After being convincingly beaten in his previous two bouts against Oleksandr Usyk, the two-time heavyweight champion may need to make a statement when re-entering the ring in April.
While not a foregone conclusion, many boxing fans and pundits consider Anthony Joshua the heavy favourite for the upcoming clash against Jermaine Franklin at the O2 Arena, London on April 1st.
After back-to-back defeats against Oleksandr Usyk, the former champion is coming into this bout with his career on the line, being a must-win fight if he is to rebuild his image as a top contender in the heavyweight division.
Having taken a break from boxing after his shortcomings in the Usyk fights, Joshua makes his return with the expectation to perform and remind fans of why he was a heavyweight champion for five years.
Who is Jermaine Franklin?
His 29-year-old opponent stands at 6’2 and has a 77-inch reach, making him one of the naturally smaller heavyweights around these days, weighing in at his last fight at 257 pounds.
The 989 Assassin is also ranked 33rd on the BoxRec heavyweight list, having fought 22 times since going professional in 2015, holding a record of 21-1 with 14 wins coming by knockout.Embed from Getty Images
Anthony Joshua’s upcoming opponent Jermaine Franklin in action against Dillian Whyte at the Wembley Arena, London, November 26th 2022.
At the end of last year Franklin’s undefeated run in his career came to a close when he faced up against Anthony Joshua’s former foe, Dillian Whyte.
Despite losing to The Body Snatcher by majority decision in November, he did prove to be a tricky matchup for Whyte, as Franklin’s ability to trade at close quarters and toughness caused issues for Whyte at various points throughout the fight.
When speaking to DAZN about his upcoming bout against heavyweight goliath Anthony Joshua, the 989 Assassin did not seem convinced by Joshua’s record (24-3), when saying: “AJ does have a tough resume, but there are a few questionable fights on there earlier on.”
“The Klitschko fight, you beat up an older Klitschko, against a younger Klitschko I don’t think that fight would have went the way that it did,” said Franklin.
“The Usyk fight was questionable even though he lost it, but it was just the way he was fighting, I’ve seen better performances from him.”
When stepping in the ring with one of the most decorated cruiserweight champions of all time, many expected the WBA (Super), IBF and WBO heavyweight champion to use his size and strength to outmuscle Oleksandr Usyk, similar to how Derek Chisora gave the Ukrainian problems in his previous encounter.
However, Joshua’s timid nature to engage with Usyk and sit behind his jab allowed the smaller fighter to use his speed, footwork and superior gas tank to drain him down and was being beaten to the punch many times during the fight.
Usyk used all of the tricks in his arsenal, leaving Joshua discombobulated and well-beaten come the final bell, making history to become the third fighter to unify the cruiserweight division before moving up and winning a heavyweight title, alongside Evander Holyfield and David Haye.
Oleksandr Usyk celebrating becoming the heavyweight champion, after defeating Anthony Joshua in the first fight at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, September 25th 2021.
Although Usyk fought incredibly on the night, many questions were posed at how the former champion was unable to effectively use his size as a weapon in this fight, with promoter Eddie Hearn claiming that AJ ‘didn’t really know’ what the game plan was, suggesting that he was receiving ‘too much information’ from ‘too many points of view’.
Heading into the rematch in Saudi Arabia, Anthony Joshua returned to the soil where he won the belts back against Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019, after Ruiz shocked the world at Maddison Square Garden, New York to become the first-ever Mexican heavyweight champion, winning via TKO (technical knockout) in the seventh round.
After a critical level of investigation into the strategies deployed in the first Usyk fight, Joshua parted with long-term trainer Rob McCracken and appointed Robert Garcia as his new leading trainer for the rematch.
The 2012 Olympic gold medalist looked focused and ready to get to business in the press conference, saying: “Too much talking for me, less talking more action – let me just get in there and do my job.
“I’m definitely hungry, definitely desperate but how I perform will speak volumes to the masses.”
