Anthony Joshua, Nigerian Prince … now boxing king of the world

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Anthony Olufemi Olaseni Joshua’s late arrival on the boxing scene at 18 may have prompted pundits to doubt his chances against season campaigner, Wladimir Klitschko in last Saturdays world heavyweight title fight at the Wembley Stadium in England, which was watched by 90, 000 fans.

Though the Ukrainian went into the fight as the challenger, he was still considered the favourite by a host of boxing buffs, including former world champion Iron Mike Tyson, owing to his achievement over the years. The 41-year-old had beaten the best in the division and the 27-year-old upstart Joshua, who had only had 18 professional fights, was tipped to crumble under the heavy beating of Dr Steelhammer (Klitscko). However, Joshua, the London 2012 Olympic gold medallist was not ready to relinquish his IBF title. His plan, however, was to add the WBA and the IBO belts to his title cabinet.

The fight had a straight forward plot, the short one for Joshua, while the long one belonged to Klitscko. Joshua had not boxed beyond the seventh round in his last 18 fights and there were doubts over his ability to win if the fight ran into the later rounds. However, the prodigiously talented pugilist showed everyone that he was for real when he knocked out Dr Steelhammer in round 11 despite suffering a knock down in the sixth round. Joshua had also dropped Klitscko in the fifth round. With both boxers failing to take advantage of their dominance when on top, it was Joshua who settled the fight with a huge upper cut, which caught the Ukrainian unawares and sent him to the canvas in the 11th round.

Though Joshua still considers himself raw and still learning boxing tricks, his victory over an experienced fighter, the age difference notwithstanding, has shown that he has the power and determination to rule the division for many years. He has also been tipped to become the first boxing billionaire if he continues in this fashion. While many may not know, Joshua has linked his power-packed punch to a Nigerian delicacy – iyan (pounded yam) and egusi soup. He disclosed this in an interview last year, which circulated widely on YouTube.

 His Nigerian heritage

Despite fighting under the British flag, Joshua has always identified with his Nigerian roots. He hails from Sagamu in Ogun State southwest Nigeria. Though when he burst onto the boxing scene, many thought he was from one of the Southsouth states in Nigeria, but that thinking quickly evaporated as soon as his other names- Olufemi Olaseni became common knowledge. At his family house in Sagamu, it was discovered that Anthony is also a prince, who belongs to two ruling houses – Owarodo and Torungbuwa– which means that he could someday become a King in his ancestral home.

His great grandfather, late Omoba Adebambo Joshua born in 1882 was the patriarch of the family who opted for the name Joshua leaving out Odusole, which was the family name. He had 12 wives, which translates to the 12 branches of the Joshua family till date. He opted for the name Joshua in his quest to acquire formal education and also have his way in the midst of the colonial masters.

After studying abroad, Omoba Adebambo returned to Nigeria and picked up a job with Nigeria Railway Corporation, He also worked with United Africa Company (UAC) and later left to set up his business. He became successful and diversified into real estate, owing properties in the Ijuko area of Sagamu. He was also a representative of several companies in the Southwest. He passed on in 1964 and the mantle of leadership fell on Pa Omoba Olaseni Joshua, Anthony’s grandfather.

According to family sources, Olaseni Joshua was also a boxer, who used his skills to protect his family. He was a local boxer, who was revered for his skills and was also compassionate to other people outside his family. He was a tough ‘guy’ and many respected him for it.  However, in 1955, he travelled to Britain, where he studied Nursing and also got married to Moya, a white Briton. He gave birth to a set of twins – a boy and a girl- and another girl later followed. The boy was named Jonathan (Anthony’s father).

Olaseni brought his wife and kids to Nigeria and he was a principal nursing officer in the Old Western Region, working in Ijebu Ode and Ibadan, while Moya rose to become the first principal of the Ijebu Ode School of Nursing. After retiring from public service, she was contacted by Sheila Tai Solarin to take up the job of Chief Matron at the Mayflower Students Second home (hostels).

Jonathan, whom the family described as hardworking person, attended Ijebu Ode Grammar School and later trained at the Technical College in the town. He later married Yetunde Odusanya also from Sagamu and relocated to England, his country of birth. Jonathan was also briefly involved in boxing on his return to England. But he opted to focus on his job and also started his own family.

Jonathan gave birth to Anthony, who became an all-round athlete before opting for boxing at age 18. He had shattered records in athletics at the age grade level, while he was also a good footballer. The family confirmed that he spent time with his grandmother at Mayflower, while on holidays in Nigeria. Jonathan had always identified with the country and must have passed this sterling quality to his son, who had always identified with Nigeria.

 When The Nation visited Sagamu during the week where members of the family converged at the ‘Baba Josh Memorial Hall’, still relishing the feat their son achieved in world of boxing last Saturday. They were all smiling and discussing the bout as this reporter walked into the hall. The euphoria that greeted the victory also reverberated round the town with excitement that one of their own had become the poster boy of world boxing.

Large banners adorned the home of his great-grandfather, Daniel Adebambo Joshua, at Ijoku in the heart of the city. There is a big picture of the boxer on the banner. Besides, it has the British flag and the green-white-green Nigerian flag. There were banners also at the Ita-Oba Park where a Viewing Centre, which had over 2000 fans, was put up for the fight. Some residents, who saw one of our reporters taking photographs of the banner, were excited. They shrieked: “World champion!”

Familiy members present at the hall were spokesperson of the family, Adedamola Joshua, Olugbenga Solomon Ogunsanya, Raymond Uwa Ajakaye, Mojeed Adenekan, Tunde Awojobi, Gbolahan Coker, David Oyedola Joshua and Thywill Joshua.

