VIPER’s founder Lily Mercer spoke to boxing champ, Anthony Joshua on the set of the JD King of the Game Christmas campaign. We’ve got interviews with the stars of the advert dropping on site every day until Christmas, stay tuned for chats with Chunkz, Arr Dee and more…
What was your first thought when you were asked to shoot the campaign?
Growing up where we grew up, everyone was a massive shopper in JD. So to work with them throughout the year – and I know their Christmas campaigns are massive – for me it’s humbling; It’s a blessing. I value this type of stuff, I find it fun and I’m happy to be a part of it.
It’s like the UK scene’s version of the Coca Cola ad!
Yeah, trust me! What I like is that they’re bringing people from different industries together. So I think what they’re doing is good, it’s smart, it’s quirky.
What is your earliest memory of JD as a kid?
I grew up in Watford [and] we had a massive shopping centre, The Harlequin. I remember not being able to afford the trainers I wanted, they had these ones that cost like £110. But it’s inspirational, you aspire to get them and then hustle hard to get them. Also, I remember that JD [duffle] bag is iconic, that plastic JD bag was used for everything.
Boxing Gloves yeah?
[Laughs] Yeah, gloves… football boots.
If you could pick one thing from JD Sports that you would like under the tree this year, what would it be?
Great question, it wouldn’t be for me, [but] some bags that I can give out to people I’m happy with what I’ve got so it’d mainly be for people that don’t have it in my estate. So yeah, a couple goodies for people in the estate. If they’re gonna send anything, yeah please send some goodies.
What is your routine on the first day off after a fight?
First day off? I can’t sleep. Honestly I just stay in my room [and] relax. Whether it’s good or bad I just stay in my room and relax [then] reality hits so you kind of plan what the next move is. What happens as well, is about five o’clock your family starts coming to see you in dribs and drabs, then management, work colleagues see you throughout the day and evening; that’s it.
So it’s more chill than fun?
Very. Yeah, it’s not too much fun nah, it’s not.
So at this stage in your career, having reached these heights, how do you stay motivated and avoid getting comfortable in life?
I think it’s important to look ahead, look to the future. If you look to the future, you don’t get comfortable in the moment. If I feel like the moment is my present and future, like everything I’m doing is for now, I can be comfortable. I’m happy where I am, I’m living, I’m happy, I’m content. Everything’s good. You don’t really see the long term, you’re living for today. So when you’re planning for the long term, you sacrifice today because you want what you want in the long run. I’ve always thought [about] life after sports, I grinded for the sport, stayed motivated. [I] look at every opportunity – like this opportunity here – as a blessing. Then I think when I’m done with sports I’ll be more content and chilled, but while I’m doing it I just [think] let me put in the work and sacrifice.
If you could fight one legendary boxer, dead or retired, before your eventual retirement, who would be your dream challenger?
None. No. None, I don’t want nothing to do with no legend, none of that stuff. I just wanna fight people in my era and that’s it, I’ve got no interest in who was and what would happen. No interest today, I’ll focus on what’s in front of me.
Who are the essentials in your team and what is each one’s superpower?
