Anthony Joshua + Derrick James = ?

For his second straight fight, former unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs) will be heading into battle with a new head trainer. He has joined forces with former ring magazine trainer of the year Derrick James, and moved his training camp to Houston, Texas for this fight.

Joshua is in a weird spot at this point in his career. He is coming off of back to back losses to Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs), but even in defeat I thought his performance in the rematch was maybe the best I have ever seen him look. When he was undefeated and unified champion, I felt that Joshua was a bit overrated and was being made into something that he was not. The script has been flipped in recent years though, and Joshua is now underrated by the public and is not getting the respect he deserves as a legit top heavyweight contender.

He may not be the second coming of Lennox Lewis, but Joshua is one of the best heavyweights of this generation and is partly responsible for the resurgence of the division in recent years. Joshua had a quick rise to fame. He didn’t step into a boxing gym until age 18, and was an Olympic gold medalist by 22 just four years later. He would go on to make his pro debut in 2012, and was on the same upward trajectory as he was as an amateur. He became heavyweight world champion in 2016 when he knocked out Charles Martin (29-3-1, 26 KOs), which was only eight years after he first put on a pair of gloves.

His fast ride to superstardom didn’t give him the time to properly develop as a boxer the same way someone who has been in the sport since they were a young child would. He relied on his physical gifts, which brought him to the pinnacle of the sport but also stunted his development. Is it too late for Joshua to reinvent himself and focus more on some of the basic fundamentals? Or is this change going to be exactly what he needed to keep evolving and adding to his game?

He is in sort of a “do for die” situation, where most people around the sport feel that without an impressive performance this weekend Joshua’s time is done being an elite heavyweight. His opponent is Jermaine Franklin (21-1, 14 KOs), who was relatively unknown before his fight against former title challenger and Joshua opponent Dillian Whyte (29-3, 19 KOs). Franklin came in the big underdog, but fought well enough that many people believed he did enough to beat Whyte even though he lost a majority decision. This is a “high risk, low reward” type of situation for Joshua. He needs to have a dominant performance to keep his spot in the division, but a loss or a victory in a competitive fight would result in him getting written off by most people around the sport.

AJ had a better gameplan the second time around vs Usyk with Robert Garcia in his corner, but it was still not enough and he went searching for his third trainer in as many fights. He would make multiple stops in the United States before the Usyk rematch, including making visits into the gyms of Ronnie Shields, Eddie Reynoso and Virgil Hunter before electing to join Robert Garcia’s team. Though Garcia is based out of California, he joined Joshua in the UK for the fight camp. One major difference with this training camp is that Joshua left England and trained elsewhere for the first time in his career. Leaving the comfort of his home country might be the step that he needed to revive his career.

A common saying in the sport of boxing is that you need to be “comfortable being uncomfortable”. AJ has always been a big fish in a small pond, and this move to train with other elite fighters in the United States could serve as motivation. Robert Garcia spoke on some of the adjustments he felt that Joshua needed to make after the two split.

“My personal advice and I told him and all of his team right before I left, the next day … It doesn’t matter who it is, it doesn’t matter if it’s me again, he needs to change his camps around, he needs to go to the United States, he needs to train in the gym … with young guys who are looking up to you.”

“It’s not about Derrick James doing a better job, Virgil Hunter doing a better job, me doing better than his previous trainer – no. It’s about him getting out of his comfort zone and not being the boss, and doing what he’s told to do in a place where he’s not comfortable.”

AJ has done just that, moving his training camp to Dallas, Texas to train alongside Errol Spence, Jermell Charlo and Frank Martin. Will this lead to a new chapter in his career? Or will the old saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” come to fruition once again? Derrick James to me is the best trainer that we have in the sport today, but it normally takes a few training camps for a duo to get completely in synch so the jury could still be out on this pairing even after tomorrow.

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Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly