Anthony Joshua must fight Dillian Whyte (not Tyson Fury) next as mental scars hamper grand return
There is always a lot of hype around Joshua in the days leading up to his fights. He went into Saturday night's bout vs Franklin having lost three of his past five fights and even though he was stepping down to fight at the O2 Arena instead of a stadium, the aura around Joshua remains. His fans - and even his naysayers - were clamouring to see how he would respond to back-to-back defeats against Oleksandr Usyk and the changes new trainer - Derrick James - has implemented during their Rocky-style training camp in Texas. Franklin was viewed as an ideal return opponent. The American suffered his first career defeat against Dillian Whyte last year, though many believed the visiting fighter did enough to win on points. Despite this promising performance, Franklin is a much lower level of opponent than Joshua has been used to of late and the Brit was being afforded a platform to make a big statement. Boxing fans were calling for this, with Joshua being viewed as the fighter capable of reviving the heavyweight division following the collapse of Fury vs Usyk. Had the former two-time world heavyweight champion returned to the Joshua of old against Franklin, boxing would be abuzz with fights against Fury, Deontay Wilder or Joe Joyce potentially in the pipeline. It is easy to get caught up in the hype of fight week and I like many others expected Joshua to walk down Franklin and win in devasting fashion. But anyone who has watched Joshua recently will know that this was always going to be unlikely, especially with Franklin having a great chin. Joshua has become a more methodical fighter in recent years and he is now too wary of the punches coming his way after his wars against Wladimir Klitschko and Andy Ruiz Jr. He is not at the level of Fury or Usyk when it comes to boxing IQ. But he arguably has the edge over his two rivals when he is throwing hell for leather in pursuing stoppage victories. But as Joshua has suffered a crisis of confidence, he has become punch shy and less willing to let his hands go as he did earlier in his career. He has made the right move to work with James - Errol Spence and Jermell Charlo's trainer - and to train in the states away from all the noise that comes with him when he's in the UK. But James has a lot of work to do if he is going to help Joshua return to the summit of the heavyweight ranks. Joshua looked good in stages against Franklin, who was comfortably beaten on points. But his positive work was not sustained, and flurries of punches were far too sporadic. His onslaughts lacked spite and he looks miles away from the cold-hearted killer who relished knocking out his opponents with ease during his initial rise to world glory. There was a lot of talk in the build-up as well as post-fight over a potential matchup with Fury, who is without an opponent ahead of the summer. Taking aside the potential bad blood between the fighter's camps, there is no reason why this all-British mega-fight cannot happen next. Fury does not have any mandatory challengers waiting in the wings and the Joshua bout is still the division's most lucrative fight.
Joshua put the ball in Fury's court by calling out his rival after defeating Franklin via unanimous decision.
This is a fight that should have happened multiple times already. While fans and the wider public will lap up this event, if you are Joshua, you do not take it next. In his current mental state, you have to feel that Fury will trounce Joshua in and out of the ring and the bout would be quite one-sided in the favour of 'The Gypsy King'. Joshua wants all of the smoke, and he should be commended for that. But he would be wise to give himself time to build under his new training team before taking on the challenge of facing a fighter of Fury's calibre. Instead, a rematch against Whyte would make sense. He showed last year against Franklin that he is not the fighter he once was so a rematch with him would be a similar level of test as the one Joshua has just faced. Both men are at a crossroads in their careers, there is legitimate tension between the pair and the bout is an easy sell that could return Joshua to a stadium in the summer. A win over Whyte would be another step in the right direction for Joshua and maybe then we would get a clearer idea of whether he can return to the top because, at the moment, the critics are out.
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