[My] Boxing team is small, okay, we’ve got Nas. When we bring in sparring partners, who are people from all across the world: Russia, America, Africa, Germany, Europe to come in and they come and fight me, there’s different cultures and different languages, they like different foods, they can get bored because it’s quite boring. So Nas is the guy, his superpower is to be diverse so he can mix with all the sparring partners and fulfil their needs from the day they come to the day they leave. You want to be able to treat them well, because ideally, you might need them again in the future. So Nas’ superpower is to be a chameleon, he can change his spots. Then you’ve got David Gansa, who’s management, who comes in [and] manages the team alongside Ben Jaime. Those two are team partners in performance directing, they’re both performance directors. In boxing when you turn professional, you have to build your own team independently. In football for example, if you signed to Arsenal you join an establishment where you have a manager, physio, you don’t have to manage these guys. In boxing, you have to hire them all independently so when I started, I had to go out and spend time interviewing people. Now everyone’s got my number so everyone’s messaging me like, “What time are we training? What are we working on today?” So David and Ben make sure that it comes through one or two forms of communication, it doesn’t come through [several], like physio, nutritionist, doctor, trainers, S&C Coach, running coach, psychologists. That’s like seven, eight people I’ve gotta speak to on a daily, it’s quite draining. So just coming through one, two sources maximum, it’s been a blessing. Things are always changing so that’s their superpower, being able to take the weight of the world on their shoulders, so I can stand tall. They take the weight of the world on their shoulders and I’m able to stand on their shoulders so I can go out and conquer the world. Physio, they’re subject to change but their superpower is, it’s like I’m a broken man but they made me look solid. My body’s gone through a lot of beating, a lot of pain, but they help me still go out and perform even though I’m in excruciating pain. Their superpower is healing hands, like an angel they’ve got healing hands. Then you’ve got your boxing coaches who not only physically get you ready for a fight, but they also get you ready mentally, which I think is so underrated. The pressure, the way you want to perform, how you’re feeling, they should understand your fears, how to overcome your fears and bring you solutions. So they’re more than just your coach, they’re like a mentor to you. Because when you’re gonna go and compete, you get butterflies, your coach would talk to you about how to overcome those butterflies. It’s not just about performing, it’s about feeling comfortable and owning that moment. So they’re really good at being like a father figure, that’s your coach, it’s important. I think I’ve only learned that in my last fight and yeah, it was very emotional because I realised, it’s not just the physical element. I used to just focus on the physical element but in my last fight, I really looked at the emotional element, and I just kind of broke down. I mean, it was really emotional so I’ve learned that you need your team to also be there for you emotionally as well and that’s your coach.
Do you think people underestimate the emotional side of boxing?
I don’t think people underestimate it, what I’ve come to figure in life is if you’ve never experienced it, you can’t understand it. So for those who’ve never experienced it, I don’t think it’s that they underestimate it, they just won’t understand it. We [were] talking about tennis on the way here and Kyrgios, I’m not a big tennis fan but I watched him at Wimbledon. Amazing character, I like his character but I thought ‘rah, this guy’s a bit crazy’. [Laughs] This was before my fight so I had my fight and honestly the way I acted was not – it’s not me today. But at that moment, something came over me and he played again apparently in the US Open or something and he got really emotional. Now I can understand it because I’ve experienced it, that anger and emotion of losing. But at the time when I watched him at Wimbledon before my fight, I underestimated it. I was like, “Why is he acting like that? It’s only a game of tennis, it will come again.” So it’s not underestimating it, I said until you love something so much that it can make you do crazy things, you probably wouldn’t understand.
To so many people you do seem like the most godlike figure in sports, do you think that showing a human side of yourself has made you more approachable to your fans?
I find that weird because I feel like I’ve never not been myself. You asking me if showing emotion made me relatable – I thought I’d never actually tried to be perfect. Along this journey I’ve made so many mistakes from not trying to be perfect, I’ve just been myself. I think we built such a good empire, because we’re hustlers right? And we wanted to make something out of nothing, we put a lot of work in. Now that’s created this image where in people’s minds it’s perfect. But then, as you said, they won’t understand [that] behind the scenes I’m still chilling in council flats with a couple of my boys and girls that I grew up with on an estate. So even though we’ve got this polished brand, when you go to work, you polish yourself up. When you’re at home eating ice cream, you’re different. So when I’m at home, I’m completely different. When I come to work, I’m very focused on my hustle and my job. I’ve always had an element where I showed that character and focus, but if you look at what I am about, [it] was always just down to earth. I’m not about the whips, not about the chains, just about hustling, putting in work. For me, I don’t feel like I had to show any emotion for people to relate but if that’s what it takes. So be it, that’s just me [in] my rawest form once again, no acting. That’s just another time when I’ve been at my rawest form and I think through my career, if you look back I’ve always shown raw emotions. But it’s probably hard to see that amongst all the bright lights and the fancy stuff that comes along with the success of boxing. But it’s been tough, it’s been really tough and as I said, I’ve made so many mistakes throughout my career. But one thing I will say is I’m able to then pass on so much knowledge to the next generation because of the good times I’ve had, the bad times I’ve had inside the ring, outside the ring. I’ve learned a hell of a lot, a shitload so even like you said about character emotion, showing emotion, [there’s] so much I could teach the next generation; how to approach what persona you want to give when you’re coming into this game. I never knew I was going to be a boxer, I just came into this game, I just went into the gym with my cousin, like yeah I’ll do it, come, give me some shorts and some gloves, I’m gonna join in. I never had time to think, ‘let me build a persona’, it was just fight after fight three years from when I walked in a gym. I walked in smoking with the man dem, just chilling to the next minute I was at the Olympics. It was such a quick transition I’ve never had time to really plan, like ‘let me create an image for myself’. It was just fuck it, do what I gotta do and hustle hard and put the work in and wherever that takes me is better than where I started.
