LONDON. – Never forget where you come from. It is something that fighters, in particular, know too well. It is what gives them courage to fight, and it is where they draw strength from in moments of crisis.
Like almost no other sportspeople, a fighter’s background defines them – from Mexicans compelled to live up to their country’s famous traditions, to Gennadiy Golovkin who was marched around war-torn Kazakhstan as a boy by his military brothers to fight fully grown men, to Tyson Fury who has Traveller blood coursing through his veins.
Anthony Joshua is no different.
Africa is emblazoned on his bicep and that is why, at his lowest ebb and desperate to seek solace, he journeyed to Nigeria for the first time in 17 years in a spiritual trip that re-lit his fire to regain the world heavyweight boxing championship that was lost to Andy Ruiz Jr.
Makoko is a floating slum in the Lagos lagoon, a city built on stilts but struggling to stay afloat. It is easily within view of visitors to Lagos but only if you know where to look – the estimated population of up to 300 000 people were not counted in the most recent census, and there is no official record of their existence.
“We went into the back, back, back streets,” Joshua exclusively tells Sky Sports about venturing to Makoko.
“They say politicians don’t even go there.”
There have been demolition attempts in 2012 and again in 2016, when an estimated 30 000 were made homeless.
But still Makoko will not drown beneath the sludge and slime upon which it is built.
It is a place, for all its difficulties, that puts a wide smile on Joshua’s face at a time when he is being questioned and doubted like never before.
“What’s it like? Ok . . .
‘‘Nigeria has a massive population – the mega-rich, the poor, and not much in between. Makoko is at the lower end. It is overpopulated.
“The transportation is on boats.”
World heavyweight champions arriving unannounced in deprived areas is not new – Muhammad Ali mixed with the impoverished people nearby his Miami training camp.
And, more recently and closer to home, Mike Tyson popped up in Brixton, south London, where the adoring masses forced him to be rushed into the town hall for safety then evacuated in the back of a police car.
But Joshua’s visit to Makoko was different.
Humbled by a first defeat and the relinquishing of his world titles, he was stripped back to being a young man seeking inspiration. – Sky Sports