Boxing runs in the family

Adedamola Joshua, who is Anthony’s uncle, disclosed that it was not a surprise that a member of their family had taken the boxing world by storm. He stated that Olaseni, who had been a local boxer in his days had set the pace for Anthony to follow.  “Pa Olaseni was a notable boxer in Sagamu. Though he didn’t fight professionally, he used his skills to protect his family before travelling to England to study nursing.”

He said the family had always supported the world champion and were happy for his victory over Klitschko. “My heart was in my mouth throughout the fight, especially when he suffered a knock down in the sixth round. I was afraid he would not recover and we all prayed for his victory and when he eventually won, we were all excited.”

Adebambo recalled how the family and the fans at the Viewing Centre set up for the fight, went wild with jubilation and partied all-night because a “son of the soil” had just achieved a great feat. It was celebration galore after Anthony’s victory. We were in front of the king’s palace and celebrated the hard-earned victory over a worthy opponent, who had been a famous face in the world of boxing,” he said.

Success, as they say, has many fathers, which may account for many trying to identify with the pugilist. However, Adedamola noted that they were not identifying with the champion now, but have been backing him since he started his career as an amateur boxer.

Adebambo said: “We have been supporting him and we will continue to do that. We have prepared for the fight and that is why the Sagamu Youth Council in conjunction with Yinka Mafe, a member of the Ogun State House Assembly put up the viewing centre.

“Despite my fear, I was sure he was going to win the fight. He had knocked out 18 opponents before this fight and it was good to see him win again. He has brought honour to the family and I have become a celebrity overnight. People were congratulating us in church the day after the fight and I can say we are very happy as a family. We have been monitoring him since he was chosen to fight for Britain at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“Anthony had always identified with Nigeria and that makes us happy. His father, Jonathan grew up among us and he speaks the Ijebu language very well. In fact, he was in the country four days before the fight and we told him the support we are giving his son for the fight,” he added.

He said Anthony’s win is a great eye opener and said he would never discourage his children or any member of the family from taking to boxing. “While we will encourage our children to focus on their studies, we will not discourage them from participating in sports, especially boxing.

Adedamola, however, has an advice for Joshua. “My advice to Anthony is to manage his resources well by investing in worthy ventures. He is in good hands and I am sure his parents would guide him to make the right decisions.”

The country under whose banner he fights does not also bother the family. “We don’t care the country he fights for. What matters to us is that he is successful in his chosen career. I am not sure he would have been this successful if he had started his career in Nigeria because we lack the facilities to train athletes. Another family member, Uwa, who lived with Anthony in Watford before he relocated to Nigeria described Anthony as a very good kid who had shown flashes of boxing skill at a young age. “At a very young age Anthony took up a lot of responsibilities and was always ready to protect his friends against bullies.

He stood up for everyone and always had sport running in his veins. He played football, did athletics, swimming and many other sports. A lot of his peers depended on him for wise advice. He was a role model for many, even those who were older than him.

Despite going into boxing late, Uwa noted that he knew his cousin would become a pugilist someday. “Anthony was a very good kid and he liked sports so much. I knew he would be a boxer and I am not surprise that he is the heavyweight champion of the world. I also knew that he would win a medal before the 2012 Olympics began, though many doubted him, but we were happy he came out tops.

To buttress his assertion that boxing runs in the family, Uwa said that Anthony’s father was briefly involved in boxing before opting for other things. Uwa also said that he was also approached by boxing coaches when he got to England, but turned out the offer for his studies. “Like our spokesperson said, boxing runs in the family. Anthony’s father was also involved in boxing in England in the 80s. He passed up the opportunity to do other things.”

 This is a victory for all

To the Elepe of Epe, Oba Adewale Osiberu, who superintends over Sagamu royal matters since the demise of the Akarigbo of Remo, Oba Michael Sonariwo, the victory is for all. He called on youths to emulate the feat.

 “We are happy about the victory. It is a victory for all not just the Joshua family. He is our pride and we are very happy that he is succeeding in his profession. He is young and we pray that he will stay on top for a long time,” he said.

Oba Osiberu, who is related to Anthony’s mother, Yetunde said she called to express her gratitude to the Youth Council, the Joshua family and the entire Sagamu people. He revealed that Anthony has promised to do a video thanking everyone for their support.

He added: “I have also called her to be wary of people who may want to take advantage of the situation by soliciting for assistance to set up boxing facilities in the name of Anthony. We have agreed that she should confirm from me when she gets such calls.

The monarch urged youths with positive energy to take to sports especially boxing instead of engaging in social vices that are capable of destroying them. He also promised that a facility would be converted into a gym where youths could learn how to box. “We are going to set up a gym at a good location in Sagamu where youths can go and train.”

He commended the youths for turning out in large numbers to support one of their own. “Prior to the fight, the youths went round to mobilise people for the fight. Everyone celebrated after the win and we all love to associate with success and we are happy for Anthony. People are now showing interest in boxing and we are hoping the world champion will assist the town whenever the boxing gym is completed.”

The monarch is glad that the world champion associates with Nigeria despite being born abroad and fighting under the flag of Britain. “I am excited that he has always said he is a Nigerian. Credit must go to his parents for that. It is easier for him to thrive fighting as a Briton, considering that he started his career there. It would be a thing of joy to fight under the Nigerian flag but I am happy he is associating with both countries.”

For Comrade Adebayo Otusanya, the secretary of the Sagamu Youth Congress, the people of Sagamu especially the youths are happy that Anthony through his exploits has brought glory to the country. “Joshua is from Sagamu and we are happy to identify with him.“He is one of us and we identify with him. His success will surely serve as an inspiration for youths who are into vices so that they can channel their energy towards creative ventures. The victory is not only for Anthony Joshua but the entire youth of Sagamu.”

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