Anthony Joshua has finally settled on the man he needs in his corner to help him become a three-time world heavyweight champion.
Joshua, (24-2, 22 KOs) slipped to a second career defeat when he was beguiled by Oleksandr Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September 2021 — the masterful former undisputed cruiserweight champion leaving London with a unanimous decision victory.
The rematch will take place in Saudi Arabia on August 20, where Joshua triumphed in an instant return against Andy Ruiz Jr in December 2019, avenging his only other career loss.
This time around, he will be without his long-time amateur and professional coach Robert McCracken, with Robert Garcia coming into his training camp
Here, we take a look at Garcia’s highly respected career in boxing, along with why Joshua felt it was time for a change and what we can expect from a new look AJ in the second installment of his Usyk rivalry.
Hustle to take care of our people 🖤 pic.twitter.com/rsEU1Ik3WO— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyjoshua) June 5, 2022
Who is Robert Garcia? What titles has he won?
There can be no doubt that Team Joshua have appointed a man steeped in boxing with impeccable credentials. Garcia is a former IBF super-featherweight champion.
He reigned between March 1998 and October 1999, defending his belt twice before losing to the late Diego Corrales. Garcia hung up his gloves with a fine record of 34-3, with 25 wins coming via knockout.
His father Eduardo Garcia helmed Robert’s career, having also been celebrated for his work with former two-time super-welterweight world champion Fernando Vargas. Robert followed in those footsteps and, coaching alongside his old man out of Oxnard, California, he has forged a formidable reputation.
Garcia’s work with the likes of Nonito Donaire, Marcos Maidana, Brandon Rios and younger brother Mikey Garcia has helped him to become one of the most revered names in the sport. He was named Ring Magazine trainer of the year three times between 2011 and 2013.
Alongside four-weight world champion Mikey, Garcia’s current star pupils are former unified super-lightweight champion Jose Ramirez and breakout WBC super-flyweight titleist Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez. Or, at least they were until one of the most recognisable sportsmen on the planet came calling.
Why did Anthony Joshua leave Robert McCracken?
Despite the shocking nature of his loss to Ruiz, where Joshua was dropped four times on his New York debut before being halted, dazed and confused, in round seven, the 2012 Olympic champion told Sky Sports he found the Usyk defeat harder to swallow.
“When I lost the first time, I never made no excuses but I had my reason. I thought, ‘cool…’. I took my loss but I knew I’d get it back. So I brushed that off,” he said. “This one hurt. I was 100%, no problems, everything was cool but I went in there and lost to the better man on the night and it hurt. It gave me motivation to pull myself out of that position. Mentally it killed me. I’ve fought my way back and I’ll redeem myself.”
If that redemption comes, it will be without the man who had guided him throughout his decorated career in the amateur and professional ranks. Although his commitments to GB Boxing prevented him from being the chief second early on in Joshua’s career, with Tony Sims undertaking that role for his first 17 pro fights, McCracken was the mastermind behind AJ’s rapid ascent to the summit of the heavyweight division.
Carl Froch’s former trainer remained in his post after the Ruiz loss, although Angel Fernandez and Joby Clayton were added to Joshua’s team to sharpen up some of his skills and padwork. Fernandez also became an increasingly influential tactical voice.
That paid dividends as a rotund Ruiz was comprehensively outboxed in the December 2019 rematch and evidence of the more versatile box-puncher Joshua looked set to become in his younger years was on display when he stopped Kubrat Pulev in nine a year later.
However, Joshua’s revamped team oversaw a major misstep when their man attempted to outbox Usyk and came up short against arguably the finest pure boxer on the planet.
Although McCracken might have thought back to the combative Froch being picked off by the super slick Andre Ward in 2011 and decided against an over-eager approach, it was hard to imagine a corner where he was the lone authoritative voice putting together the ill-fated Usyk gameplan.
Nevertheless, it instantly looked difficult for McCracken to survive another setback after the Ruiz debacle and Joshua’s search for a new mentor was on.
Why did Anthony Joshua appoint Robert Garcia?
Although there are reasons to question how well the link-up might work, Joshua certainly did his due diligence before settling on Garcia. The Briton travelled out to the United States to try out some of the most highly regarded names in the sport.
After meeting up with Ronnie Shields, Virgil Hunter and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s trainer Eddy Reynoso, Joshua plumped for Garcia — inviting him to London for a two-week stint together last December.
Another fortnight of training followed at Joshua’s new Loughborough base earlier this year and Garcia is now back in England as AJ gears up for what is set to be a defining night. The 47-year-old cornerman’s CV gave Joshua ample reasons to appoint him, although he admitted previous notable experience with big men is not among them.
“It’s a big challenge for me because this is my first time taking a heavyweight to fight for a world title. It’s kind of a dream come true,” Garcia told Little Giant Boxing last week in a wide-ranging YouTube interview. “I’ve had champions in almost every weight division. I think I’m missing just cruiserweight, light-heavyweight and super-middleweight, those are the three I’m missing, plus heavyweight.
“Having a heavyweight champion is top of the line. I’m excited. I always thought maybe heavyweights is not a good idea because it’s different. Their way of training is a lot different than a lightweight and we’re used to doing a lot of rounds on mitts, speed, running a lot more.
“With heavyweights, it’s a different story but the two weeks I spent with him in December and again two months ago, he's a very intelligent fighter. He wants those challenges and he trains hard. He works as hard as any lightweight, that’s the difference.”
