Anthony Joshua at a crossroads for Jermaine Franklin fight he cannot afford to lose
As much as he tries to deny it, Anthony Joshua finds himself at a crossroads. Lose to Jermaine Franklin and gone is his stock as a serious heavyweight after what would be a hat-trick of consecutive defeats.
Joshua is acutely aware of what’s at stake at the O2 Arena on Saturday night and yet goes into the fight far more relaxed than many of his more recent bouts. Ahead of Andy Ruiz Jr, there was a bullishness from both him and his team that they had cracked the UK and were now ready to take the US by storm.
Before Oleksandr Usyk, there was an edginess as he desperately tried to prove to himself and anyone else that would listen that he was technically the better boxer. All that happened was he fell into the trap of playing Usyk at his own game and being completely outboxed.
Gone are the world titles that – the brief Ruiz Jr hiatus aside – have been his for so long to lessen the pressure but there is the knowledge that Franklin, while an impressive heavyweight, is not in the same ballpark as Joshua. In fact, only Usyk, Tyson Fury and potentially Deontay Wilder can consider themselves better heavyweights.
Joshua has repeated the mantra throughout the build-up to this fight that all that matters is the win, by any means possible. But simply winning isn’t enough. Should it be little more than a workmanlike points victory, he is acutely aware the critics, whom he spoke of this week, will be as vocal as they were following that second Usyk loss.
An explosive knockout of old will go some way to quieten those disapproving voices as well as gain the attention of his rivals. With it, any talk of Joshua against Fury because increasingly realistic.
Franklin has spoken about putting Joshua on his backside and knows just how fallible he is having watched his defeats by Ruiz Jr and Usyk. And the American looks far fitter and bigger than he did in the points decision that went against him in his last fight against Dillian Whyte.
After two Usyk fights in the space of a year, Joshua looked tired not just by the defeats but by the expectation of it all and everyone wanting a piece of him. He called it the “kissing babies” expectation.
His great weakness is that he hates letting people down. It perhaps explains why he stayed with trainer Rob McCracken for so long when, in truth, he had stopped listening to him. And it is that same facet that has seen him pulled in too many directions, whether that be his myriad of endorsements or other out-of-the-ring activities.
Talking to him this week, he appears acutely aware of that. Taking himself out of London may well prove to be the master stroke for this final run of his career.
Dallas will supposedly be the scene of his rebirth and on Saturday he is determined not to let down his new trainer Derrick James, aiming to give a performance to show that he was worth the effort. James will be one of many waiting to see if he gets the right response.