The Joshua tree: How Anthony Joshua has gone from his professional debut to British title shot in just 12 months

How a game of chess helped the Olympic super-heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua put temptations of drink, drugs and petty crime in check

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The Independent Online

It is coming up to a year since Anthony Joshua made his pro debut and the amiable young Londoner is on course to keep boxing out of the gravediggers’ clutches.

When he snatched the signature of Big Josh promoter Eddie Hearn forecast the 2012 Olympic super-heavyweight champion would be fighting for a title within a year.

And so he is. In what will be only his ninth pro fight he faces Russian Denis Bakhtov for the WBC International belt on 11 October at London’s O2, where he made his pro debut 12 months before.

Joshua sees this title as a stepping stone to the full-blown world championship. Bakhtov recently had an eight-round win over Konstantin Airich, the Kazhakstan-born German who Joshua first encounters in Manchester next Saturday.

Joshua should be well-prepared for both fights, having just returned from sparring 20 rounds with Wladimir Klitschko at the heavyweight champ’s training camp in the Austrian Alps. “What I learned from him is to put in the hard work, live simply and not be flash,” says Joshua. “And if you make mistakes, you get punished. I had to be on my A game all the time.” After his victory over the Roman policeman Roberto Cammarelle in the Olympic final a quick conquest of another Italian, Emanuele Leo on his opening pro fight saw the exploratory drilling into a potential goldmine.

Joshua stopped Emmanuele Leo in the first round of his professional debut a year ago

Joshua collected his MBE but kept promoters on hold for a year until sealing a deal with Matchroom’s Hearn. Now Hearn says: “By the middle of next year we will have our sights on the British titles and the likes of Tyson Fury, Dereck Chisora and David Price, and start moving towards world title eliminators. Josh could beat anyone in Britain now.”

Joshua is unfazed by how the pro career of his Olympic super-heavyweight predecessor Audley Harrison, went. He says he will not follow the same self-obsessed route. Or end up on TV’s Celebrity Big Brother.

Unlike the Sydney 2000 Olympic champion, Joshua has not demanded to be the bill topper every time he fights. “Maybe that was Audley’s mistake. I want to work my way up the ranks against decent opposition.”

Harrison was nudging 30 when he turned pro. In heavyweight boxing terms, Joshua, at 25, is still a baby, but at 6ft 6in and a trim 16½ stone he has commodities for greatness: good hand speed, a stunning punch, charm to match his Ali-like looks, a highly marketable personality and, importantly, a genuine feel for the game. He is already the most feted British heavyweight since Frank Bruno.

Like Bruno, he can dish it out, but can he take a whack on the whiskers? After seven fights we still don’t know because he has taken out every opponent inside two rounds.

Joshua lands a blow on Paul Butlin, who he went on to stop inside two rounds last year

But Joshua can get out of the way if he needs to. The British-born son of Nigerian parents, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua was a talented footballer and can still run 11 seconds for the 100m. Hearn says he has constant trouble finding him opponents. “There are squeaky bums whenever we mention Josh’s name.”

Joshua says helping out the homeless in his home town of Watford prepared him for life and the ring.

“I used to drink,” he admits. “I read that Floyd Mayweather never drinks – and he is boxing’s blueprint. The party invitations piled up after I won gold at the Games but now boxing comes first. I started thinking about how Lennox Lewis applied his mind to boxing. I talked with him and he mentioned how chess relates to the ring, how to counterattack and think two steps ahead of your opponent.

“I got a lady friend to teach me and now I’m ready to give him a game!”