‘I hated boxing when I first tried it. I really hated it. I threw up after my first four sessions. I said, scrap this…’
It is fair to say British sensation Moses Itauma, a rapidly rising star in the heavyweight division, doesn’t hate boxing anymore. The 19-year-old from Chatham, Kent, is being billed as ‘the next Anthony Joshua‘, the next golden boy, and has pledged to break Mike Tyson‘s record to become the youngest world champion in history.
And don’t bet against it. He signalled his arrival on the heavyweight scene with a thunderous debut, sending the Czech Republic’s Marcel Bode crashing to the canvas after just 23 seconds in London last year.
But it wasn’t love at first punch when he was dragged to the gym by his brother Karol.
‘I hated it, I wanted to play football,’ Itauma explains when he sits down with Mail Sport in his local Kent gym.
Moses Itauma, 19, has been dubbed the next Anthony Joshua and golden boy of British boxing
Itauma respects two-time heavyweight champion AJ and appreciates his accomplishments in and out of the ring, viewing him as both a role model and a measuring stick
‘Then when I was playing football, I found I got really bored of it. I didn’t enjoy spending my time just running after a ball.
‘So, I went back into boxing. But, training was tough. Especially as a nine-year-old. They used to put you through your paces and I just didn’t like it. But, it made me the man I am today.’
One thing Itauma did enjoy was the freedom boxing gave him. Having grown up under the watchful eye of his Nigerian father and Slovakian mother, Itauma says it was nice to be able to ‘f*** around’.
‘I liked going down to the gym because the boys were there,’ says Itauma – who was born in Slovakia but moved to England at the age of two.
‘We used to turn up to training two hours before we were due to start because we could just f*** around. It was better than being at home. Everybody knows Nigerian parents are strict. My dad has always been very strict so anything to get out of the house.
‘Plus, my parents never wanted me to get into boxing. My dad was always into book work like most Nigerian parents. When we first started boxing, my dad would be like, “no, you’re not going boxing until you finish your book work.”
‘I guess he wanted me to be a doctor or something. But I don’t blame him. I don’t think I’d want my kids to be boxers either.’
Itauma – who speaks with the conviction and confidence of a seasoned pro when discussing his rise to stardom – and his brother attended the Greenacre Academy in Chatham but focused more on their sporting endeavours than their academics – landing themselves in trouble for fighting in the playground.
Itauma has garnered a lot of attention following his impressive knockout victories
Mail Sport’s Charlotte Daly sat down exclusively with the rising heavyweight star at his gym
The teenager works and puts in the hard graft in the gym at Ragged School in Chatham, Kent
But, Itauma says, he was just standing up to bullies who were picking on kids half their size.
‘Until about Year 8, I was on the straight and narrow but after that I just didn’t take it seriously. I messed around a lot, had a few fights and got into a bit of trouble. But, I was never bad. The teachers loved me.
‘I always bullied the bullies. Me and my enforcer, Tyrone, if we ever saw any bullying going on we would do our best to stop it. We would go up them and start picking on the bullies. Obviously, I was a massive kid so I guess it meant I was able to do that.’
Despite towering over the other kids at 6ft 4in and weighing 17 stone by the age of 14, Itauma had his own issues with exclusion.
‘Normally in the European squads there’s a lot of travellers. I wouldn’t say I got bullied but I didn’t necessarily fit in. Instead of them welcoming me in, they kicked me out. So, when I was in school, I wanted to be the person that would bring people together rather than tear them apart,’ he says.
It wasn’t long before Itauma committed to boxing full-time and set his sights on breaking Tyson’s record to become the youngest world champion.
He hasn’t celebrated a birthday since he was 14 and narrowed his friendship group down to just one, Tyrone.
He’s spent hours shadow boxing in his room and caught up on sleep in his science lessons after training before and after school.
But it appears to have paid off as former world cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie still claims Itauma gave him the hardest spar of his career so far – and he was just 15 at the time.
‘That was a mad experience. I remember after sparring Lawrence, and I still have the messages on my iPad, he wrote me a whole paragraph telling me how he thought I was going to be great. I never believed him but I guess I am here now,’ he says.
