Anthony Joshua has admitted to “doubt” during agonising sparring sessions designed to strengthen his mind and body before fighting Oleksandr Usyk.
Joshua’s IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles are at stake against Usyk on Saturday at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
The reigning champion has described the pressure he faces in sparring to adapt to the unbeaten Usyk’s southpaw style: “Deep practice is where I put myself on the edge, where I am vulnerable, so I can improve.
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“I don’t always want to be the best in the gym.
“Every time I spar, I spar like I’m performing. I have had tough spars. I am doubting myself.
“Throughout this training camp with southpaws I have practised, practised, practised. I am comfortable where my development is.”
Shokran Parwani, one of Joshua’s sparring partners, told Sky Sports: “[Usyk] doesn’t have power. In rounds nine, 10 or 11? He won’t have the power to fight, and AJ will break him down.”
Joshua and Usyk both won gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics, and Usyk has since gone on to become undisputed cruiserweight champion. Now he wants to add heavyweight glory.
Joshua insists he does not consider Usyk to be an opponent boxing above his weight class: “All boxers can move up in weight. Some feel better at the higher weight, they carry more power and feel fresher.
“In my mind, I have removed the conversation that he is a cruiserweight.
“I get it. But I like to challenge myself. So I remove it out of the way. Let’s look at where I’m at skills-wise and technique-wise.
“I’ve got what I already have – the strength.
“Since I came into boxing in 2008 I had a rapid rise, maybe due to sheer strength, size, heart. I took on massive challenges early on.
“Usyk is another great champion, great fighter. But I don’t really fold under pressure.
“This is fun. This is deep practice.
“When I get into the ring it’s time to practise everything I know.
“I’m rather experienced now. You have to go through trials and tribulations.”
Usyk is another difficult test for Joshua who hopes to finally meet Tyson Fury in a fight to decide the undisputed world heavyweight champion.
Since his shock loss to Andy Ruiz Jr, Joshua has recovered to win a rematch just six months later, then knocked out Kubrat Pulev.
“I asked God for strength and he gave me battles,” Joshua said.
“When I pray for strength, I want to fight the Usyks and the champions because that’s how you find out how strong you really are.
“For me, bring it on. I cherish that. I don’t pray for strength then want it easy.
“You have to go through certain experiences to have wisdom. Those experiences aren’t always in your favour. You’ve got to go through turbulent times.”
Watch Joshua v Usk on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from 6pm. Book it via your Sky remote or book it online here. Non-Sky TV subscribers can book and watch it here.