The cracks are starting to show for former unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. The Olympic medallist allegedly confronted a group of students at a university flat. Footage appearing to show Joshua warning the students he could start “cracking your glass jaws” has made the rounds on social media. The incident is the latest drama in what has been a nightmare 12 months for the boxer.
This is reported to have taken place due to the students mocking and taunting Joshua, with the group accusing him of avoiding a match with heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. The incident comes a few weeks after Mike Tyson struck a passenger who was provoking and harassing him on a plane.
Violence and threats of violence are never acceptable. Nor were the actions of the other parties involved in each case. Someone’s celebrity is not just cause for harassing them or throwing insults. It wouldn’t be acceptable if you did it to someone on the street, and it is no more forgivable just because your target is famous. Both Tyson and Joshua were unfairly targeted, and the presence of camera phones keenly recording the incident in both cases create the air of a set-up. Provoke a famous and short-tempered celebrity, film it and watch the likes roll in. People used to hone a talent in order to get their 15 minutes of fame. Now they press record.
The contrasting public reactions to Tyson and Joshua’s incidents are interesting. ‘Iron’ Mike’s more extreme response, to turn round and punch his tormentor in the face, was widely seen as commensurate with the abuse he’d suffered. The passenger had gotten close to Tyson, invading his personal space, but had not struck or threatened the former world champion. Meanwhile, Joshua responded to words with words. They were intimidating words, but words nonetheless. He hurt his tormentors’ pride, not their face. However, Joshua has found his actions vilified in a way Tyson’s more visceral response was not.
This speaks to a wider Englishness in a way. The press and populace of this country have a penchant for building a star up before tearing them down. Paul Gascoigne was English football’s saviour until the odious work of the ‘red top’ press made him a pariah. Wayne Rooney was the precocious Everton wonderkid until he became too popular, too talented. Then the public turned on him, while the press metaphorically sifted through his dirty laundry to find anything to fan the flames of growing contempt. Now, it is Joshua’s turn.
An Olympic gold medal, followed by a rapid professional rise, have made Joshua a target. The emergence of a charismatic, candid and less stage-managed heavyweight champion has not helped. Even before the losses to Andy Ruiz Jr and Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua had to contend with unfavourable comparisons with Fury. For his part, despite what some lairy students have alleged, Joshua has never wavered from his wish to fight ‘The Gypsy King’. It was Fury that promised the nation the bout knowing he had an iron-clad contract to fight Deontay Wilder again.
There is a deeper discussion to be had about Joshua and his lack of popularity in some quarters. His support for Black Lives Matter, and his quotes about supporting black-owned businesses, have been taken as racist by a growing minority of complete idiots. Joshua won a gold medal for his country and has to listen to sections of the British public turn on him for supporting his community. It says a lot about the state this divided nation is in that people would interpret Joshua’s words and actions in this way. Much of the glee at Joshua losing his unified title to Usyk last year was racially motivated. A group that ferociously waves the flag and claims to be “proud to be British” pouring scorn on a champion fighting under that very same flag. Truly pathetic.
That is not to excuse Joshua in this case. He should not have given the students the time of day, despite their bone-headed jibes. He is an elite boxer with nothing to prove to anyone, let alone a group of teenagers who should have known better than to rile a trained fighter. But the conflicting responses to Joshua and the two Tysons, Mike and Fury, is telling. Joshua is going through a lot at the moment, but after all he has given to boxing and his country, he deserves the same leeway others in his shoes have received.