Frank Bruno knows what it means to carry the hopes of the nation into a world heavyweight title rematch — he did it against the fearsome Mike Tyson in defence of his WBC title 23 years ago — and believes a victory for Anthony Joshua over Andy Ruiz in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night will make British boxing a major force again in 2020.
Bruno told Telegraph Sport that the newly trim Joshua can claim victory "for the future and health of British boxing".
"We know Joshua brings huge numbers to the sport; look at the 90,000 fans at Wembley and Cardiff. And a fight with [Tyson] Fury in 2020 brings a lot to the table in sporting terms,” explained the south Londoner, who won the world title at the fourth attempt. “It’s nice when you have the support of the nation, but sometimes you’ve got to put that behind you because there’s a pressure involved there. I preferred it when people insulted me — that inspired me more because it kept it real.”
The venue, reckons Bruno, is largely irrelevant in sporting terms. "It's close to UK time, but the most important thing is how his training camp has gone and how he’s feeling on the night.”
“I hope Joshua wins. I think he’ll win because he’s got a lot to prove. He’s slimmed down and he’s got the power and boxing skills," explained the 57-year-old, who lost twice to Tyson.
"I’ve been impressed with Joshua in some fights. But he has also looked like the Incredible Hulk and he couldn’t really be flexible. Now, I think he’s seen the light and slimmed down. His power will never go. He needs to use his athletics and break the guy down, like when he fought [Joseph] Parker. He boxed his ears off and done it neatly. I think he should watch the Parker fight and hold him when he can. Either do a 12-rounder or stop him later on.
"He can win as long as he can play it cool and has patience; nick a few rounds, and don’t get into a war, no macho s--- with this guy, because that’s what Ruiz likes. I think the jab is key in the fight because he’s got longer arms than Ruiz and he’s taller than him. He’s got all the advantages for him to use the jab and movement. He can’t be too brave, trying to prove himself in a war. There’s not need for that. Box him and break him down. Hopefully be victorious. But Mexicans are very tough.”
Mental strength and self-belief will also be key, added Bruno. “The knockdowns from the first fight will definitely play on his mind. He’s got to start positive and use his athleticism and fitness."
Bruno has observed Joshua's rise to prominence with interest. “Joshua didn’t have a big amateur career and Eddie Hearn slung him into the deep end. He didn’t have a chance to learn his trade or get experience," reasoned Bruno, now a spokesperson for mental health.
"When he fought Ruiz in New York, certain things he said in the corner showed the amateur side of him. When I was young I didn’t learn my trade because I was knocking everyone out. It’s a trade and a skill and there are things you need to learn. It was George Francis who toughened me up."
"He’s still got a lot to learn, but he is willing. He works at it and has a great body. Maybe he's learned his lesson from the Ruiz fight. I hope he has, because winning the rematch will open the doors to the Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte fights.”
Yet of the triumvirate of leading heavyweights, Bruno believes Fury could emerge as the top dog next year. “If you’ve got to give respect to somebody, it’s Tyson Fury. He was away for two years, put on 10 stone and then lost 10 stone, came back went to America and fought Deontay, got put down and got back up.
"Joshua is a very good fighter and he takes the business seriously in the gym, but Fury is a natural boxer and he’s underestimated. I want AJ to win so we can see Tyson and him fight in an all British showdown. We all want to see that."