On This Day: Anthony Joshua Wins Olympic Gold At London 2012

Joshua has endured a mixed relationship with the British public since
08:01, 12 Aug 2023

Anthony Joshua is hated in some quarters and merely maligned in others. It is an indictment of the collective British psyche that this nation savours the fall more than the rise. For some bitter souls, the three career defeats on AJ’s ledger erase the 25 professional wins. The fact he won the WBA, WBO, IBF and The Ring heavyweight championships of the world is invalidated because he lost them to Andy Ruiz Jr and Oleksandr Usyk. 

But 11 years ago today, Joshua did something no one has been able to take off him. The Watford superstar won Olympic gold at London 2012. It is a glittering achievement captured in a time and place of national optimism. It remains unsullied by the fact the mood surrounding both Joshua and the nation as a whole has markedly changed.


A young Joshua had been in trouble with the police. He was put on an electronic tag for fighting and later served community service for a drug possession arrest. Like many before him and many to follow, AJ found solace away from that life inside the walls of the boxing gym.

He was already 18 by the time he took up the sport, an old man in novice amateur terms. But his impressive 6’6 frame and powerful punch saw him rise quickly. Three years into his journey he was the ABA National Champion. A year later he netted a silver medal at the World Championships. The Olympics were now firmly on the agenda.

Competing at super heavyweight, Joshua beat Erislandy Savon in his round of 16 tie. The Cuban would go on to win the heavyweight bronze at Rio 2016. Current WBO interim champion Zhilei Zhang was next to fall as AJ captured the hearts of the nation and impressed the world. 

Joshua beat Ivan Dychko of Kazakhstan in his semi final, the super heavyweight bronze medalist four years later. In the final, the Watford man defeated Roberto Cammarelle via countback to win the cherished Olympic gold on home turf.

From that point on, Anthony Joshua became AJ. A fixture in the national consciousness and initially held up as a sparkling role model of black excellence. Indeed, when he began emphasising the first half of that phrase he was soon branded a racist by people who don’t understand what racism actually entails. 

AJ has never shied away from his background, his race or his beliefs. When white heavyweights, such as the outspoken Tyson Fury, do the same it is lauded. Joshua is rarely afforded the same patience or praise for his words, even though they are often more measured.


But before he was a pariah he was a national icon. The spirit of 2012 propelled a great many athletic careers in this country and Joshua’s was arguably at the forefront. While the Olympics are the pinnacle in many disciplines, boxing offers further riches in the professional ranks. AJ took to these like a duck to water. 

The Watford puncher raced to 15-0, knocking out every single opponent along the way. While there are always complaints about Olympic stars being matched softly after turning over, there were still some fine names on AJ’s ledger. Kevin Johnson was a former world title challenger as was Matt Skelton. Michael Sprott had been a high-performer at domestic and European level in his younger days. Dillian Whyte was the pick of the bunch, with AJ knocking out his former amateur conqueror in the seventh. 

That win netted our man the British title and put him on course for a world title shot. IBF heavyweight champion Charles Martin never stood a chance. AJ became the new king via a brutal second-round KO. The coronation was complete and it felt like there was no looking back for Team Joshua. 

Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina were finished inside the distance in title defences before the first true superfight of Joshua’s career was upon us. Wladimir Klitschko, the great decade-long holder of the heavyweight crown, returned to the ring after two years out since his 2015 loss to Tyson Fury. The fight, which had the vacant WBA title on the line alongside the IBF belt, would change everything for AJ.

Klitschko had Joshua on the deck for the first time in his career. Having been knocked down himself in the fifth round, it looked like ‘Dr Steelhammer’ was going to finish matters in the sixth. But AJ rose. He fought back. Previously perceived as a fighter who had it all handed to him, Joshua fought for every inch and rallied to stop Klitschko in the 11th. Nobody had beat Klitschko inside the distance for 13 years. It felt like AJ had arrived.


In reality, this was the last appearance of the Joshua we had grown used to. Being knocked down cast a cautious shadow over him. He was never the same devil-may-care, front-foot puncher again. Joshua looked more cautious as he wore Carlos Takam down over ten rounds in his next bout. The Olympic champion then unified his IBF and WBA straps with Joseph Parker’s WBO title. But in doing so he allowed the New Zealander to become the first fighter to hear the final bell against him as a pro.

A seventh-round knockout of ex-WBA champion Alexander Povetkin was more like it, but soon disaster struck. Andy Ruiz Jr, a replacement for Jarrell Miller after ‘Big Baby’ failed three drugs tests, knocked Joshua out in seven rounds. It was a disorganised, messy performance from AJ. The warrior’s instinct he had used to rally against Klitschko had been lost. A tame but professional decision win in a rematch restored Joshua’s belts, but not his pride.

A sharper ninth-round TKO over Kubrat Pulev looked like it might restore faith. But Oleksandr Usyk, the former king of the cruiserweights, proved too much across two fights and 24 one-sided rounds. AJ had no response to the smaller man in their London and Jeddah bouts. The latter saw Joshua launch into a bizarre post-fight rant that eroded his status further. For the undecideds, the sight of Joshua throwing Usyk’s newly-won belts out of the ring like a fuming WWE villain was the final straw. He had killed the national hero of 2012 in sullen fashion.

An April decision win over Jermaine Franklin hasn’t restored the Joshua train to the rails. No matter how hard he hits Robert Helenius on Saturday, that inevitable victory won’t either. But the anniversary of his greatest triumph does bear reflection. Joshua has been shunned for behaviour we often marvel at when it comes from other fighters. Boys will be boys, unless it’s this boy. The reasons require a depth of socio-political analysis beyond this weary boxing scribe. But it is hard to envision another country shunning a man who has put an Olympic gold medal and the WBA, WBO, IBF and The Ring heavyweight titles on their table. 

Joshua isn’t infallible and he isn’t a marketing tool, at least not any more. He has flaws, he bleeds red and breathes oxygen, he makes mistakes. He’s capable of the majestic and the idiotic. He’s human. But aren’t we all?

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