- They said ‘if you’re so good go fight for Britain’
Anthony Joshua the boxing kid who defeated feared Wladimir Klitschko to clinch the world heavy weight boxing championship belt was rejected by Nigeria in 2008 because he arrived late to honour the invitation by the Nigerian boxing official.
That rejection made him now fly the Union Jack instead of the Nigerian flag, appearing as British citizen to beat Russian born Wladimir Klitschko in a match considered fierce by many who glued to their television and stood at the ring side in Wembley to watch the fight.
It was that connection as a Nigerian that drove him to try and represent Nigeria at the 2008 Olympic Games, only to be turned down by the country’s boxing coaches.
Obisia Nwankpa, former Commonwealth champion, world title contender and chief coach of the Nigerian boxing team, tells the story: “He reached out to us, asking to be part of our Olympic team, so we invited him to come down and take part in trials.
“Unfortunately, he did not appear when we asked him to and came down only when we had finished our trials, finalised our team and were about to travel for a training tour. Maybe other coaches would have accepted it, but I could not.
“It’s a pity he did not get his chance at that time, but the two boxers we selected then, Durodola Olanrewaju and Onorede Ohwarieme, were outstanding and experienced and there was no way I was going to drop them for somebody I had not even seen.”
Both Olanrewaju and Ohwarieme failed to go beyond their first bouts at the Beijing Olympics. Olanrewaju lost to Cuba’s Osmay Acosta, who went on to win bronze, while Ohwarieme was beaten by Lithuania’s Jaroslavas Jaksto. Nwankpa is convinced that Joshua would not have fared any better at the time.
“Those two were great boxers and the reason they did not do so well was partly because our preparations were not really so good, and partly because there is also some politics in the way they judge these fights at amateur level.”
Jeremiah Okorodudu represented Nigeria at the 1984 Olympic Games. His relationship with Nwankpa is frosty at best and they do not often agree. They hold divergent views on Joshua; Okorodudu claiming some stinging words were said to the young boxer.
“When they turned him back, they told him that if he was that good he should have fought for Britain,” Okorodudu alleges.
That snub, it seems, provided additional motivation which spurred the young boxer to fight his way into the British Olympic team. Four years later, Nigeria’s rejected nugget had become Great Britain’s cornerstone Olympic gold medalist. So is it possible that Joshua dodged a bullet by that rejection?
Anthony Joshua, MBE was born on October 15, 1989, He is a British professional boxer.He is currently a unified world heavyweight champion, having held the IBF title since 2016, and the WBA (Super) and IBO titles since April 2017. He previously held the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles from 2015 to 2016. As an amateur he represented Britain at the 2012 Olympics, winning a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division; he also represented England at the 2011 World Championships, winning silver.
Joshua was born in Watford, England to a Nigerian mother and a British father of Nigerian and Irish descent. His cousin is fellow unbeaten professional boxer Ben lleyemi. The pair made their professional debuts together in 2013.
Joshua grew up for some of his early years in Nigeria and returned to the UK halfway through Year Seven to join Kings Langley Secondary School. Growing up on the Meriden Estate in Garston, Hertfordshire, Joshua was called ‘Femi’ by his friends and former teachers, due to his middle name ‘Oluwafemi’. He excelled at football and athletics and broke the Year Nine 100m record with a time of 11.6 seconds.
As of April 2017, Joshua is ranked as the world’s best heavyweight by Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, second by the BoxRec, and fifth best by The Ring magazine. He also boasts a 100% knockout-to-win ratio. Joshua is the second British boxer, after James DeGale, to win both a gold medal at the Olympics and a world title by a major professional sanctioning body, as well as being the first British heavyweight to do so. He is also the second boxer, after Joe Frazier, to win a world heavyweight title whilst still reigning as Olympic champion at the top weight.