Updated:Mar 29, 2023 7:48 pm
It seems a long time now since the early pro career of Anthony Joshua. After winning Olympic gold in 2012, his public image may have been artificial and stage-managed, but his fights were not. Until his up-and-downer with ageing former champ, Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, AJ appeared a fearsome seek-and-destroy heavyweight, capable of walking through anyone.
Never technical and cute, like Tyson Fury, but certainly displaying greater punch variety than the likes of Deontay Wilder, that version of Joshua had a nice, balanced style. He would stalk, use his jab, wait for the right time, and then let his hands go. When he did, he showcased devastating front-foot combinations. Opponents simply could not cope.
Joshua had been hurt to the body by Dillian Whyte in a British title showdown in 2015 and seemed to navigate past that unscathed. But when Klitschko rocked him with an uppercut, then put him down in the sixth round of their contest, he was on queer street for several rounds afterwards. The AJ who came out on the other side seemed to have learned a worrying lesson.
He found that he could be badly hurt. And quite reasonably perhaps, decided that he did not like that.
Most of us would make a similar judgement and arrive at the same conclusion. Such straightforward thinking could even be described as ‘common sense.’ But common sense doesn’t always work in boxing.
The new and apparently gun-shy AJ made long work of opponents he once would have blitzed. When he was eventually toppled by Andy Ruiz in 2019, it somehow felt inevitable. Someone, sooner or later, was going to do that to him. He got hurt and stayed hurt. Ruiz never let him off the hook. In the rematch of the same year, a more lightly muscled AJ regained his titles, beating a poorly prepared Ruiz simply by circling and sticking out his jab.Embed from Getty Images
In some ways, that may have been the worst thing that could have happened. In avenging that loss, AJ the destroyer convinced himself that he could be AJ the tip-tapper, the master boxer. Despite not taking up the sport until his young adult years, he would beat men who had dedicated themselves to it since childhood through technical mastery.
Oleksandr Usyk convincingly put the folly of that belief to bed. In both fights with the Ukrainian maestro, Joshua failed to capitalise on his physical advantages. Between them, AJ, by then confused and lacking a fighting identity, parted with long-term trainer Robert McCracken. He sought, he said, a new way.
A famous tantrum followed the second Usyk loss, which prompted a lot of public soul-searching. Robert Garcia, the trainer brought in to replace McCracken, was relieved of his duties, to be eventually replaced by Derrick James.
The results of this ongoing quest for AJ’s elusive truth will soon be revealed. Boxing, more so than most sports, is a mental game.
Joshua says he is “starting fresh” because of this latest change as if his recent psychological challenges have been cured by the new coach. He states he will retire if he loses on Saturday against American Jermaine Franklin, a high stakes statement, but one which makes sense, given that a defeat leaves him nowhere to go.
World In Sport Prediction
Franklin lost to Dillian Whyte last time out. He is a tidy enough boxer, with fast hands for a big man, but is the sort of opponent the old AJ would have walked through. At 6 ft 2, with a 77 inch, Franklin is physically small for a modern heavyweight and does not appear to have the power to test Joshua’s resolve.
If AJ has truly gotten over the fear factor which has plagued his recent career and opens up, he could dispatch Franklin by the middle rounds. If not, and he puts in another tentative showing it could become a difficult night.
Joshua to win by stoppage before round 10.