Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Joshua-Franklin: Can Joshua Bounce Back?

Only with the rarest of exceptions, one would be hard pressed to not find a fighter in the sport of Boxing or to take it a step further, all of combat sports, that has not at one time or another experienced a setback or several throughout the course of their careers. This is one reason why veteran writers/journalists/historians such as this observer will refer to what a fighter goes through during the course of their careers as "Chapters" in the story of that career. The story of former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua is one that is about to embark on a new chapter that one might have the working title of "The Rebuild?" or "The Comeback." 

Without delving too much into the backstory of how we got here to what will be the start of what is essentially phase three of Joshua's career, the conclusion of the previous chapter was Joshua's failure to regain his title for second time in his rematch against undefeated unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk in August of last year, Usyk, the man who took the unified portion of the World Heavyweight championship from Joshua and ended his second reign as champion over a year earlier.

While Joshua fought a better fight in the rematch with Usyk, he was still unable to get the job done. In hindsight, even though Joshua had an immediate rematch clause, which he exercised to get another fight with Usyk, there are likely some who question the wisdom of that decision even though he was simply out boxed by a master tactician both times and was not knocked down or out in either bout. Now Joshua prepares to try and get his career back on track as he will face Heavyweight contender Jermaine Franklin on Saturday, April 1st at the O2 Arena in London, England. A bout that can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN.

Although there is the similarity of both Joshua and Franklin coming into this fight off of losses, Franklin's loss in November of last year to former world title challenger and former Joshua opponent Dillian Whyte, established the previously unknown native of Saginaw, MI as a Heavyweight contender. It was in that fight where Franklin, who entered that bout unbeaten in twenty-one professional fights, dropped a twelve round majority decision to Whyte, but arguably came out of that fight looking more like a winner then Whyte did as there were several including yours truly who felt that Franklin deserved the decision. Perhaps, it was that consensus opinion as well as Franklin's performance in that fight where he seemingly outworked Whyte in a fight that was not the most entertaining to watch, which has resulted in him getting this chance against the former champion Joshua.

This will be Joshua's first fight and second connective fight with a new head trainer in his corner. After previously working with trainer and former world champion Robert Garcia for the rematch with Usyk, this time Joshua has enlisted trainer Derrick James to be his coach. James has trained several world champions, much like Garcia, including current undefeated IBF/WBA/WBC Welterweight world champion Errol Spence, among others. The obvious question that is asked whenever a new trainer takes over the reins of an established star in the sport is what new elements or wrinkles can that new trainer bring to the table in terms of hopefully helping improve and evolve that fighter's skillset.

In this case, I believe most would concede that even though Joshua fought a better fight the second time around against Usyk and that fight was closer than the first encounter, at no point in either fight did Joshua assert his naturally bigger size and strength on Usyk, who at that point was an undefeated former Undisputed Cruiserweight world champion, who also showed mixed returns in terms of his ability to handle Heavyweights in his previous Heavyweight bouts prior to facing Joshua. Whether it was a case of Joshua being under prepared in either of those fights or perhaps complacency in underestimating just how good and skillful Oleksandr Usyk is, I believe many would say that whatever the case was, it was the wrong strategy.

Many will of course remember that Joshua began his pro career with a string of quick knockouts. While that certainly helped him move up the ladder of contention quickly and eventually to a world title, a problem that many fighters that are able to have a similar rise up the ranks run into at some point is not having a Plan B when an opponent is prepared for and able to withstand their punching power. In Joshua's three losses, first to Andy Ruiz, then the two against Usyk, an argument can be made that not only did Joshua not have a Plan B, but he also did not recognize the need to adjust whatever plan he had in those fights when it became clear that his strategies were not working. The challenge for Derrick James is not only to find a way to reinstill Joshua's instincts as a power puncher, but also, giving him the mental aspects to recognize when a change of approach is needed, as well as a way to tactically implement it.

In terms of the opposition, Jermaine Franklin is still largely unknown from the standpoint that it is not known how he will respond to a fighter with Joshua's power. What can be said however, is he was able to withstand the best of what Dillian Whyte threw at him and in addition to seemingly being able to outwork him over the course of the fight, Franklin also proved to be durable. The question is whether or not that was a case of Franklin catching Whyte on an off night or more of a circumstance of Franklin not getting the benefit of exposure on television consistently prior to that fight that was the reason why he was able to turn in a performance that many did not expect.

Given what happened in that fight in Franklin coming out on the losing end of a decision many felt he deserved, it will also be interesting to see if Franklin approaches this fight a bit more aggressively in an effort to keep the outcome out of the hands of the three official judges. One should also keep in mind, despite Anthony Joshua's reputation as a "Knockout Artist," he has been caught, hurt, knocked down, and knocked out before. As such, even though Franklin has had limited exposure up to this point, the possibility certainly exists that Joshua can be caught and the beauty of Boxing is after all, "Anything Can Happen At Any Time." Whether Franklin, who has fourteen knockouts in his twenty-one career wins, has the power or the timing to be able to catch Joshua as Andy Ruiz was able to do when he knocked him out in their first fight in June 2019, remains to be seen.

While there is not much "Hype" at least from yours truly, beyond the simple quote that indeed anything can happen, which should not be viewed as "Hype" more than it should be taken as "Common Sense," promoter Eddie Hearn, who has prompted Joshua for his entire career, has started that if Joshua were to lose this fight, it might signal the end of his career. Although that should be taken in context as a promoter's primary job is after all, to generate as much interest as possible to both sell tickets as well as to hopefully, move the needle for lack of a better term for their broadcaster, in this case DAZN, I do not necessarily believe that should he lose this fight that Joshua would be finished as a fighter because he is one of the biggest stars in the sport, particularly in the United Kingdom where he has routinely drawn massive crowds in stadiums for his fights.

A loss however, would at minimum take Anthony Joshua out of the world championship picture for a period of time and it would be dishonest to say that the onus is not on Joshua in this fight and obviously with that, there is pressure. On the other side of the equation, much as was the car prior to his bout with Dillian Whyte, Jermaine Franklin has nothing to lose and everything to gain. No matter how well regarded a fighter might be, their stature in the sport, and how dominant they might be, the longer a fighter's career continues, the competition will get tougher with time and the possibility of a loss is always there. How Part 3: Chapter 1 in the story of the career of Anthony Joshua is ultimately written remains to be seen. 

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

Joshua vs. Franklin takes place on Saturday, April 1st at the O2 Arena in London, England. The bout as well as it's full undercard can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning with The DAZN Boxing Show: Before The Bell, which will feature preliminary bouts beginning at 11:45AM ET/8:45AM PT. This will be followed by the main card, which will begin st 2PM ET/11AM PT.

(* U.S. Times Only*) 

(*Card and start times subject to change.*)

For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, availability around the world, local start times in your area, and to subscribe please visit:

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