Dillian Whyte defeated Jermaine Franklin on Saturday night to set up a potential blockbuster rematch with Anthony Joshua.
Joshua arrived here 20 minutes before Whyte’s walk to the ring, but it was a late, late showing from the Brixton fighter who laboured through the contest until late on, almost stopping his foe in the final seconds of round 12. That vigour might have been shown earlier by Whyte as the contest was scored 115-115 and 116-112 on two of the cards in favour of the home fighter.
Asked by Telegraph Sport if he would fight Whyte next, Joshua responded: "Yes, why not Whyte, but there are no shortage of opponents and it won’t be hard to find an opponent to fight me. If you listen to what Fury says, it’s up and down [to fight me]. But I’m sure he’ll fight me. I don’t think his dad will let him not fight me.
"His dad’s a proper guy, I like his dad. So yeah, Fury or Wilder [in 2023]. Both of them will be a good night and a hard night’s work. But yeah, 2023 is Fury or Wilder – or potentially both.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn added, on Joshua: “To get two of Dillian Whyte, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder in 2023 would be a great year [for Joshua]. To get all three of them would be fantastic, but we won't get carried away just yet. AJ wants the big fights. He also knows, when we talk about Dillian Whyte being in the last phase of his career, AJ’s coming up to that phase as well. He’s got to get it right."
There was not too much that would have worried former world champion Joshua, Whyte winning a one-paced fight in which he battled against a determined, undefeated American fighter who took his moment against a top-10 box office heavyweight. Franklin showed a great chin, heart and resilience. Whyte was Whyte, yet without the explosive moments that we have witnessed from the power-punching heavyweight.
In a cagey, close first round as they felt each other out, Franklin showed his hand speed and balance as Whyte looked for openings. There were few, but into the second and Whyte worked his jab to the head and body of his foe, and opened up on the American’s body.
Whyte attacked in the third with an uppercut and several hooks to the body, though Franklin held his own and answered with counters. In the fourth, Franklin looked composed on the back foot, throwing combinations as Whyte looked to advance but his rival held strong.
They stood toe to toe for much of the fifth, exchanging body shots, with little to separate them. A right hook appeared to hurt Whyte with a minute left in the sixth, though Whyte, under fire from a series of punches, grinned back at his opponent as the bell tolled to mark the mid-way point of the contest.
Whyte set up his own assault early in the seventh, and in the final minute unleashed punishing blows though Franklin responded with his own arsenal of punches. There was little to separate them. Indeed, whatever Whyte did, Franklin matched him, and so they proceeded into round eight, the Briton needing to show more urgency and vigour. It got worse for Whyte as the ninth came to a close.
He had pressed his opponent for most of the round but was under pressure in his own corner after shipping a big left hook. Whyte hustled through the tenth and ended the round with a right hook which wowed the crowd, and came on strong in the championship rounds to win a close fight.
Whyte admitted afterwards that he was "fighting to a new set of instructions", under new trainer Buddy McGirt, revealing his corner told him to stay behind his jab. "An undefeated heavyweight's the hardest thing to beat on this planet," Whyte said. "He's undefeated and he's got a lot of beans in his body. His stock rose tonight. I could've probably been a bit more active and let off a few more big shots."
Earlier, rising talent Fabio Wardley defeated Nathan Gorman to claim the Lonsdale belt for the British heavyweight title in his fifteenth contest. The 27-year-old Ipswich fighter, a protege of Whyte, indulged in a three-round war with Gorman, out-timed to the punch in the opening round, yet dazzling with speed and power in the second, dropping the more experienced fighter twice. That said, the victor’s nose was cut and bloodied in the second as the two fighters exchanged heavily toe to toe. Come the third round, Wardley was hunting for power shots, his right hand battering his foe to the floor once more. He is one to watch.
But if British fight fans are looking forward to major heavyweight fights in 2023 – which will hopefully include Tyson Fury against Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight title if Fury defeats Derek Chisora for a third time at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next Saturday night, which the Gypsy King is expected to do – Whyte’s sequel with Joshua is one to savour.
It will not be for a title, but rivalry and revenge, with Whyte having told Telegraph Sport that “avenging defeat is bigger than winning a world title.”