Olympian Joshua Buatsi sat down with TheBerlinClub. to give a vivid account of the unseen grind & dedication needed to succeed at the highest level.
5 minute read
Interview: Sam // Words: Ollie
“You need to put in the unseen work to reap the rewards others see…”
Ghanaian-born British professional boxer Joshua Buatsi, chats to us at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield about life growing up in Croydon, keeping focussed, winning & his future goals.
“People say to me you have a good life, you went to the Olympics, but it took 8 years of working hard with no one knowing to get to that point” he continues.
Round 1. //
The undefeated light-heavyweight recalls his initial introduction to the world of pugilism: “I had my first encounter with boxing at 15. My best friend in the estate I lived on came over with gloves one day & we sparred - we would usually play football, so this was something different. I instantly loved the one on one competition”.
Joshua was quick to make a judgement on the sport: “I never thought boxing could be just a hobby as you can get hurt. I thought from day 1 if I am in it, I am going to be competitive & get somewhere. I didn’t know how far I could get, but I knew I had a fighting instinct”.
Soon after developing an interest in boxing, the young Buatsi went on the hunt for more experience: “I remember searching for a boxing gym in the Croydon area. The first gym I went to was £60 per month, which I couldn’t afford at 15. I searched for a long time before stumbling into another gym. This one was £12 per month which was affordable. I chose the gym at the time because of the price, but to this day it’s still the one I’m with. I never used to go straight home after school anyway, I was always meeting up with new people which obviously led to good & bad things, but as soon as I joined the gym, that took away all my time”.
Joshua continues, “I used to save up my lunch money to contribute to the cost. I couldn’t tell my mum I was using her money for boxing…”.
Round 2. //
One of Joshua’s biggest battles to date was not in the ring, rather overcoming his parent’s objections to his chosen profession.
“I lived in Ghana until the age of 9, before coming to the UK for a better start in life. My parents brought me to England for education, so they were unhappy when I said I wanted to do boxing. My dad said if I wanted to do sport, I should think of something less dangerous & my mum didn’t like it…although I don’t think any mum wants their son to do boxing” he explains.
If training hard & taking punches wasn’t difficult enough, Joshua had to fight his way to the gym: “Every time I was going to boxing training, I had to say I was going to football training! One day, my dad asked to see what was in my bag…of course there were no shin pads, no socks, just a pair of gloves & my boxing stuff. I got caught a few more times as well, but I kept on going”.
This persistence may have been rebellious, but it was sparked by an admirable desire for continuous improvement. He discloses, “At 18, I was a grown man & still boxing. My parents didn’t like it, but they saw the good it was doing for me & said it was my choice if I wanted to continue. I was studying A Levels at the time, so it was hard balancing their wishes with my own passion”.
Going on to study at university, while simultaneously competing as an amateur boxer, he was eventually able to manage both the wishes of his parents with his own desire to be an athlete. After competing at the Olympics in 2016, Joshua returned to university & ultimately graduated with a 2:1 degree in Management with Sports Science. “I used boxing as an excuse a lot at uni so I kind of have to do well with it now!” he adds jokingly.
Medals & Titles. //
With an array of honours already attached to his name, “doing well” is a fair statement to make about a fighter managed by Anthony Joshua, currently one of the most recognisable faces in a growing sport.
This Joshua describes the keys to his own success: “When I first started boxing, I made my own way to the gym. I remember another guy who used to only turn up if he was dropped off & picked up by his dad. Having the ability to be self-motivated is crucial”.
Talking about what drives that motivation, he adds, “I know all the good times I have had outside of boxing, which have only happened because of the sport. I put in the hard work at the gym & in the ring, so I can create more of those moments. I also feel like I have to do it, because I know if I win, the people around me do too”.
This attitude has clearly had merits. Winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics as an amateur & the British light-heavyweight title as a professional attest to that.
Reflecting on his success so far, Joshua states, “In my first year in boxing, I was a national champion. I kept winning things which made me think this sport really is for me. However, you always have doubts about your abilities. I remember watching the Olympics in 2008 & thinking wow these guys are special, how did they get there? Then when I found myself trying to qualify years later, for the first 6 months of being on Team GB, I thought they were going to kick me off because I struggled with the drills they were getting us to do. There are always hurdles to overcome & the goalposts always move – I mean, I was just glad to be an Olympian…I never thought I would go & win a medal too!”.
Just Business. //
Despite all the success, Joshua retains a pinpoint focus, taking one challenge at a time. Asked about his long-term ambitions, the man nicknamed ‘Just Business’ aptly replies, “I don’t think too far ahead. The plan is simply to win my next fight”.
Explaining his short-term concentration, he continues, “You have to be savvy, boxing is a business & it doesn’t pay to plan too far ahead. As an amateur, things are more structured, you don’t pick who you fight & you know the tournaments you need to enter. As a professional, there are many different routes to the top, so the future is difficult to map out. I leave that stuff to my trainers & management team & just fight whoever they put in front of me. If you’re that good, one day you’ll have to fight the best anyway”.
While at the time of writing, the immediate focus may be on gaining experience & specifically defending his WBA International light-heavyweight title, many in the sport tip the 26-year-old to soon compete with the very elite in the division. “I have a hunger to keep testing myself. My goal is obviously to achieve a world title, but that’s just my aim in boxing. My real satisfaction would be to use the good things that come with success in the sport to do good things for others, especially those who are underprivileged” he says candidly.
That level-headedness is an important trait to retain in a sport of many highs & lows, where a single loss can have a major effect on someone’s mental fortitude. Joshua has demonstrable humility in this regard: “I feel blessed to do what I do, because in England, the system is set up for you to do well. If you are a good amateur & win a tournament, a promoter will probably hear about you & you can make a living from the sport. I have been to other countries where the infrastructure isn’t there & good young fighters struggle to make any money. I also feel blessed that I have a body which enables me to do boxing. Some people don’t have that opportunity because their bodies won’t allow them, it’s really humbling”.
We conclude the interview by asking Joshua for advice to anyone striving for success in whatever they are pursuing. He responds, “It takes time & you have to be prepared to pay the price to make something of yourself. I had to give up my teenage years, but the sacrifice was worth it because I have built a career & travelled to places I otherwise wouldn’t have. No one is going to tell you that you’re going to make it, it’s up to you to stay consistent & believe in yourself, but by doing that, I think anyone is more than capable”.
Joshua’s confidence in his own ability, backed up by an impressive work ethic, is what has catapulted him to the heights he has already reached & by remaining grounded, to those successes which are sure to come.
Follow Joshua @JoshuaBuatsi