ANTHONY JOSHUA believes a harsh 2019 toughened him up perfectly for Kubrat Pulev tomorrow.
On his US debut last June he cherry-picked Andy Ruiz Jr to be the perfect push-over to help launch him into a Deontay Wilder undisputed battle.
But the tubby Mexican stunned him, with four deckings inside seven rounds and some critics even accused AJ of quitting the bout while standing in his corner recuperating.
The 31-year-old rebuilt at his Sheffield Team GB training base, under mentor Rob McCracken, and raced back to outpoint Ruiz last December.
And the WBA, IBF and WBO champ says he first pro loss, the fall-out and the resurrection have helped forge him in steel.
"The pressure I went through last year was tough," he said.
"But it made me mentally stronger and gave me a thicker skin.
"I have always been tough and wanted to fight the best.
"I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"The only way to be successful is to take big challenges and this is another one to be competing with.
"Just because I took a little loss to Ruiz, that has not changed me. I have a lot of character. We all train hard but it's character that separates us."
British fight fans have been dining out on AJ's success since his 2012 London Olympic gold.
But he now has competition from Tyson Fury whose comeback from a doping ban and a mental health breakdown has captured the hearts and minds of a huge chunk of the nation.
Joshua's popularity has undoubtedly taken a small hit but he insists he is in the hurt business for cracking jaws, not slapping backs.
"I want to promote boxing," he said. "But I don't want credit.
"I am hungry and I want to feed my family and do business with my friends.
"The world is my oyster but I cannot expect anyone to love me unless I love myself so that's why I put the work in every day."
AJ revealed last week that he had allowed some of his sparring partners to batter him in training, without him firing back, to build resilience.
But he claims it should come as no surprise to his fans as he has been wiping off whacks from the biggest and baddest men on the planet since 2008.
He said: "I have been fighting at the top level ever since I walked into the gym and had a three-year amateur career with European, World and Olympic championships.
"I have been punched by the strongest people many times but I am still here and that has never changed me.
"I am going into this fight, I am definitely going to get hit and he is going to get hit too, so it will be the last man standing."
Trainer Rob McCracken has kept the gameplan top secret and the media were even banned from Wednesday's supposedly 'open' workout.
But the boxing mastermind did again suggest Joshua was damaged going into that shock Ruiz defeat at Madison Square Garden.
McCracken said: "He's had a great camp, we have done more boxing sessions, two-a-day in some cases.
"His athleticism and strength is phenomenal and people don't realise that until they get in the ring with him.
"Anthony fights all the best fighters out there, he doesn't duck anyone.
"He's gone through a learning experience, he wasn't 100 per cent going into the first Ruiz fight but he took the rematch the next day and won it comfortably."
Pulev has been fun around the Wembley hotel bubble, regularly lighting up the lounge room with games of giant Jenga.
But the 39-year-old veteran knows the clock is ticking down on his chance to finally become a world champion, after losing the original 2017 clash with Joshua due to injury.
Pulev said: "I am ready to fight, I have been waiting since 2017.
"In 2017 I was 36 or 37 and I had injuries and couldn't fight or train but now I am happy.
"I am not 22 years old, I don't have time, but the fight is here and I am ready for the win."
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