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What happened when Tyson Fury sparred Anthony Joshua 10 years ago?

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joshua-fury-getty-ftr (Getty Images)

There's a good chance that WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight king Anthony Joshua will do battle with fellow Brit and current WBC titleholder Tyson Fury next year in what would be one of Britain's biggest ever boxing fights. There's also a small chance all four of those belts will remain in play when that happens, making it a battle to be the undisputed champion of the world.

But as the fight sport community clamours for Joshua vs. Fury, and as both behemoths engage in mind games and trash-talk before a contract has even been signed, it's worth remembering that the two have traded shots once before — in a sparring session 10 years ago.

Of course, when two boxers spar one another and then later prepare for the real thing, it often descends into bickering over who had the upper hand. One fighter's word against the other.

A good recent example is when lightweights George Kambosos Jr. and Lee Selby did battle on Oct. 31, beneath Dereck Chisora and Oleksandr Usyk. Both men claimed they took the other to school when they trained together years prior. Both cannot be telling the truth: at least one of them was embellishing. And even though Kambosos earned a big victory on fight night, we'll likely never know what really happened when they sparred.

In the case of Fury and Joshua, however, there is a clear record of what went down — one that contradicts just about everything "The Gipsy King" says about "AJ" these days.

Back in 2010, Fury was a 22-year-old heavyweight prospect with only a dozen professional fights to his name. Joshua, meanwhile, was only 20 and on the hunt for amateur boxing titles. Olympic gold on home soil at London 2012 was still some time away.

Fury called in to chat to Steve Bunce on BBC Radio London. At the time of the interview, Fury had just departed the gym where he sparred with his likely future opponent and was on his way home.

"I just went down to Finchley Boxing Club and sparred the ABA champion Anthony Joshua," Fury told Bunce. "He's red hot him, very good.

"To be honest with you I thought, 'I'll only take it easy because he's only an amateur and he probably won't spar me again if I go mad'.

"He rushed out at me, he threw a one-two and left hook and bash, he hit me with an uppercut right on the point of the chin. If I'd had a weak chin like David Price I'd have been knocked out for a month.

"He's very, very, very good and he's only young. Watch out for that name, Anthony Joshua, he is one prospect for the future."

It is particularly telling how positive Fury is of Joshua here, while at the same time making a point of inserting David Price's name into the conversation. At the time, Price was a rival heavyweight prospect of Fury's, and one many British fans hoped to see do battle with the current WBC champ while they were both undefeated, similar to how Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois recently went toe-to-toe.

Now that Joshua is the clear and present threat, Fury's tone in public has miraculously changed. However it's likely he retains a great deal of respect for the Londoner's ability and would take a 2021 showdown extremely seriously.

Fury continued on the call to Bunce: "I'm a good prospect, I rate myself as one of the top heavyweights in the world and he came at me for three rounds and he gave me a beating.

"I am not going to deny it. He gave what for, hell for leather. I thought, 'an amateur is killing me'.

"I slowed him down with a few good body shots. The kid is only 20. I'm a handful myself, so for him to put up a good performance like that against a top prospect in me, I think he's one for the future.

"But sparring isn't fighting and fighting with a head guard is not professional boxing."

It's fair to say Fury's account comes across as very honest, and balanced. It's a far cry from his usual proclamations, calling everyone "dossers" and recently predicting he would finish Joshua inside three rounds.

He was also right when he stressed the difference between sparring and fighting. That said, it didn't stop him from singling "AJ" out as one for the future.

And, of course, the difference between head guards and the pros is now irrelevant. Joshua is a two-time world champion, sans headguard, and has avenged his only defeat at a pro.

If nothing else, this archive footage, described by BBC Sport boxing correspondent Mike Costello as "gold dust," is a handy reminder that behind all the trash-talk both men know exactly what the other is capable of.

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