Dr Ian Gatt may not be a popular name among boxing fans in Malta but the Maltese physio has established himself as one of the best in his job in the UK, particularly for his key role in the team of world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. Dr Gatt spoke with Valhmor Camilleri on his career and gave an insight of the Briton’s training regime…
Anthony Joshua’s rise to the top of world heavyweight boxing has been remarkable to say the least.
After his gold medal at the London Olympics, the Briton embarked on a professional career which saw him establish himself as a two-time heavyweight champion, having unified the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles for the majority of the time since 2016.
After every champion there is a team of professionals who are responsible for his physical and mental preparation.
One key member of Joshua’s team is a Dr Ian Gatt, a Maltese physiotherapist, who has established himself as one of the best in his profession, so much so that he has been employed by the English Institute of Sport where he has been promoted to Head of Performance.
Dr Gatt graduated as a physiotherapist at the University of Malta in 2000 and driven by his passion for sport he left Malta and headed to Greece who were hosting the Olympics in Athens four years later.
“In Greece, I was involved with the gymnastics team who were preparing for the Olympics but then during the Games I worked with the cycling team,” he said.
“After that experience I felt that I needed more and I headed to the UK where I followed my Masters in sports physiotherapy and when it was announced that London would host the Games in 2012, I made it a point to be part of the UK system.
“I was employed by the English Institute of Sport, which provides sport science and medical support services to elite athletes through a nationwide network of expertise and facilities. My first job was as a physiotherapist with the volleyball teams.
“Two years ago, I was promoted as Head of Performance where I have under my responsibility a team of physios and doctors as well as sports science experts together with several coaches who form a support squad of 45 boxers.
“It has been a great experience as I was part of the British contingent for the London Games as well as three Commonwealth Games editions as well as the European Games.
“I’m proud to say that during these Games I managed to meet some members of the Maltese contingent and that is something I really felt proud to do.”
During the last decade, Dr Gatt has established himself as one of the top experts in hand wrist and elbow injuries in sport and time and again is approached by
several athletes and fellow practitioners from other sport such as tennis, golf, rugby and football to help with his expertise.
Added to that earlier this year, he tried to give something back to Maltese sport when he organised a number of clinics for athletes from different sport such as boxing and weightlifting as well as fellow physios but this initiative had to stop with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Gatt has been working closely with Joshua since 2010 and was in his corner for his recent fight against Bulgarian fighter Kubrat Pulev where he successfully defended his belts with a ninth-round knock-out.
Dr Gatt said that apart from being a great boxer Joshua is above anything else a smart athlete.
“Anthony Joshua is one of the most dedicated athletes I have ever met,” Dr Gatt said.
“For me he is first an athlete and then a boxer. He is a very skilful fighter but what impresses most is his fitness as he is a 15- or 20-round boxer and that tells you a lot about how his athleticism.
“He only achieved that because he is driven to do that, and you cannot reach those levels if you are a part-time fighter. Prior to his fights he organises 12-week camps that will bring his whole team that includes strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, psychologists and management team. They work all together with the sole aim of leading him to the best possible condition so he can perform at his best.
“Even when he is not fighting, Joshua continues to train smartly with his team to ensure that he remains in good shape and protecting himself from niggling injuries that could curtail his preparation for future fights.
“AJ knows his body well and trusts the team he has around him. He knows they want to see him in the best possible shape.”
Despite having achieved so much success in his career, Dr Gatt said that Joshua has yet to reach his full potential.
“Anthony Joshua has surely not reached his peak neither as an athlete nor as a boxer,” Dr Gatt said.
“He is a student of boxing. In this sport, nobody can say that they have reached their maximum because every day they are pushing to get better. Anthony wants to learn on his body all the time and that is very important.
“Unfortunately, many people doubted him in his last fight against Pulev as they expected him to come out punching the same way he did against Ruiz.
“But it shows you that he can mix and match with his technical ability. He has the spin that he can be dominant with his performance but at the same time being equally dominant by maintaining his composure.
“One thing that AJ has learnt over the years is to listen to his corner about what tactics to use and that is what a good preparation for a fight is all about, making sure that you’re working with a team that you trust and that is continuously challenging you.
“As his team we give him the best advice and it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do and normally he sits down and listens to what we have to tell him, even if it’s not what he would like to hear. Then he analyses and decides what to do.”
Dr Gatt said that trust was a key component in the relationship that exists between Joshua and his entourage.
“For me, trust is essential in my job,” he said.
“A lot of people think that trust and respect come together but just because of your past achievements I don’t expect somebody like AJ to say ok I trust you. I feel really privileged to be in his corner, and he enjoys my company, which is also very important, but you can’t assume of having one’s trust as a given.
“I know that I need to prove to AJ that I am there for him every day throughout the year and ensure I give him the best support possible to push him always further and that is what convinces him to trust me.”
Dr Gatt said that Joshua shows his real class not only in his victories but also in the way he responds to adversity, particularly in the way he reacted to his defeat against Ruiz.
“There is a huge difference between Joshua and Deontay Wilder in how they respond to defeat,” Dr Gatt said.
“Wilder blamed everyone under the sun after losing to Fury while AJ showed class and integrity by saying, ‘Ok it happens, let’s go back to the drawing board and come back stronger.
“After the defeat to Ruiz, people criticised his coaching staff, but AJ stuck with them. He brought on some more coaches to strengthen certain areas and in the end, proved everybody wrong.
“People said that the fight against Ruiz was boring but boxing isn’t about who knocks the other on the day but who is the best boxer and has the best technical ability.
“Against Pulev, AJ showed that he can mix it up. He could have finished the fight in the third round but was smart to keep his composure and when the right time arrived he finished him off and that shows his class.
“In defeat boxers will know who his true friends are. When he lost to Ruiz, his dressing room was full as the whole team was there with him and the following day, we were still there to ensure that he is in a good state.
“At the end of the day, if you trust your athlete you need to keep supporting him, particularly after a defeat which is the most important time to show your support to him.
“That’s why he came back strongly last year and I can tell you he is a true athlete.”
Following his win over Pulev, there has been a lot of speculation on who will be Joshua’s next opponent with talk of a showdown with Tyson Fury.
But Dr Gatt said that the defending champion will be ready to fight anybody he is asked to.
“If the audience and the company want a fight against Fury, it would be fantastic,” Dr Gatt said.
“People say that AJ ducks from fights it’s not true. He just fights who they bring him to. If it is Usyk so be it but if promoters say it’s Wilder he will be happy to do it too.
“What I can guarantee is that AJ will continue to train properly and once the fight is announced, he will be ready. I’m sure Fury-Joshua is what the fans want to see, particularly when you have two boxers from the same country.
“But at the end of the day it’s not down to him, and if it’s either Fury or Usyk, AJ will be ready for the fight.”