Anthony Joshua’s ex-trainer Tony Sims knew star was "special" after one session

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Tony Sims casts his mind back to the day a young Anthony Joshua stepped foot in his Essex gym for the very first time.

Joshua, still riding the wave of his gold-medal triumph at London 2012 the year prior, had just turned professional under Eddie Hearn's Matchroom banner and was setting out on this new journey with Sims in his corner.

From as early as then, the esteemed British trainer could sense he had a superstar on his hands.

"As soon as he walked into the gym Joshua had something special about him," Sims recalls in a chat with Daily Star Sport.

"We watched him in the Olympics and he had that aura about him. You've only got to look at his first professional fight, I think he sold out 10,000 at the O2 Arena. So he's always had that something special.

"Big superstars do have that about them. If you look at all the great heavyweights over the years, they've all had that type of aura when they walk into a room, they've all got something special when they're in sparring, and Joshua had that straight away.

Do you think Anthony Joshua will beat Oleksandr Usyk this weekend? Let us know in the comments section below.

"You could see then that he was going to be a great fighter and potentially champion of the world."

Of course, Sims' gut feeling was bang on the money.

Over the past eight years Joshua has navigated a rapid ascent to the top of the heavyweight tree; winning his first 15 fights, capturing a world title in the 16th, unifying the division in the 19th, losing his crown in the 23rd and instantly reclaiming it in the 24th.

All while becoming the most marketable fighter in world boxing today.

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Sims was only involved in 22 of those steps, guiding him to world glory in his 17 as lead trainer.

Following his win over Dominic Breazeale in June 2016, the second defence of his IBF title, Joshua freshened things up by replacing him with Team GB mastermind Rob McCracken – although Tony remained part of the corner team for the next five fights.

With the exception of his last bout against Kubrat Pulev, which came in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, AJ's persona alone has sold out football stadiums across the country ever since that career-defining victory against Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017, his second outing under McCracken. Such is the unparalleled level of popularity he enjoys.

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That's not to say he is without an army of naysayers and critics. Who isn't?

For some, the charming, nice-guy image which has propelled Joshua to superstardom is simply a television act. But not for Sims.

"From what I knew of him in the gym with me, he was always a lovely man," he adds.

"How he comes across on camera is basically how he is off camera.

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"He's a nice man, always laughing and joking. But when he needs to do his work he does it, so he's a good guy to train with.

"I've always thought there's never really been an act with him. He's just a good guy all round really."

Many believe the toughest test of Joshua's heavyweight career awaits him in north London this Saturday.

Under the bright lights at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, packed out with 60,000 spectators, the man from Watford will defend his unified titles against Ukrainian southpaw Oleksandr Usyk – the former undisputed cruiserweight champion.

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Usyk's expert ring IQ and technical mastery set him apart from the rest down at cruiserweight. He boxed rings around credible opponents who were supposed to drag him into deep waters and threaten his supremacy.

Yet, since moving up to heavyweight the 34-year-old has taken some flack. He first laboured to victory over rank underdog and last-minute replacement Chazz Witherspoon in a generally uninspiring performance, before getting the better of a gruelling clash with Derek Chisora which many expected him to come through far more comfortably.

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That pair of testing wins whipped up an air of uncertainty regarding his credentials as a heavyweight, and Sims isn't convinced he will provide Joshua's sternest challenge yet.

He says: "I think Joshua's had bigger tests. Klitschko was obviously a massive test for him at the time.

"That's not saying Usyk isn't a good fighter, he's never been beaten. But I just think moving from cruiserweight to heavyweight… he's not a proper heavyweight.

"Chisora exposed that a little bit, a lot of people thought he won. I thought it could've gone either way.

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"Usyk did well in the early rounds and Chisora came on strong in the later rounds.

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"But comparing Anthony Joshua to Derek Chisora, there's no comparison. Joshua's 6ft 6in, an absolute machine, and his right hand – the punch which seems to be catching Usyk – is phenomenal.

"When he catches you with it it's game over."

The general consensus amongst fans and pundits is that Joshua needs to impose his strength on Saturday's contest, make his physical superiority count and avoid a chess-match style affair with a fighter as skilled as Usyk.

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Sims – who now trains the likes of Conor Benn, Ted Cheeseman and John Ryder – believes it could very well start out that way, but he's in no doubt about the end result.

"I personally don't see any way that Usyk is gonna win this fight or even last the distance," he insists. "Once it goes past the midway point, Joshua's gonna connect and the fight will be done.

"I think it will be a little bit like a chess match at first, because if you look at Usyk when he boxed Joe Joyce, the first three rounds he's very difficult to land any shots on.

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"But obviously when you're in with a big guy like Joshua, it's really hard to keep them at bay. He's got long arms, he's very tall and he punches very hard.

"At first Usyk will try to keep away from him and he'll be hard to pin down, but there's only so long you can do that before Joshua catches up with you.

"Once it goes past the halfway mark, I think Joshua will start catching him and it'll be game over."

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