Do you ever get annoyed by the fact that people focus on your looks rather than just pure talent?
I was speaking to my bredrin about this the other day. We’re hustlers right – hustle is just another word for determined, motivation, grit, I just call it hustle. So what I done, I understood the marketing procedures that you need to create outside of boxing to be recognised as an individual, but to align yourself with the Arsenal’s and the Manchester United’s; it’s all sports but I’m not a football team, I’m just an individual. So we built a good reputation and a brand that aligns ourselves with these incredible athletes across the world and these organisations. Now we had to make sure my talent was just as good. So, the distraction was more so the pressure of having to go to these places and make sure we promote ourselves and promote British boxing. The pressure, not so much the distractions of girls and outside sources, that’s a sacrifice. Remember we’re hustling now, we’re future thinking, stay focused, stay focused. The pressure was now making sure my talent was good enough to fight in front of 80,000 people. So, we’ve created this massive show, this circus around me, that can go out and sell 80,000 tickets or whatnot at a stadium. But remember, I’ve gotta go and fight a guy in front of these people and I’m thinking ‘shit, I got pressure on my neck to go out and perform’. So that’s where the pressure came from, not from any other source, it was just pressure internally. As I said, sometimes it comes out in a way that people don’t understand because it’s internal pressure. It’s not from outside sources where people can really understand or see. Like, you can see sometimes if that person has got distractions around them or bad influences, you can kind of see like, why is he with that person? Why is she with that person? She’s not good for that person. We always kept it a good team but there’s a lot of pressure to perform internally so people don’t understand when you break down or when you’re going through what you’re going through. They could look at you like you’re crazy, because you bottle it up a lot, so that’s the pressure that came with the success outside the ring.
Outside of sports, what’s the worst L you ever took competing for fun?
Dirt bike racing, [I] smashed up my leg racing but my boys are right there so I kind of hopped back on the dirt bike like, “yeah, I’m good. Don’t worry about my knee!” I got back home to find out that my knee’s nearly hanging off. [Laughs] We’re competing, we’re racing or putting in work and everyone’s bussing up like “Bruv do you remember when you dropped?” You’re laughing but deep down, you’re in pain. Loads of times [on the] e-scooter, we’re racing on the e-scooter and I fell off. It’s one of those things you had to have been there to see it, it’s hard to explain it. But when you’re amongst all your boys and you’re the one that falls off, just ‘cause I’m boxing, don’t think that people don’t banter me, I’ve known these guys for years. So if I drop, I’m the one that’s gonna get the banter. The few times I’ve come off scooters and bikes, I’m the one that’s the butt of the joke, it’s just good banter really.
Do you have any secret skills/talents?
Chess. Pool/snooker too.
Any games that you can’t play anymore because the loss was way too painful?
