This coming Saturday night, Anthony Joshua returns to begin the probable third and final act of his heavyweight boxing career, pitting MGT 258’s main man against Michigan’s 989 Assassin, Jermaine Franklin.
Mr. Franklin earned this London arena scrap by giving Dillian Whyte a proper scuffle back in November, where his fleshy midriff and laidback all right, suggested that the Body snatcher might smash him to bits and expose an inflated unbeaten record.
Instead, we saw that old Franklin is actually no tomato can. Solid chin, quickish hands, and decent fitness. But at the same time, is Mr. Whyte coming to the end too, because he looked ponderous, a fraction behind the punch, and that crazy looping righty of his looked more pub car park than ever.
But maybe Jermaine Franklin forced that from him.
Whatever, come Saturday night, Anthony Joshua has a live opponent in front of him, who already looks in much better shape than he did against Whyte, and presents a comeback opponent that continues to bolster a CV that just cannot be questioned.
Most commentators feel that Tyson Fury is the best heavyweight of his era, following the 2015 nullification of Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf and the three-part LA to LV annihilation of Deontay Wilder between 2018 – 2021.
But in terms of record, it is almost impossible to critique the AJ timeline of opponents, starting in 2015 with Dillian Whyte, followed by; the then-unbeaten Charles Martin, followed by the then-unbeaten Dominic Breazeale, followed by Eric Molina, followed by Wladimir Klitschko in a unification clash, followed by late replacement, but ever-tough Carlos Takam. Let’s take a breath. Followed by Joseph Parker for further unification, followed by Alexander Povetkin, followed by late replacement Andy Ruiz.
OK, this was a loss, and we’ll come back to that, but to beat Ruiz easily behind the jab in the rematch, albeit against a grossly underprepared opponent, showed some real minerals, having been scrambled and humbled the first time.
Next was a good knockout win over Bulgaria’s tough nut, Kubrat Pulev, before running into Ukraine’s mercurial enigma, Oleksandr Usyk, twice and twice losing.
So, let’s take a proper look at Anthony Joshua.
It is impossible to critique AJ’s willingness to fight dangerous and competitive opponents across the nearly last eight years, something that no other active heavyweight has done. Not Wilder, and certainly not Fury, has a portfolio to even nearly match up. Joe Joyce is building something solid and may well fight only proper fights from hereon in, and good on him for that, but as of now, no one’s BoxRec comes near AJ’s amongst the active heavyweights.
So why has the once unstoppable Anthony Joshua Inc. crashed so dramatically? Because it has.
Where once, an AJ versus Anybody would have sold out a stadium in minutes, this key clash with Jermain Franklin beneath the dome of Greenwich’s 02 Arena, from where Joshua graduated nearly seven years ago in defeating Breazeale, remains far from sold out at the time of writing.
It is probably a number of things, so let’s take a look at them.
Like the UFC’s Jon Jones, there was always a feeling that Anthony Joshua’s gold medal, media trained, broadcast polished and brand ambassadorial given, made his businessman Jekyll very wealthy, whilst we all knew that his genuine Mr. Hyde, who looked after things in the ring, was the polar opposite.
In an age where authenticity is in very short supply, any hint of inauthenticity is devoured, and perhaps the real Joshua, who isn’t a facilities services middle manager but a prize-fighter, should just fully be himself beneath the banner of a mighty FU!
Authenticity is an easy one to fix. So, let’s hope he does, and it actually looks like he is following recent glimpses on TalkSport Radio and Matchroom’s YouTube channel, where in interviews, he has shown a world wearier outlook of whatever will be will be, and I’ll punch out the conclusion I can. Good stuff.
What is more difficult to change, and probably where Joshua’s deep problems lie, is that he genuinely doesn’t like to be hit and, when he is, looks truly bereft.
Ask Mickey Ward, Carl Froch, or Evander Holyfield if they like being hit, and well… but elite fighters get hit hard and bang on the chin too, like these guys did, yet somehow absorb and devour it before hitting back and harder.
For Anthony Joshua, he showed this ability himself against Wladimir Klitschko, but when Ruiz scrambled and scattered his senses in New York, the befuddled reaction from the defending favorite revealed a vulnerability that fighting men don’t usually reveal.
That summer night in Madison Square Garden back in 2019 is probably the crux of where we find ourselves, days before another ‘comeback’ fight.
Did AJ become too civilized with the glided help of Hugo Boss, Beats by Dre, Under Armour, Jaguar, Lynx, et al., or when the filth and the fury came a knockin’, was he always too civilized?
That said, following the blowout of Pulev, you have to respect that he happily accepted the mandatory challenge of Oleksandr Usyk, who like Tyson Fury, is a man born to fight and has spent his life-fighting.
The first fight was no beat down, but the Ukrainian was clearly and simply the better man. The same could be said of the rematch out in Jeddah around a year later, but AJ probably did a little better this time.
This is ironic because the real and absolute worry about Anthony Joshua was what happened following confirmation of Usyk’s split decision victory out on the shores of the Red Sea…
AJ grabbed and dropped Usyk’s WBA and Ring title belts over the ropes, stormed out of the ring, stormed back into it, and then grabbed the microphone to deliver an uncomfortable, expletive-studded monologue.
Those familiar Joshua tones slid outside of their usual pitch and polish as he skittishly covered everything from his early life struggles through Sonny Liston’s combination punching to the history of conflict in Ukraine before leading ‘complimentary’ cheers for the bemusedly dignified Oleksandr Usyk alongside him.
And that’s where we are right now.
Anthony Joshua lacks the warrior DNA of Tyson Fury, the mercurial lifetime indoctrination of Oleksandr Usyk, and the God-given artillery of Deontay Wilder, but through hard work, dedication, and an openness to learn, joins those guys as one of the best four heavyweights of this era, and that’s no mean feat.
Will he get past Jermaine Franklin on Saturday night? You’d think so. Will he get past Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, and even a third crack at Oleksandr Usyk thereafter?