Anthony Joshua’s first Wembley opponent has recalled how he left behind a building site to trade punches with Britain’s heavyweight hope in 2014.
The unified world champion has confirmed his next two fights will be at Wembley, with WBA mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin expected to be the opponent on September 22.
Joshua is heading back to the scene of his epic win over Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, but he was still a five-fight prospect when he fought Matt Legg on the undercard of Carl Froch’s rematch with George Groves at the national stadium in May 2014.
Legg reveals that he was well known by ‘AJ’ before the first bell, recalls his thoughts during the media frenzy of fight week, and gives a first-hand experience of Joshua’s punch power…
When were you offered the Joshua fight at Wembley?
I had a fight a month before and I won that in the second round, so I was back on the building site at MK Dons’ stadium. I was lifting plasterboards up and down the stairs, 44-kilo sheets of plasterboards up to the top. I was doing 100 sheets a day, so I was in good shape.
I got the phone call – “Do you want to fight Anthony Joshua at Wembley Stadium?” Straight away I just said ‘”yeah.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on the Froch-Groves rematch. At that time, one of the biggest shows post-war.
What was going through your mind after that phone call?
It was excitement. AJ and I know each other from years ago when he was young. I used to box out of Watford.
My friends couldn’t believe it. I had hundreds and hundreds of messages on Facebook, well-wishers and people supporting me. It was amazing.
How did Joshua know you before the fight?
I used to train with Ricky English in Watford in Callowland. AJ was best friends with Ricky English’s son, so he used to come in the gym apparently. He used to watch my fights as well when he was a teenager.
He knew me more than I knew him back then, because he was obviously 15 years younger.
I asked him at Wembley, the day before the fight, and he told me: “I always supported you Matt from back when you were having your comeback in 2008.”
What was the media build-up like in the days beforehand?
The press conference was live on Sky Sports and all the newspaper articles – it was totally different to what I’m used to fighting on the small hall shows and in nightclubs. It was the next level of publicity and media coverage.
It was really an eye-opener and good to experience that pressure, even if it was for the last time of my career. At least it was good to have that one massive high-profile fight.
How did you cope with the big fight nerves?
I don’t really get that nervous before a fight, because I know once the bell goes, there’s going to be no nerves anyway. But on that particular one, I looked at him like Mike Tyson, who is going to knock everyone out. When I fought him, no-one had got past the second round in five fights, so I knew he was dangerous and big, and strong.
I was more worried about possibly me getting hurt, which I don’t normally consider. Even against James Toney, I thought he’s not going to be able to really hurt me, but with that there were a few more butterflies and I suppose the occasion as well, Wembley Stadium outdoors, there was a lot more pressure on it.
What are your memories of the fight?
To be honest I thought I was doing alright because he was missing all of his shots. He caught me with a few in the corner. He caught me with an uppercut, and he caught me with a check left hook, but I took them, and I caught him back. I remember saying to him “come on” because I was getting a bit confident. I got a bit too confident and he worked it out.
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You’re not supposed to really chase a puncher around the ring, but I thought it’s the only way to have a go. He’s just technically amazing, obviously an Olympic champion, so tall and so long. He was very fast then, 16 stone 10[lbs] I think then. A lot lighter than what he comes in now.
Is he the biggest puncher you faced?
Yeah, even in sparring and stuff. He is by far the biggest puncher. Most people you can block the shots with your gloves and they bounce off. His shots go even through your gloves. You hold your gloves and they’ll go through your gloves and hit your head. He punches through you.
Would you like to watch Joshua fight at Wembley?
I would love to. I watch all of his fights, every single one, and I was supporting him and I was rooting for him every time.
In retrospect, when he knocked everyone else out, obviously apart from Joseph Parker, it made me feel a bit better. He knocked out Kevin Johnson and [Matt] Skelton in the second and when he took everyone out, it made me feel better.
I thought at least I had gone forward. Charles Martin landed hardly anything. I felt like I did a little better than Charles Martin, who was meant to be world champion.
Did you expect Joshua to become so big?
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I always said I knew he would be world champion and he would knock everyone out. I think he could have knocked out Parker if he wanted to. He was more defensive minded. If he had let them go when they got close in, I think he would have taken him out like everyone else.
Do you look back fondly on that night?
I do now. That last year topped it off, to be honest. I got two wins and I got two losses. The two losses in the last year were to Joshua and James Toney.
One hundred per cent I’ll follow Joshua’s career. I look forward to his fights, they’re exciting to watch. I’ll follow him all the way.