I’m someone that will take my L humbly, but in my head I’ll be messaging you first thing in the morning like, “what you saying, do you wanna play again?” I just keep on playing you, I’m quite consistent like that, I just love the competition. I’ll never let it give me PTSD so I don’t want to do it but it stays on my mind, I’m ready to go back to war with this person until I get that win. When I win, even if they beat me 50 times, I just need to win once and then I can hold that against them like, “Yeah, but I beat you. You beat me 50 times but I beat you as well, what?” It’s that type of thing, that’s how I get back.
So what do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement hasn’t been reached yet. It will be when I make it out the other side of the fight game. I personally always thought I would probably cry when boxing is done, because I put a lot into it inside and outside of the ring. Like you put a lot into your work, you wake up, you sacrifice, you’re tired sometimes; all that type of stuff, we all go through it. Sometimes you have your bad days but I’ve always tried to be strong, well I am strong. I always felt like why I would be emotional after is because I would have reached the ultimate high because I made it through a very dark, tough industry. I think now it would be making it through healthy and being able to enjoy commercial stuff without pressures of having to train after, enjoying going back to your family, just chilling. So that will be my major achievement, I’m looking forward to that.
Was there ever a moment where you completed a major achievement then didn’t know what to do next?
I was kind of in it so quick and everything happened so quick that I didn’t even have time to think. Then you’re thinking, I don’t even know how good I am but these opportunities keep coming my way so let me just make sure. I was never fully equipped for it, I was never in a position where I could get emotional because it was just nonstop. So I haven’t had a chance yet to really think ‘rah, like that one was big’. That’s why I said, I think it will have to be at the end. Now we’re in a position where I just came up from a fight three weeks ago where I lost and it hit me like never before. Then already now we’re talking about the next biggest fight in the industry and my name is linked to that so I never have time to sit back and absorb everything that’s happening because as I said, one minute it’s Nas which was Usyk, next minute it’s 50 which is Tyson Fury. I don’t have time to sit back and [think] ‘rah I made it’, there’s always another hurdle I’ve got to conquer.
Was that always the plan to keep your foot on the pedal? Or can you feasibly take a month off, would your team let you?
They would, but I think it’s detrimental and that’s why we have the ethos, our company’s 25/8. Because 24/7 is good – I know, 25/8 isn’t real, it’s made up – but the ethos is, if you had that extra month to take off, how would you spend it? You’ve got one person that’s going to spend it recovering, getting their mind right, their spirit right. Then you’ve got another person that’s not thinking of the future. They’re just like, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to enjoy my moments now’. You’ve got to put in that extra hour and that extra day if you want to make small steps towards your goal because it’s so difficult and I feel like there’s so many challenges out there that for you to take your foot off the gas gives these people that are constantly on the gas, so much of a gap. That’s why you have to have that 25/8 mindset; extra hour, extra day, put the work in, don’t stop, keep on going. So from the jump it was like 25/8, motivated nonstop because it doesn’t last forever. I’m gonna be 33 next month, I swear I remember when I was 21. I’m baffled, I’m an old man, where’s the time gone? So I always look at it like I’m not at the start of my career and I’m not in the middle, I’m at the end. So that’s how quick time has gone, I’ve gotta really make sure now I put in the most work I’ve ever done and make these last years count.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Two things, we’re all gonna die one day so 100 years ago, someone was probably going through worse, but they’re not here anymore and a lot of the people that would have given them stick or a lot of people that would have laughed at them because they fell over aren’t here anymore, so don’t feel too bad. And secondly when you’re going through something, I think because we’re so self-conscious, sometimes we feel like everything we’re going through, is our whole world. Like, let’s say a picture leaked on your Instagram, [that] you didn’t want to leak and you’re like, “Oh, my God how did this happen?!” It feels like your whole world’s crumbling in front of you but there’s people that live in Asia, China, Ethiopia, Bulgaria that probably don’t even care. In your world and [around] the people that are close to you, you feel like your whole world is crumbling but there’s such a big world out there. Don’t let the pressures of your own friends and society make you crumble, just be strong. Because as you keep on manoeuvring through life, you will realise that it’s not as bad as you thought it was and time will be the best healer. But at the time when shit happens, you always feel like your whole world’s crumbling and it’s shrinking but as time goes on, that hole that you’re in gets bigger. Certain people that you felt were putting pressure on you, you’re not around them anymore. So just keep on enjoying the life you have because number one we’ll die and number two, nothing’s really as bad as you think it is.
