Anthony Joshua has always been a fighter. But he wasn’t always destined for greatness.
Long before he became heavyweight champion of the world, fighting led him down a darker path.
As a teenage tearaway, he was regularly caught scrapping in the street in his home town of Watford, Herts.
He once ended up behind bars, and twice avoided long jail terms. But his misspent youth is a far cry from his life now.
Already one of Britain’s most successful sportsmen, on Saturday night he bids to make boxing history.
He will defend his IBF heavyweight title against the legendary Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, in a fight guaranteed to earn both boxers at least £15million each.
As Joshua himself admitted: “But for boxing, I would be behind bars.”
A glance at his family photo album confirms he is a born fighter.
One of his mum Yeta’s favourite pictures shows him as a baby with his fists up, guarding his chin like a champion.
But Yeta said: “As a kid he was a very quiet boy and even today I see him as being very gentle.”
Joshua, now 27, had his first run-in with the police at age 16. At that time, he was a promising footballer and athlete who could run 100 metres in less than 11 seconds.
But a clash during a school football match saw him charged with actual bodily harm.
He recalled: “This guy was trying to wind me up. I got him round the neck and threw him over my shoulder.
“I didn’t know my own strength and he didn’t land too well. It went to court. Luckily, they gave me a slap across the wrist.”
Josua may have escaped jail that time, but he was still heading for trouble.
He moved out of him mum’s flat into a hostel and was hanging around with groups who regularly engaged in street fights.
In 2009, he found himself on remand for two weeks in Reading prison.
The boxer said: “There are idiots inside and this is when you realise what you are dealing with. It could have been 10 years. I would still be there right now.”
It was the wake-up call he needed. Electronically tagged for 14 months and hit with a curfew, Joshua moved back in with his mum and started a bricklaying course
In 2007, aged 17, he finally found a legitimate outlet for his fighting instincts, when his cousin took him to a local boxing club.
Joshua was a natural and was selected for the British boxing squad. But, with the London 2012 Olympics on the horizon, he nearly threw it all away again.
In 2011, the 6’5” fighter was caught speeding while wearing his Team GB tracksuit.Police found cannabis in his kitbag and he was charged him with possession.
But, yet again, he avoided jail.
He was handed a 12-month suspended sentence and 100 hours of community service. Joshua said: “In a way I’m glad it happened, because it woke me up.
“It wasn’t so much the actual charge that had the effect. It was all the grief from my friends, my family – especially my mum – and from boxing. “
Joshua was initially banned by GB boxing, but was recalled for the European Championships, where he reached the quarter finals, despite being short on practice.
He was then selected for the World Amateur Championships in Azerbaijan. His mum, who had never been to one of his fights, stayed at home and watched on television.
Yeta said: “It was very nerve-racking. I kept covering my eyes with a towel. I was caught between wanting to watch and not wanting to see him get hurt. I was trembling.”
A year later, Joshua won gold at London 2012. It was the first time his mum saw him fight in the flesh.
She said: “For Josh to become an Olympic champion is an incredible achievement.
“He has always been able to dedicate himself to whatever he wanted. I am very proud of what he has achieved.”
After his Olympic triumph, he shunned the spotlight in favour of a more humble life. He turned down £50,000 to turn professional straight away, preferring to bide his time.
When the money did start to roll in, he bought his mum’s council flat in Golders Green, North London.
He still lives there with his social worker mum, despite buying a £500,000 penthouse in nearby Finchley for yoga instructor Nicole Osbourne, the mother of his son, Joseph, who was born in October 2015.
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, says: “Avoiding prison was a big turning point for Anthony. He’s a bad guy trying to be good.
“Boxing has saved his life. It’s given him discipline, a focus for that huge physique.”
Source Warren Manger/ Trinity Mirror