However, Garcia revealed that the particular jobs he has done with many of his world champions — he boasts 14 as a trainer overall — held an important appeal for Team Joshua. While the likes of Mikey Garcia and Bam Rodriguez tend to enter fights as favourites to get the job done, with Maidana, Abner Mares, Brian Viloria and others, Garcia established a reputation as a coach able to bring fighters back from defeats to recapture world honours.
“Those are the challenges I like and right now Anthony Joshua is that challenge,” he said. “He clearly lost and to bring him back and pull off the win would be huge for me. And having a heavyweight champion of the world, it doesn’t get bigger than that.”
There is also the small matter of a little insider knowledge.
Has Robert Garcia trained Oleksandr Usyk?
Usyk has worked with various trainers throughout his professional career, with Emmanuel Steward’s former assistant James Ali Bashir helming the majority of his time in the cruiserweight ranks. Before facing Michael Hunter in April 2017, Usyk joined up with his old amateur mentor Anatoly Lomachenko, the father of his great friend and pound-for-pound star Vasyl Lomachenko.
Lomachenko’s camp of Ukrainian fighters were based in California for such US assignments - at Garcia’s Oxnard gym.
“They [Joshua’s team] also liked the fact that Usyk used to train in my gym in Oxnard,” he said. “They know I’ve seen him train and I know him. I never trained him, but I was there. He was training in my gym.
“When you meet Usyk, he’s scary. He looks like a serial killer. But once you meet him, Usyk is a great person, a sweetheart. He’s like a kid, he jokes around. He’s a great person.”
Lomachenko Sr returned to Usyk’s corner for the Joshua victory after the 35-year-old had a stint with Yuri Tkachenko. His win was so emphatic that the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion does not reasonably need to change much. The onus will be on Joshua, and therefore Garcia, to make the correct alterations.
What changes will Robert Garcia make to Anthony Joshua’s style?
Speaking to iFL TV, Joshua dismissed the notion of there being a wholesale overhaul of his approach, noting that the style associated with Garcia’s most successful fighters is not one readily applicable to a man of his dimensions.
“It’s not about changing style as such, in my opinion,” he said. “Garcia’s style might be to crouch down to 5’0 and bob and weave, but I’m a 6’6” heavyweight.
“So, it’s not about style, it’s about his experience and what he knows at championship level. Adding that to the camp is priceless.”
Nevertheless, it would be surprising if Joshua’s approach to the second Usyk fight was not far more offensively minded, putting his considerable advantages in terms of size and power to good use.
Amid his courtship with Team Joshua in December last year, Garcia gave a frank interview to Boxing King Media that suggested an AJ under his guidance will be a different animal to the timid foe Usyk faced in London.
“He needs to change his attitude in the ring. He needs to be mean,” he said. “He can’t get hit and smile. That happened with him against Usyk in the last round. He’s getting hit and he’s smiling, giving credit to his opponent.
“You’ve got to be mad that you’re getting hit. He needs to have that mentality, the killer instinct. It sounds bad to say it, but in the ring you want to hurt your opponent. That’s the mentality you have to have. You can’t feel sorry because your opponent isn’t going to feel sorry for you.
“That’s the mentality Anthony needs, wanting to hurt people. Outside the ring you’ve got to be nice and friendly and respectful, but inside the ring you have to have that anger, that mean mentality. You’ve got to know that you’re going to take some punches, but you take a punch to land two or three. You can’t be afraid of getting hit.”
Who is Angel Fernandez? Is he still training Anthony Joshua?
One of Garcia’s stipulations before taking on the Joshua gig was that he would still be able to travel back to the US during camp to take charge of his other fighters in title action. He will do so when Rodriguez defends his belt against the experienced Wisaksil Wangek in San Antonio on June 25.
This request was signed because Joshua’s camp will continue to operate under the guidance of Fernandez, who survived the post-Usyk shake-up. Garcia reported that he and Fernandez, both Spanish speakers, quickly struck up a rapport, with the younger trainer a keen boxing historian and a fan of Eduardo Garcia’s work.
As such, Joshua’s training camp manager David Ganza told iFL TV that there is no hierarchy in terms of Fernandez or Garcia being the chief trainer. The two men will work together at Wembley Arena on Saturday in Richard Riakporhe’s corner when the undefeated British cruiserweight takes on Fabio Turchi.
Having soaked up knowledge from esteemed Cuban coaches Jorge Rubio and Ismael Salas, Fernandez is now quenching his thirst to learn with Garcia - a trait his new partner in the corner believes he has in common with Joshua.
What’s your definition of hustle? pic.twitter.com/qUwOaKCS97— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyjoshua) April 7, 2022
“He’s very disciplined and he listens, he’s a learner,” Garcia said of the British heavyweight. "They’re totally different persons but the confidence he has with me, he reminds me of [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr. When we’re talking about strategies he’s asking questions. Chavez was a great person to be around in the time I had him with me and he always wanted to know more and more.
“Anthony Joshua, every day he listens. In the weeks I’ve spent with him, he never said ‘I don’t like that, let’s do something else’. Whatever I tell him to do, he’s going to do. That’s a big plus. He’s going to do it my system and my way, not whatever way he’s used to. He trains hard every day.”
All involved in an unlikely union will have plenty of learning to do in the days and weeks leading up to Joshua’s return clash with Usyk. Whether Garcia helps him to pass the exam against a man with a virtual PhD in boxing remains to be seen.