Yeah I feel like the meaning of life is relative to the individual.
It’s relative, yeah. So sometimes we could feel like our life is the end all and be all but ultimately it’s only relative to each individual. Try to take yourself out of your own box and don’t feel that your life or your world is the only one that is living today. There’s so many people out there that are living their own lives. If you can take yourself out of your own shell, you can see beyond what you’re going through and see that there’s an amazing world out there and people don’t care about celebrities. Everyone forgets, in a month, two months, three months, everyone moves on anyway. So it’s not as bad as what people think. I remember Chris Rock got slapped by Will Smith and I bet he felt like shit for weeks and probably still does but I don’t really care. If Will Smith was in here now I wouldn’t be like, “Oh my God, that’s the guy that slapped Chris Rock!” I’d be like, “What are you saying bro?” People move on in life but in your own little world, you may feel like the worst because of what you’ve gone through. But the people that you think are judging you, don’t really care, because they’ve got their own shit going on. So [with] time just be strong and you’ll get out of that hole.
Did you ever feel like you had to check your own ego? How did you maintain your attitude without getting an ego?
Just a hustle. Ok so it goes like this, the belts and that title [of] the best boxer will always be there. Whoever now moves up from Zero to top position is subject to change. But the title of the best and the belts will always be in that position. For example, the Managing Director of JD will always be there but it’s subject to change based on performance. You have to stay humble because as you go up, you’re going to meet certain people that are going to help you and motivate you, and it’s good to be nice. Then you get to that position where you’re Managing Director at JD, which is always going to be there. But what happens when people have an ego is that they feel like they belong in that position, and it’s their lifetime position. So they get an ego now and people start bringing you coffees, they start interviewing you, they start giving you water, they start booking cars for you, there’s now a sign with your name on it and you’re like, ‘this is different, I wasn’t used to this.” So you get a bit of an ego and then naturally as time goes on, subject to change, whether it’s just old age or whatever, you move away from that position, and you go back to your humble beginnings, no one’s bringing your coffee anymore, you’ve got to go to the kitchen to get it yourself, because you’re not in that position. You always have to understand that you have to mean more and be humble and have great character at ground zero at the top tier, and ground zero again. If you let that top tier position get to your head, you’ll be your own downfall. If you stay humble and you’re grounded throughout and you’re a champion spirit, you’re positive regardless of the position you’re in, that fall is never going to be too high or too low, it’s always going to be a good balance. That’s why it’s important to keep grounded, treat people well and not get caught up in the position you’re in because nothing lasts forever.
They’re still bringing Mike Tyson coffee though.
Mike Tyson coffee, then you get used to that. So let’s say you get used to that coffee and you start getting it more and you start wanting cognac. And then cognac is not enough. So you have to just keep balanced because nothing’s forever. Like you said, being comfortable with coffee is not forever. Just be humble but don’t take no shit either. Being humble ain’t about taking shit, it’s about treating the person who’s bringing you a drink with respect, “Thank you so much. I appreciate that. Oh, don’t worry, I’ll get it myself, you relax.” That’s what humble is, treating the older generation with respect, but being humble never means being a pussy. That’s what people get mixed up, you gotta be strong always. Take no shit. I don’t take humble into the ring, I take a fucking ego into the ring because I want to win. You gotta believe in yourself but after you make a mistake, you have to be big enough to apologise. And if you do well, you have to be big enough to shake the person’s hand and say well done. That’s humble, not taking shit is not humble.
If you were gifted a retro arcade game for your house, which one are you picking?
If they get to me today I would pick Pac Man. Yeah. Am I gonna get it?
Interview by Lily Mercer