WATFORD, ENGLAND -- Before Anthony Joshua punched his way to worldwide fame, the most famous boxer from Watford in recent years was Ojay Abrahams. But Ojay, unlike AJ, was known for losing.
Watford-born Joshua has knocked out all 20 professional opponents and puts IBF-WBA world heavyweight belts on the line against New Zealand's WBO titleholder Joseph Parker in Cardiff on March 31. Abrahams also recorded 20 wins -- but it was in a career of 100 fights that encompassed 76 defeats and four draws.
While their boxing careers are polar opposites, they were near neighbours in the Hertfordshire town, 25 kilometres north of London, until Joshua moved away aged 17. AJ knew Ojay as the neighbourhood boxer.
But Abrahams, now 53, spent most of his 17-year professional career accepting fights at short notice in bouts he was expected to lose. When people started talking about his win-loss record, Abrahams would say, "records are for DJs".
His life away from the ring was just as challenging. "I didn't have a mum or dad, I was in a children's home where I was abused," Abrahams told ESPN. He moved from that care home to Watford at the age of 15.
"I was homeless just before I turned professional when my son Cassius' mother walked out on us. I had to stay in a hostel for a while and had to raise him on my own from nine months old.
"I had a very different career to Joshua, very different. I had to take fights to put food on my boy's plate. I had to be a journeyman."
Abrahams launched his professional boxing career as a welterweight with promoter Barry Hearn, whose son Eddie would do the same with Joshua 22 years later.
Abrahams stopped Gordon Webster for a purse of £400 on what was a seismic night in British boxing history on Sep. 21, 1991. Later on the same bill in front of a 22,000 crowd at White Hart Lane, Michael Watson suffered life-changing brain injuries in his defeat by Chris Eubank for the WBO world super-middleweight title.
After four wins and a draw, Abrahams' career changed course. He never enjoyed a better spell.
"My career was going really well until I realised my promoter was really interested in Chris Eubank, Herbie Hide and Steve Collins more than me. He had bigger fish and wasn't really interested in me.
"I was undefeated after my first five fights but then lost a few and the promoter lost faith. I had no chance by then and I was struggling with the little boy so I became a journeyman. Financially, boxing saved me.
"I fought a lot of big names. I fought Carl Froch for seven grand, but I shouldn't have been in the same ring as him. He was a super-middleweight and I was a welterweight. I sparred with Eubank, Michael Watson before the first Eubank fight, Nigel Benn as well."
A well-liked figure on the boxing circuit, Abrahams came close to earning a British title shot and even became a champion -- of sorts -- when he stopped Lee Murtagh in 2001 to claim the British Masters middleweight title. It completed a lifetime ambition for Abrahams to become the town's first professional boxing champion since Alex Buxton won the British light-heavyweight title in 1954. "It might not be the most prestigious title, but it meant a lot to me," he says.
As Abrahams was getting close to his 100th and final professional fight, Joshua -- one of four children to first-generation Nigerian parents -- was getting into trouble while living on the Meriden Estate in Garston. At one point Joshua was even banned from Watford town centre and Abrahams first heard about the future world heavyweight champion for the wrong reasons.
"I heard of him in Watford growing up, [as] he's from just around the corner," Abrahams said. "He was a name that you didn't want to mess with. A name you that you didn't want to talk about because he was [up to] no good. He was a bit of a bad boy but he's done really well to come out of it to be where he is now."
Encounters with the police helped convince Joshua to follow his mum, social worker Yeta Odusanya, to set up home in Golders Green, north London. It was here that Joshua's cousin Ben Ileyemi introduced him to boxing aged 18 and where trainer Sean Murphy nurtured his talent at Finchley Amateur Boxing Club.
"He only started boxing in Finchley because he was banned from Watford," says Abrahams. "Sean Murphy, a good little boxer in his day, put him on the straight and narrow."
Joshua dedicated himself to boxing and transformed his life, shooting to fame as an amateur when he won the super-heavyweight gold medal for Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics.
After turning professional a year later, the 28-year-old is now arguably boxing's biggest global star after knocking out former world No. 1 Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley, a half-hour train ride from Watford.
Abrahams hopes to one day see Joshua in action, to hear the ring announcer introduce AJ as "from Watford, England". "I've seen him a few times but never met him and because of work I've not been able to go and see him live," said Abrahams, who is now a security guard and nightclub bouncer in St. Albans.
"He comes across as a really nice guy. He's had his moments with the police but no one is perfect and he's put his life right. He's a great example.
"I was very proud of Watford during my career and it's nice to see a boxer from Watford do so well. He's great for the town. The world heavyweight champion is someone everyone looks up to so for him to come from here is great.
"I tried to do it with my career. I was always trying to promote Watford and I've been happy to see AJ do well."
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