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‘Anthony Joshua used cardboard for shin pads at Sun Sports’

Reece Bellotti will sign off his first year as a professional by featuring on Anthony Joshua’s undercard this weekend – less than ten years after he used to share the same football field in Watford as the heavyweight sensation.

Bellotti, who turned 25 on Monday, will take on Samuel Escobar, the super-bantamweight, in a four-round bout at the O2 Arena on Saturday and will be looking to make it five pro wins out of five. Joshua tops the Bad Intentions bill on the Matchroom card when he fights Dillian Whyte in a potentially explosive clash for the British heavyweight title.

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Bellotti followed Joshua into the ring at the last big Matchroom show in September, with Joshua making mincemeat of Gary Cornish and Bellotti winning on points against Adel Hadjouis.

It was not that long ago the pair came out of the same dressing room at Bellmount Wood Avenue, playing for two different teams at Under 16 level for Sun Sports.

“I’ve known him [Reece] for a while now,” Joshua told us. “I started as a striker and when I started developing, they moved me into defence.”

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Promoter Eddie Hearn said to us that Bellotti, who weighed in at 125lbs for his last fight, used to mark the 244lbs Joshua when the two Sun Sports sides met.

“He weren’t bad,” said Bellotti. “He’s wasn’t the size he is now but we got along. I think he was centre forward and I was the little one at the back.”

Stuart Atkins is a former classmate of Joshua at Kings Langley School and played in the same Sun Sports team as the heavyweight powerhouse who grew up on the Meriden Estate in Garston.

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“We played him up front on his own as he was so strong and just used to terrorise teams,” Atkins told us. “I remember Evergreen were the top dogs and we beat them five or six nil and Femi (Joshua’s nickname among his close friends) scored four times.”

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“I remember also when we played away at St Albans and he didn’t have any boots or shin pads. He had size 14 feet so he borrowed my dad’s [boots] even though they were about two sixes too small and played with cardboard down his socks for shinpads. He was a big friendly giant but as soon as there was competition he was a different person but in a nice way. He had loads of pace and you just knew he would be special at something.”