Indian boxing team’s surprise tryst with Anthony Joshua

Indian boxing team’s surprise tryst with Anthony Joshua

Boxing squad gets a visit from world champion Anthony Joshua, who shared his experiences with Indian pugilists.

World heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua with women’s team coach Raffaele Bergamasco.

Raffaele Bergamasco had just finished putting the India squad through its paces in Sheffield when he was greeted by a familiar face: three-belt world champion Anthony Joshua.

“It was very exciting. He walked in and recognised me straightaway,” Bergamasco, India women’s high-performance director, told The Indian Express. “It was a very happy moment for both of us, and also for the girls who enjoyed clicking photos with Joshua. It was nice to see an old friend.”

Ahead of next month’s Asian Games, the Indian contingent of 10 men and 12 women is busy sweating it out at the English Institute of Sport — the training base for Joshua who is gearing up for his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles’ defence against Russia’s Alexander Povetkin in September. The overlapping stints allowed Bergamasco to catch up with his “friend”, one he plotted the downfall of for a good chunk of a decade.

Bergamasco was in the corner of Roberto Cammarelle — two-time world and 2008 Beijing Olympic champion — when the Italian lost to Joshua at the 2011 World Championships and in the gold-medal contest at the London Olympics, two contentious defeats which led the beaten boxer to wonder: “I don’t know if my punch is invisible. I want to go home. Maybe I want to cry.”

Boxer Sarjubala during their camp in Sheffield this week. (Source: Sarjubala Facebook)

“Even when he was the opponent of my trainee, Anthony was a good boxer but was a bit immature for the supermassime (superheavyweight) category,” says Bergamasco. “But you can see the progress over the years. He has the maturity now and without doubt will be the best in the world for years.”

Santiago Nieva, men’s high-performance director, agrees with his counterpart’s assessment. “Even when he won the gold in 2012, Joshua was far from a finished product. In fact, some of those decisions wouldn’t have gone his way at other venues,” says Nieva. “But heavyweights develop as they grow older. He’s 28 and his physical growth has been impressive. In the bout against (former WBA and IBO champion Wladimir) Klitschko, he was able to draw from the experience of his amateur battles.”

Though interactions have been limited — “you have to respect the privacy of a man who is preparing for a world title fight” — the Briton has shared his experience with the star-struck Indians, though less as an analyst and more as a motivational speaker. Sarjubala, who competes in the 51-kg category, posted a photo on Facebook with Joshua captioned: “Do all you can to make your dream come true.”

“He has spoken to the boxers a fair bit, that was certainly motivating for them,” says Nieva. “But you can learn more by watching him. He has gone from (being) an inexperienced boxer to (being) world champion. But you can observe how he remains loyal to his team, his friends. He is happy to be back to his roots in Sheffield.”

In addition to training under the same roof with a world champ, there are other reasons to be happy at the Sheffield facility. The training venue for Joshua and British amateurs comes equipped with technology such as a camera system which films the ring from multiple angles. It lends to a move-by-move breakdown of each session and links to a global network for scouting purposes. In short, a godsend for a videophile of Nieva’s repute.

“The video analysis set-up is top notch,” says Nieva, who is known for capturing bouts and training sessions and littering WhatsApp inboxes with hours of footage. “I hope the technology that we are using here is soon implemented in India too.”

Remind him of the cutting-edge hypoxic chamber — a boxing ring which produces a similar effect to being at altitude — and Nieva brushes it off with a “I have not seen anybody use it in the 10 days we’ve been here.” Priorities for him are more basic.

“Right now, it’s not about expensive tech or new experiments,” says Nieva. “This is the best training set-up because of the high-quality sparring available. We have amateur boxers from England who finished first at the Commonwealth Games. For men, you get sparring partners in all the weights. There are some impressive Canadians too. With a month left for the Asian Games, this is the actual preparation that will count.”

The record haul at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games has raised expectations for the tougher Asiad test. And the Indians will take all the help they can get, be it from friends or foes.

“Joshua’s presence has been good for us,” says Bergamasco. “His inputs will be welcome. Good things happen when you exchange boxing knowledge.”