The 19-year-old was born in Slovakia but moved to England at the age of two
Itauma beat Michal Boloz (right) during a Boxing Show at York Hall on December 1, 2023
Itauma hated boxing when he first started, throwing up after the first four sessions
‘I was doing my exams and my coach texted me saying I wouldn’t have enough time to go home to get changed before sparring so I had to bring my boxing stuff with me. My coach picked me up from school right after my science exam, we went straight to Joyce’s gym and I did six-seven rounds. When you think though, I was only 14, 15,’ Itauma says.
Itauma’s childhood was far from normal. He traded in his carefree days and indulgent diet for rigorous training sessions and disciplined nutrition. But the sacrifices, though daunting at first, have become a part of Itauma’s life and he wouldn’t change it.
‘It was a little bit isolating when I was younger. And I can’t exactly go to the pub and drink a load of pints now with the lads. But if you’re making a better future for yourself, I don’t feel like you’re missing out,’ he says.
‘I’d rather miss out on a few parties when I was a teenager and have big parties with celebrities when I’m older. I just know that I’m building a bigger and better future for myself and my family.’
Tyson beat Trevor Berbick in Las Vegas, Nevada to win the heavyweight title at the age of 20. The question is, will those sacrifices be enough to break Tyson’s record and become the youngest world champion in history? Itauma believes so.
‘I think I can do it. It was a lot more doable in Tyson’s era because you never really had the promoters and the mandatories. Even if I don’t achieve it, at least I’ll be up there in those sort of talks,’ he says.
‘I want to go into this year full steam ahead and become the youngest heavyweight world champion but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t. I’m not gonna cry about it. It’s a goal but sometimes you don’t achieve your goals so you just move on to the next one.’
It was another first round knockout that saw him move to 7-0 in his professional career
However, Itauma has said he’s only been happy with his last three performances
Itauma featured on the Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou undercard in Saudi Arabia
One thing Itauma is certain about is the level of opponents he wants to face in 2024 despite being told ‘there is no such thing as bums in boxing’ by Iron Mike while in Saudi Arabia fighting on the Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou undercard in October.
‘There are bums in boxing. If you go into a fight and you’ve lost in 23 seconds, you haven’t learnt anything. Just look at who I was fighting on my sixth fight compared to who Tyson was fighting on his sixth fight. There is a very big difference. For my sixth fight I boxed someone who had won 10 and lost one. He boxed someone who had lost six and won two,’ Itauma says.
‘I guess he just wants to defend his own career. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tyson. He’s achieved what I want to achieve. I never really looked up to him but I can appreciate him because he was a killer. He trained hard and he’s very smart. I listened to a lot of things he said and I want to take them on board but some things you have to filter out.’
One man he will listen to is AJ. Itauma respects the two-time heavyweight champion and appreciates his accomplishments in and out of the ring, viewing him as both a role model and a measuring stick.
‘I respect AJ. I’ve learned from him and he’s one of the fighters I used to watch growing up. Not so much in the ring, but outside of the ring,’ he says.
Itauma respects Tyson (above) but is looking to beat his record for being the youngest world heavyweight champion
Joshua recently beat Otto Wallin in Saudi Arabia on the Day of Reckoning card (above)
‘Before I turned pro I spoke to him, he probably won’t remember. My brother Karol was sparring Richard Riakporhe in Loughborough and he was training with Angel Fernandez at the time. So, I asked his cousin if I could have a sit down and talk with AJ because I go by the saying “never take advice from people you wouldn’t want to swap shoes with” and obviously AJ is someone I wouldn’t mind swapping shoes with.
‘So we sat down and we spoke for 30 minutes to an hour about what the best move of my career would be. And like I said, I do really appreciate him a lot. But, Anthony Joshua only started boxing at 18 and look what I’m already doing at 18.
‘I’m already a two-time national champion, a three-time European and World gold medallist. Then I signed with Frank Warren and I’ve already got seven fights under my belt in my first year. So, by the time I am his age I want to be done and dealt with.’
But when he does quit at the peak of his powers, what does he want people to remember?
‘I want people to look back and say “Wow! I lived through his era. I got to watch those fights.” So yeah, I always want to be in big fights and I always want to step up. People like Mike Tyson had a lot of fights with low quality, I want less fights but with higher quality,’ he says.
Itauma’s journey promises to be a captivating one. Whether he emerges as the next AJ or forges a unique legacy of his own remains to be seen. One thing is certain—the boxing world will be watching with anticipation.