By George Sessions, PA
Anthony Joshua has targeted becoming a world champion in the heavyweight division again before he turns 35.
The Finchley boxer acknowledged he is about to begin his “last run” in the sport ahead of facing Jermaine Franklin at O2 Arena on Saturday.
Joshua, who is 34 in October, will attempt to get back to winning ways after suffering back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, who now holds the WBA, WBO and IBF belts.
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“It’s been a great run,” Joshua admitted.
“The thing is, I do and I did want respect from people in the industry that I admire, ex-legends in the game and when you’re not a champion any more you feel like that goes away.
“So, that was definitely something I was yearning for, is the respect from ex-champions and when I’d lost it, it was like ‘f*** I’ve lost that invincibility’, but it’s all good.
“We move forward. I’m not really doing it for that purpose any more because I’m not in that position, but the desire? One is definitely to become champion, which I think is possible within the next 16 months.
“I think we’ve got to see what happens this year with the belts. Let them be competed for and then potentially let them go up in the air and then we’ll see where the belts land. Then just stay consistent, stay focused on improving for these next 12 to 16 months while I’m in title contention.”
Two of Joshua’s most recent wins have come against boxers who went on to fight into their forties in Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Povetkin.
Meanwhile, Wladimir Klitschko was 41 when Joshua beat him in stunning fashion at Wembley in 2016 but the former Olympic champion does not envisage himself following in their footsteps and hinted he could walk away if he can reign supreme one more time in the heavyweight division.
Joshua added: “This run is like, what can it go on for? Three, four years?
“If I was going to do another run after this, you’re talking about fighting into my forties and I truly believe that boxing’s a young man’s sport.
“It takes a real solid character like Bernard Hopkins, (George) Foreman, Klitschko, Povetkin to go on into their forties and stuff, but I think this is a run I want to make successful and then, you know, hopefully go out on top.”
Changes have been made after Usyk inflicted a third defeat of Joshua’s professional career last August.
Derrick James is the British boxer’s new trainer – after Robert Garcia departed following one fight – and the “main voice” according to the two-time heavyweight champion, which was in contrast before his second clash with Usyk when Garcia and Angel Fernandez were both feeding him information.
Time at James’ Dallas gym alongside unified welterweight champion Errol Spence has seen Joshua do more sparring and go through “torture” to improve his conditioning.
Yet Saturday will see Joshua’s run of fighting in 12 consecutive world title fights end and he did accept the pressure cooker had simmered despite the make-or-break nature of his London contest.
“There is definitely not as much nerves,” Joshua said.
“That kind of pressure, that pressure cooker is off a bit. The pressure was a lot, I can’t lie to you.
“But when you want something so bad, I was really pushing that undisputed narrative for so long, that road to undisputed hashtag with all of the brands we work with, we pushed it, but now we’re at a new stage.
“We can’t look back. We’re only looking forward and I see a bright future and that kind of keeps me in good spirits.”