The clientele at Anthony Joshua fights over his 21-fight career has evolved into something that bears more resemblance to a red-carpeted Hollywood event than a boxing match.
However, if you take a closer look at those who have had the privilege of watching AJ dispatch his opponents at close quarters, there’s one face that continues to pop up – that of Troy Deeney.
The captain of Joshua’s hometown football club has kept a watchful eye on his career, but not only because of his passion for boxing. Deeney and Joshua have a genuine friendship, the foundations of which are based on their mutual respect for each other’s profession.
Cynics will accuse boxers of aligning themselves with football clubs to whip up support in the early stages of their careers but, ahead of his second bout in front of 90,000 fight fans at Wembley, support for the unified IBF, WBA, WBO world heavyweight champion is not in short supply.
Yet Joshua’s association with Watford remains as strong as ever, thanks in part to his burgeoning relationship with Deeney.
From humble beginnings in a barbershop, their unlikely companionship has stood the test of both time and AJ’s sensational rise to the pinnacle of his sport.
“We met in a barbershop, seven years ago,” Deeney recalls to Sky Sports. “Very simply, it was two lads going to get a haircut. He was training for the Olympics at the time, I just came in on a random Wednesday and we happened to have a chat.
“You know when people just connect in terms of determination, I respected what he was doing and he respected what I was doing, and it blossomed from there. We’ve been friends ever since.”
At a glance, Joshua and Deeney’s sporting careers are similar in so many ways. Battles against adversity and scraps with the law have created two reformed characters intent at seizing their final chance at redemption.
Deeney has spoken openly about how his spell in prison altered his outlook on life, while the threat of time inside proved a turning point in Joshua’s career.
Deeney will be the first to admit that he changed during his three-month stretch, but his friendship with Joshua went from strength to strength.
“When I was locked up, he was one of the first to call me when I came out,” he added. “I was supporting him when I was inside and our friendship has just grown and grown and grown.
“We’ve never changed towards each other. With me, he’s always been top-drawer. The fact he’s still calling me is massive for me.”
Perhaps it’s that sense of acceptance and understanding that continues to forge such a strong friendship.
In the time Deeney has resurrected his football career and overseen Watford’s promotion to, and consolidation in, the Premier League, Joshua has established himself as a global sporting icon.
It’s at these times – when everyone wants a piece of you – that you need people in your inner circle you can trust, and whose opinions you value. Deeney’s and Joshua’s friendship is a testament to those values.
Deeney has not associated himself with AJ because he is world heavyweight champion, and AJ has not associated himself with Deeney because he’s a Premier League footballer. There is a level of trust the pair enjoy, they are just mates that enjoy seeing each other do well.
“I think the drive from each other to be better is what made us click,” Deeney explains. “I wouldn’t say we had similar characters, but that drive and determination is similar, and not changing who you are along the way.”
That quest for improvement Deeney alludes to has seen him train alongside Joshua in his preparation for the forthcoming showdown with Povetkin. The Hornets striker shed a stone ahead of the new season and has taken the Premier League by storm, guiding Watford to victory in their first four games.
Joshua has adopted many philosophies throughout his career but the reoccurring message has been to maintain his insatiable progression, regardless of the magnitude of his latest achievement.
At Wembley on Saturday, should Watford get an encouraging result at Fulham, Deeney will be on hand once more to see the latest chapter of his friend’s career unfold.
“I’ve got tickets. It depends on the game, we’ve got Fulham away, so I may well go,” he adds. “Josh is talking about coming in with a more aggressive style and making a statement so I think he’ll get a knockout in six or seven rounds.”
Watch Joshua vs Povetkin, at Wembley Stadium, on September 22, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from 6pm. Book via your Sky remote or book it online here.
Even if you are not a Sky TV subscriber you can book and watch it at skysports.com/boxofficelive.