While more successful and dangerous than in the first fight, Joshua was once again unable to overcome Usyk for the second time of asking, officially losing his heavyweight belts in an agonising split decision for the Brit.Embed from Getty Images
Anthony Joshua embracing with Oleksandr Usyk after his second defeat in the ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, Saudi Arabia.
However, after seemingly exiting the ring in a frustrated but discreet manner, Joshua returned, throwing the belts out of the ring and in response to Usyk calling him strong, replied: “I don’t care about strong, I have to have skill. Being strong doesn’t win boxing”
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the media mega-storm that was about to strike, as he then proceeded to obtain a microphone and deliver an emotionally driven rant, evidently displaying his frustrations and discontent with the result.
Having passed the firestorm of backlash he received from the incident, Joshua opened up in a DAZN interview admitting his psychological issues since his losses to Usyk.
“You saw after my last fight. I swear to you, [it] just tore me apart. I had so much riding on it for me, the British fans, the undisputed fight. It just really tore me apart, so from a mental capacity, my close ones are telling me you should rest mentally. Physically I’m down to ride. I’m a warrior. I like this game, I like competing, but on a mental aspect I think people are really seeing that this means a lot.”
“Even if I’m not fighting I see my name getting called out everyday. So, it’s the mental pressure that’s being AJ as well. And obviously holding up a reputation as well, these type of things go hand in hand. It’s tough, man.”
When re-entering the ring on April 1st, Joshua will be facing a different type of pressure to which he battled with in his previous contest, being expected to overcome his opponent and begin his path to redemption.
With the weight of expectation on his shoulders and the potential effects that consecutive defeats could bring upon his ability in the ring, Joshua will yet again have to face the fire despite coming in as an overwhelming favourite against Jermaine Franklin.
Does Joshua need a knockout?
Since Franklin was unable to defeat Whyte in his last bout, Joshua may be required to deal with Franklin in a more emphatic fashion if he is to put his name back amongst the best in the division, having beaten Whyte by TKO after landing a right uppercut at the O2 Arena in 2015.
Heavyweight rival Deontay Wilder also piled on the pressure in mid-October, as the knockout artist devastatingly immobilised Robert Helenius in his comeback fight in mid-October inside the first round.Embed from Getty Images
Former WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder celebrating his sensational knockout over Robert Helenius at the Barclays Centre, Brooklyn, October 15th 2022.
A dominant early knockout would be the perfect way for Joshua to gain much-needed confidence and would excite fans, investing them into his redemption arc and setting up lucrative opportunities going forward.
Franklin may have never been knocked out in his career, but Joshua has the reach, size and skill advantage over his opponent, possessing all the tools necessary to cause his opponent a magnitude of problems.
If he can effectively weaponise his jab in this affair, the British heavyweight can use it to push Franklin back towards the ropes and establish the centre of the ring.
Forcing Franklin to be creative with closing the distance and fighting at a high pace would be advantageous for Joshua in this bout, as he showed signs of fatigue in his most recent clash against Whyte, having the most success in exchanges at close distance.
To be at his best against here, Anthony Joshua will need to display the courage to be proactive and to push the pace of this contest through controlled aggression.
Overcoming the mental wounds that were inflicted over the course of the two Usyk fights will be the biggest challenge of his career thus far and could tell the boxing fans a lot about his capabilities to potentially compete in future title fights.
Meanwhile, when talking to talkSPORT Boxing Franklin displayed complete belief in coming out victorious, saying: “If it’s not a knockout, then it’s a domination brutally.”
Jermaine will look to expose Joshua’s ‘scars,’ admitting that he aims to push the pace of the fight early to try and force mistakes, but will need to close the distance quicker than against Whyte if he is to trouble Joshua.
If he is able to stay in this fight and frustrate Joshua, he may be able to draw him into a slugfest, giving him the opportunity to land an overhand in the exchanges.
Overall, to regenerate the talk of Anthony Joshua being among the elites of the heavyweight division, a knockout in ravaging fashion would be a perfect reintroduction into the heavyweight division for one of the biggest names in the sport.