Upon conceding a split decision in the fight in Jeddah, a furious Joshua stalked towards the changing room before returning to the ring, grabbing Usyk’s WBA and Ring Magazine belts and dropping them outside the ropes.
He then confronted Usyk, saying “you’re not strong, how did you beat me? How? I had character and determination”, before addressing the crowd with a confused rant about his past and his own shortcomings as a boxer.
Carl Froch accused him of stealing Usyk’s moment while his gym mate and sparring partner Frazer Clarke said he should have been “saved from himself” by his team, who “hung him out to dry”.
Hours later, as he reflected on a third professional defeat that places him on the periphery of the heavyweight division’s elite, he choked back the tears before holding his head in his hands to mask his anguish.
“Am I proud of myself? It’s really, really hard for me to say I’m proud of myself. I don’t feel anything….just….I’m upset. Deep down in my heart. Ah man….ah. Trust me. F****** hell man,” he said.
Once he had regained composure, he attempted to explain actions that have drawn heavy criticism.
“It was just from the heart. I was mad at myself. Not at anyone, just at myself. I’ve gotta get out of here because I’m mad,” Joshua said.
“Like anyone, when you’re angry you might do stupid things, so I was mad. But then I realised ‘oh s*** this is sport, let me do the right thing and come back’. I just spoke from my heart.
“It’s been so tough. You see AJ holding it together. I’m a hustler so I try and put things together. But it comes at a cost, a big cost. It will never break me, but it takes real strength not to break me.
“And this was a little crack in the armour because I took a loss. With the speech I was just speaking about where I had come from. I was on the road….really.
“I made a transition through boxing, which helped me change my life. Bringing me closer to God and meeting so many amazing people. I just laid it all on the line with my speech.
“Let’s not forget the champ Oleksandr Usyk who put on an incredible performance. I can’t remember what I said in the ring because I felt so passionate, but I want to say thank you to him for taking part in a great, historical fight as well. It takes two to tango.”
Joshua was transformed from the fighter who surrendered the WBA, IBF and WBO belts to Usyk in London last September, but was still outpointed 113-115, 115-113, 116-112 by the Ukrainian southpaw.
Usyk’s movement, hand speed, ring craft and work rate underpinned an impressive victory, which came after he served as a military volunteer in Kiev following Russia’s invasion of his homeland.
“What you saw was raw emotion. A real person who was feeling the pressure and who wanted to win so badly,” said promoter Eddie Hearn as he addressed the negativity that has stalked Joshua’s career.
“You live in an online world where it’s opinion, stick, abuse. He will never tell you that he sees that pressure or feels it, but it’s impossible not to.
“I just want AJ to be happy. He’s given his whole life since he started boxing and people don’t realise what a bubble it is.
“Everybody in the country knows who he is. Everyone has got an opinion on who he is. He’s in the gym all the time with his team.
“There isn’t anyone I know who is more dedicated to the sport than him and sometimes people don’t understand the pressures that are on people’s shoulder. But he’s never ducked a challenge.
“You see these complete d********, many of them on social media, they’ve got too much to say for themselves.
“They want to pretend they are good people when AJ is someone I want my kids to look up to. That responsibility is a huge burden and AJ’s always felt it.”