|Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker|
|Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 31 March|
|Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and mobile app|
As Anthony Joshua shadow boxes around the ring in Sheffield, a small army decide if his muscles need icing, if he looks well rested and if he’s done enough to deserve some dessert after dinner.
This team of people are in many ways the enforcers pushing a forceful athlete closer to greatness – they tell him to do things he does not want to do and make sure he can do what needs to be done.
From the nutritionist who splits his time between Joshua and Manchester United, to the trainer who monitors the IBF and WBA world heavyweight champion’s sleep, this is a support network many athletes can only dream of.
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Hit the numbers, chef…
As Joshua is put through a pad workout 10 days before his unification bout with WBO title-holder Joseph Parker, nutritionist Mark Ellison is sat before what looks like a CCTV screen and he duly turns on a camera system which will film the ring from multiple angles.
It lends a technical breakdown of every Joshua move and is part of a wider system which links into a global network so Britain’s amateur fighters – who also use this base – can scout opponents prior to Olympic Games or the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
Today the focus is a former decorated amateur, as Joshua’s skin begins to glisten with sweat just minutes into his workout.
Much has been made of Joshua’s weight for the Parker bout, given he scaled more than 18st – a career high – last time out. Talk of weight versus speed provides an easy angle for media. For Ellison, the issue is not a primary focus.
“People talk about weight but with Josh, the challenge is just making sure he has the energy for these sessions,” says Ellison, who also works for Manchester United.
“He’s a big guy. He moves, trains and does things that other heavyweights don’t do.
“You don’t see many heavyweights out for 10km runs. He’s built like a sprinter in some ways and not only can he run fast but he can do 10km at a good pace too.
“The volume he does amazes me and one thing I will say is the human traits you see in players who have won things at Manchester United and those in AJ are the same. They are completely dedicated.”
Ellison shows me the spreadsheet he receives on a Sunday, detailing the five days of training Joshua faces for the forthcoming week. From there he attributes a daily diet of around 3,000 calories to the easier days and 5,000 to the harder ones.
He plots the grams of fat and protein for each day and then passes these figures to Joshua’s personal chef, who will cook to hit the numbers outlined.
It is detailed and the menu for the so-called easier day of training Ellison shows me would fit nicely in any eaterie. Milkshakes provide easy nutrition between meals, while there is room for caffeinated chewing gums and even the odd treat.
“On heavy days we ramp up the carbs,” adds Ellison. “He may have desserts added in, a meringue nest with some fresh fruits maybe. Meringues are great as they are high in carbs, a bit of protein but very low in fat.
“He’s brilliant and doesn’t need much pushing with buying into the nutrition. The only thing he struggles with is getting in the ice baths and also monitoring his recovery as we try to get him to record his sleep, mood and muscle soreness, so we can make adjustments.”
The trainer-physio-chef circle
“You get in and you think you’re going to die,” says Joshua’s long-term trainer Robert McCracken.
The challenge of cajoling Joshua into the minus-25 degree ice bath often falls to physio Ian Gatt.
If Ellison’s mantra focused on energy levels rather than weight concerns, Gatt’s is undoubtedly honed in on preventing injury rather than reacting to it.
“The worst thing I want is AJ coming to me and saying his shoulder hurts and the pain started two weeks ago,” says Gatt, who wrapped Joshua’s hands before the London 2012 Olympic final.
“The process is from warm-up to cool down. It could be using resistance bands to make sure he warms up certain areas of the body, it could be making sure he ices his hands after sparring.
“So we work to prevent. Putting him on a treatment table is the worst thing to do as we’d create a dependency.”
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Gatt tries to stay away from the simple massage many armchair fans may think elite sportsmen rely on. Acupuncture is sometimes used and it is clear Joshua deserves credit for his diligence as many of the recovery stretches and exercises Gatt calls upon require added time and effort from the champion.
Joshua is now skipping, his white t-shirt stuck to his sodden body. He asked GB Boxing if he could base himself here shortly after turning professional and stated he would represent the sport with distinction in return.
He is demanding of what music offers the soundtrack to his workout until a playlist to his liking settles into the kind of smooth rhythm he hopes to showcase against Parker.
Speaking to Gatt underlines how smooth the background operation must be too.
If Joshua reports any kind of niggle, Gatt will speak to McCracken to modify training. Ellison will then also be informed to adjust the necessary nutritional values for the day, prompting changes for the chef.
All the while in the background, Joshua’s PR and management schedule his movements in order to minimise disruption, while maximizing exposure.
It is a harmonious circle in the most destructive of sports.
‘I will groan, moan and whine at you’
And then there is McCracken. The man who guided Carl Froch to world level and who spends so much of his time in this gym, overseeing GB’s amateur athletes as they use the five rings on offer to hone their skills in pursuit of medals, just as Joshua did.
Former world super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall works with the amateurs here and points me to the altitude tent in the corner of the room, wincing as he explains what conducting a pad session is like in there.
McCracken’s eyes briefly widen as Joshua throws a shot at one of his pads. After contact comes instruction, delivered softly. Their understanding is tangible.
“He is a nice person, he’s genuine, it’s not an act,” says McCracken. “But he’s a natural fighter. You see him sparring and every now and again you see a switch go off and you have to tell him to ease back.
“At the minute it’s not hard for me as he’s driven and wants to be the very best.
“I was with Froch and he had a fantastic career but the last three or four fights were hard work for him. It was a chore to motivate himself. It was genuinely difficult to do a 12-week camp. AJ has not got there yet.”
McCracken openly admits he did not want Joshua to face Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, stating it was “three fights too early” to face a man of such experience.
It is a testament to their relationship that they reached a way forward. Some trainers would have been ardent but through communication, they agreed on and plotted a glorious night at Wembley Stadium.
And now, with his man the most recognisable active boxer on earth, McCracken says there are moments where he administers “reminders” if Joshua is not delivering what he needs.
“He has to go to bed on time which no one wants to do. No later than 10:30pm,” adds McCracken.
“Then it’s weighing yourself, working with the nutritionist, then he has to listen to me to tell him how bad he has been in the session.
“Then it’s studying things, strategy, carrying that out in training, implementing it in spars. If you don’t I will groan, moan and whine at you when you’re very tired with a big headguard on and you have three sparring partners who only do a few rounds each ready to come at you flat out. It’s never ending.
“If I tell him that wasn’t good enough I’m sure he thinks ‘oh leave it out will you’.
“He goes a bit quiet with me. That’s a nice way of saying it.”
The torture of McCracken’s camp will be worthwhile if Joshua adds the WBO title to his collection on Saturday. AJ would be one step closer to holding all four of the marquee division’s honours.
Now that’s an achievement worthy of some meringue and a celebratory ice bath.