’s good.
“It’s just keeping your eye in. I could hit the pads, but they don’t hit back. The heavy bag doesn’t move, having a live opponent in front of you, moving your legs, it becomes second nature.
“The best thing I can do is do in the ring what I need to replicate on Saturday and think this is normal. The ring here is tiny so I’m going to get into the ring on Saturday and I will have loads of space to do my job, so these kind of things are important for you body-wise.”
On Wednesday, Joshua did two of his eight rounds of sparring with the head guard off, but McCracken added: “It’s for the tippy tappy stuff, not the open sparring. When you do the open sparring the headguard’s got to stay on!”
Promoter Eddie Hearn admitted Joshua had appeared “edgy” in the week, with plenty of talk ahead of this fight about a potential twin-meeting with Tyson Fury in 2021.
The WBC holder confirmed on social media he would not be attending “any boxing this weekend” and Joshua’s trainer stated it has not even entered their mindset, with Pulev their only focus.
“If you don’t concentrate and you look to what you’ve got in four or six months, you’ll slip up and future huge fights will never materialise,” McCracken said.
“It’s the same for Tyson as well. He’s got to make sure that if they eventually box that he stays unbeaten as well. It’s very tough heavyweight boxing – they are always one punch away from disaster.
“But he’s trained long and hard for this one. He’s taken Pulev deadly serious, most days there’s been two boxing sessions a day and he’s enjoyed it.
“He’s looking forward to the fight and is in a good mood, and that’s really key when he comes out of a camp.”