Anthony Joshua sticks with coach Ben Davison and reveals parting words to Derrick James

‘AJ’ fought twice under James in 2023 before joining Davison, who will coach Joshua against Francis Ngannou

Alex Pattle
Monday 15 January 2024 19:59 GMT
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Anthony Joshua will remain with coach Ben Davison as he prepares to fight Francis Ngannou, the heavyweight has revealed.

Joshua teamed with Davison, a former coach of Tyson Fury, ahead of his bout with Otto Wallin in December, a fight that “AJ” won after five rounds. For his two previous fights in 2023 – wins against Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius – Joshua trained under American Derrick James in Texas.

The move to train with Davison was a surprising one from the former two-time heavyweight champion, who was reluctant to explain his decision ahead of the bout with Wallin. Now, however, Joshua has opened up on his partnership with fellow Briton Davison, who will be in the 34-year-old’s corner against Ngannou on 8 March.

Backstage at the press conference for the fight, which will take place in Saudi Arabia, Joshua told reporters on Monday: “I believed that [training with] Derrick was like a process. He’s got an actual style of training, and I had to adapt to his style, it was a process. And I’d just changed trainers; I’d been to Rob [McCracken], I’d been with Angel [Fernandez], [Robert] Garcia, now Derrick. I said to the boys: ‘I don’t wanna move again, I wanna make my bed and lie in it.’

“But the thing is, when I was back in the UK, I was in Finchley hitting the heavy bag on my own. They were like: ‘Why don’t you go and speak to Ben?’ He’s good, he’s given us some tips and me some tips, leading up to the fight that was supposed to be with Dillian [Whyte]. ‘Why don’t you just go and see him?’ I was like: ‘Na, na, na, na, I don’t wanna change, I’m pretty set on going to America.’ But I went and saw Ben, had a really good session.”

Joshua was referring to his cancelled rematch with Whyte in August, when Helenius stepped in after Whyte failed a drug test. Joshua lost to Whyte in the amateurs but knocked out his compatriot in a professional bout in 2015.

“The reason I was able to gel with Ben is because he doesn’t try to change your style,” Joshua continued. “He kind of looks at your attributes and adds to what you’re good at. I went to a stage where I was trying to change my style: a bit of back-foot boxing, box behind the jab, stick and move, not be explosive, control the pace, and stuff like that. But Ben was like: ‘That’s not your body type! You’re a f***ing big unit, you’re explosive, go and knock f***ing people out. Basically, work to your body type. So, we got along in that sense. He gets it.”

Joshua with Derrick James in April, ahead of a win over Jermaine Franklin (Getty)

Joshua trained under McCracken as an amateur, including at the 2012 Olympics where AJ won gold, and long into the heavyweight’s pro career. After losing to Oleksandr Usyk in 2021, Joshua left McCracken to team with Garcia in 2022, only to lose to Usyk on points again. He then teamed with James for a decision win over Franklin and knockout of Helenius.

Joshua added that he spoke to James about the decision to train under Davison, saying: “I spoke to Derrick, he was cool. Obviously I’m not from America, so it’s hard, and the fight with Wallin came about with six or seven weeks of training; it just didn’t make sense, packing up again, finding the Airbnb, getting all my stuff in a f***ing container out there. It didn’t leave enough time.

“So, now I’ve found a new bed with Ben. I spoke to Derrick and said I’m gonna stay [with Ben] for this fight here, because we’ve got another six or seven weeks to go. We’ll work well. That’s kind of how it’s managed to become what it is now.”

Joshua and Ngannou at the press conference for their upcoming fight (PA)

Davison said recently that he always expected to work with Joshua one day, but the boxer said on Monday: “I didn’t think so. I felt like Rob was the best in the UK, and when I left Rob, I was like: ‘There isn’t much else out there in the UK,’ and that’s why I went to the States. If I knew any different, I would have stayed in the UK from the start, but I just didn’t know I’d work with Ben. It’s been really good, I do rate him, and the good thing about him is he’s got a team as well, so they all complement each other.

“Yeah, [I’ll stick with Ben after this fight], unless Derrick is able to come and train me in the UK – even when I’m out of training camp. If he can come to the UK and train me when I’m not in camp as well, we can continue. To get the full benefit from a coach, you don’t just train with them for a fight, because you’re training for a fighter [rather than] the coach teaching you his methods with no stress. I would never get the full capacity of what Derrick could give me; I’m doing him and myself a disservice.”

Joshua’s fight with Ngannou will be the Cameroonian’s second boxing match. The former UFC champion made his boxing debut in October, knocking down Fury but suffering a controversial decision loss. That bout took place in Riyadh, where the 37-year-old will box Joshua.

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