When Anthony Joshua embarked on a tour of the United States, visiting the likes of Eddy Reynoso, Ronnie Shields and Virgil Hunter, few thought it would be the previous stand-in, Ángel Fernández, who would take the reins from Rob McCracken and assign him the role of formulate a plan to defeat Oleksandr Usyk. .
Joshua was outclassed by the dazzling Ukrainian who, having relinquished his entire collection of cruiserweight titles, put on an unforgettable performance displaying his largely unmatched skills in front of a stunned and silenced crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Briton’s WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight belts were snatched away almost without a whimper, with the 6-foot-6 Joshua opting not to use his obvious physical advantages – advantages that brought him so much success as he climbed of range, as he sought to outclass the boxer. A naive move, it turned out.
Anthony Joshua (right) has made Ángel Fernández (left) his main trainer as he prepares to face Oleksandr Usyk in their highly anticipated rematch.
The 32-year-old Briton was defeated by a masterful Usyk on points at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
There was an immediate clamor for Joshua to part ways with McCracken, as happened after his first career loss to Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019. This time, however, Joshua agreed. But, again, eyebrows were raised when the inexperienced Fernandez was announced as his replacement.
A more informed man than most, however, is Frazer Clarke, who made his pro debut earlier in the year, having claimed Olympic bronze last summer. Clarke, a long-term training partner and friend of Joshua’s, is also coached by Fernandez, and the two work together at Loughborough University.
Clarke, speaking to Sportsmail, insisted that Fernandez may play a crucial role in Joshua becoming a three-time world champion when the pair hopefully pull it off this summer.
“I’ve known Angel for a little over a year,” Clarke explained. “Even before the Olympics, I would come and do sessions with him, once or twice a week, just to give me something different.
‘I was working with great coaches in Sheffield but after one session I felt he had added something to my game.
‘I needed a change from the Sheffield environment so going to Loughborough University was the best thing for me.
I can’t really speak to AJ’s relationship with him, but I see them in the gym and I see chemistry. It is a good work, very good work that I am seeing.’
Joshua’s longtime friend and sparring partner Frazer Clarke (right) also works with Fernandez.
Fernandez now has the unenviable task of preparing Joshua for the biggest fight of his career.
It comes after Joshua announced he was parting ways with long-term coach Rob McCracken (centre)
What is immediately apparent is that Clarke has no ordinary fighter-trainer relationship with the Spaniard, in large part because, like Clarke, Fernandez is in the early stages of his professional career, and is still finding his way. way after landing a role that many could only dream of. .
In fact, Fernández, whose first important role came with Isaac Chamberlain in 2018, has himself revealed that he wants relationships with his fighters to go beyond work, insisting: “My job, yes, is boxing coach, but I go beyond that.” I need to have that connection with them and that has to be building a friendship.’
And that’s exactly what Clarke has developed with Fernandez in the weeks and months we’ve spent together.
“My relationship with Angel is funny,” he said. “I feel like in every gym, and with every boxer-trainer relationship, there’s different ones: There’s the father and the son, there’s the guy who puts his arm around you.
Clarke reveals that she argues with Fernandez regularly as they push each other to improve
‘The reality with me and Ángel is that we argue a lot, that’s the truth. But we do the work. When we are here it is about business, that is what it is about, but we go from one place to another. That yes, everything is good energy.
“When I say fight, I’m not saying we fight, I’m talking about pushing each other. He pushes me to be a better fighter, I think me and the other guys in the gym push him and encourage him to be the best trainer that he can be.
“That’s what I like about him as a manager: he’s not settling, he’s thriving, he wants to be known as the best manager in the world.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Fernandez’s talent is his current roster of boxers, with Richard Riakphore being on the fringes of the world level in the cruiserweight division, and the highly rated youngster Kieran Molloy joining Joshua and Clarke in his stable of fighters. Loughborough.
Richard Riakphore (R) and Kieran Molloy (L) complete Fernandez’s group of Loughborough fighters
For Clarke, her coach’s intentions are the most appealing. He is not, like others, simply in it for a quick buck.
“I think he has four great fighters that he can show that level with: myself, Kieran Molloy, Richard Riakphore and Anthony Joshua,” Clarke explained. “As a trainer, he is as hungry as the fighters, and you don’t see that often in boxing.
‘You get a lot of old trainers, maybe a couple of people just for a few pounds. Angel wants to be the best at what he does and that’s inspiring as a fighter.’
Of course, Clarke and Joshua are at different stages of their careers: one a 1-0 prospect with big ambitions, the other a two-time heavyweight champion preparing for the biggest fight of his life.
And while Fernandez has the drive, the enthusiasm and clearly a knack for the job, there are some who would argue that Joshua needs more of a more experienced voice in his corner at this stage, particularly as he recently stated, for the first time in his career, he is working on a game plan designed specifically for his opponent.
Joshua, speaking recently at Oxford University, revealed that he is working on a game plan for the first time in his career.
The former unified champion looks to avenge the damaging loss, like he did against Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019.
Not Clarke, though, who insists the only person who can beat Joshua in this fight is Joshua himself.
“I’ll tell you who’s going to bring out the best in AJ: It’s AJ,” he said. ‘He could have Donald Duck in his corner, it’s up to him, he’s fighting.
“The trainer can give you the wisdom, the game plans and tell you all the right things, and what I see from both, I think it’s definitely there, but ultimately the fighter is the one who fights.
“I think AJ wants to win, I think he thinks he can win, and I think his coach thinks he can win.
‘That’s the gym mentality; there are no loser fighters in this gym. Anyone who has a loser mentality in this gym will soon be kicked out.
Is Angel the right man? We’ll know in a couple of weeks if that fight is in July, August or whatever. I think the combination of both is definitely good enough to do this.”
As Joshua embarked on his US tour, Clarke himself was gearing up for a major showdown as he made his debut on the undercard of Kell Brook’s victory over rival Amir Khan in February.
Clarke made his professional debut earlier in the year, defeating Jake Darnell in one round.
The 30-year-old is looking to get out again in July or August, having undergone surgery on an injured hand.
Clarke demolished a hapless Jake Darnell in the first three minutes to move 1-0 up, although he now admits the opponent was well below the required standard.
However, his progression came to a halt, as he was forced to pull out of his March 26 bout after having undergone surgery after sustaining an untimely hand injury.
He now plans to come out again in late July or early August, aiming for a British title in his first 10 fights. And when he returns to the ring, Clarke promises to be destructive.
“We want to get in there, we want to be devastating, we want to be entertaining, we want to show what we’re practicing in this gym,” he said.
“In this gym, we work hard, and if we do what we’re doing in the gym, we’re going to knock people out, it’s that simple.”