Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Reinvention Of Anthony Joshua?

The latest chapter in the career of former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua began on April 1st in London, England under significant uncertainty and hype regarding what Joshua, who was working with a different trainer for the third time in as many fights, would look like coming off his second consecutive loss to undefeated unified WBO/IBO/IBF/WBA Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk, the man who ended Joshua's second reign as a world champion im 2021.

Although the declaration of both his promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and of Joshua himself that a loss to upstart Heavyweight content Jermaine Franklin would signal the end of his career was in some ways a classic way to hype a fight out of a promoter's handbook, it was fair to wonder if following his second loss to Usyk as to whether or not he could adjust his style now under the guidance of trainer Derreck James. It was also fair to question if after two setbacks, whether or not the losses to a master boxer in Usyk was indeed the start of a decline in Joshua.

In the interest of honesty with the reader, I did not buy the hype tactics that were whether one would admit it or not, were designed to generate interest in what was a non-title fight and one that lets be honest, had little impact in terms of the outcome on the current upper echelon of the Heavyweight division. What this fight did represent however, was both a chance for Joshua to get back on track and show that he was still a player in the division, as well as a chance for Jermaine Franklin to show that his performance in dropping a decision loss to longtime contender and former world title challenger Dillian Whyte late last year, which gave him the opening for this opportunity was no fluke and if he were to br successful in this fight, it would show that he is now a player in the division.

The only thing left for both Joshua and Franklin to do was to enter the ring before a crowd of nearly 20,000 spectators at London's O2 Arena to do battle. What stood out immediately was Joshua seeming to be more defined physically as compared to his rematch against Usyk in August by coming into this fight at a career high for him 255 1/4lbs, but despite being heavier, Joshua appeared to be solid and in great condition. Although Joshua had built his reputation prior to his three career losses to Andy Ruiz and twice to Usyk on his ability to score quick and often devastating knockouts, Joshua began this fight appearing tentative in that he did not look to impose his will immediately, but appeared instead to implement a strategy with an emphasis on technique. A focal point from the outset that would serve the former world champion greatly throughout the fight was his jab and his ability in using that jab to maintain a distance between him and Franklin.

While this was not necessarily the most entertaining of fights to watch if you were one that was expecting to see a quick knockout, it was clear as Joshua gradually began to put round after round in the bank by simply fighting tall and looking to box Franklin, that this would be a significant adjustment in his style. He was not aggressive, but tactical, was not devasting, but measured. One key aspect of this strategy that Joshua executed well as the taller fighter was that whenever Franklin was able to get close, he would immediately tie him up and put his body weight on Franklin. There have been times throughout history, most notably used by fighters such as the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, as well as Lennox Lewis with regard to the Heavyweight division, where the use of such tactics boardered on being illegal, but it often boils down to what a referee will let a fighter with those physical advantages to get away with before being admonished that will determine how much the fighter will tempt fate and try to use such tactics to their advantage.

In this case, though Referee Marcus McDonnell would caution Joshua periodically throughout the fight, Joshua did not step over the line where I would feel that he should have been penalized a point or further disciplinary action was needed. Having said that, Joshua’s use of holding did serve two purposes throughout this fight. One it allowed him to control the output of Jermaine Franklin and it also provided an immediate defensive tactic whenever Franklin was able to connect with solid punches most notably with his right hand.

Despite the periodic success Franklin did have in landing that right hand, he had no answer to avoid the jab of Joshia and he had no way to avoid being tied up on the inside when he was able to get close. This was the story of the fight in that one fighter had some periodic moments throughout, but he could not find a way to halt the offense or the rhythm that his opponent was able to establish throughout the fight as Joshua boxed his way to a wide twelve round unanimous decision victory.

Although this was probably not the way that Anthony Joshua, his promoter Eddie Hearn, or the fans for that matter envisioned a victory for him in this fight, the bottom line is he did get the job done and therefore, his performance in this fight, though different from his previous norm, was still successful. The obvious question for Joshua going forward will be whether he will troy to secure a fight with undefeated two-time Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury, current holder of the WBC world championship in the division now that negotiations for a fight between the champion and Oleksandr Usyk for what would be the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world have stalled if not outright broken down. 

It is indeed true that in regard to the United Kingdom, a fight between two of the sport’s biggest stars in Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua does carry more significance as both are based in the United Kingdom and each have drawn massive crowds for their fights often held in big outdoor stadiums. As tempting and lucrative as that might be, if I were advising Anthony Joshua I would stress the importance of staying active. 

Often times both for economic reasons as well as their stature in the sport, fighters who reach a level such as Anthony Joshua has in his career tend to lose sight of the importance of staying active by fighting on average once or twice a year if that between fights deemed as significant or title defenses assuming said fighter is a world champion. A concept that was part of the norm in the sport in decades past was that star fighters regardless of whether they were world champions or not fought regularly, some doing so every few months, and while the level of competition was not always the highest particularly when world champions would compete in non-title fights between defenses, by being active regularly it allowed the fighter to remain in what is often referred to as “Ring Shape” or “Boxing Shape” so that when a fight of significance did come along, their odds of performing well were at least increased. 

In the present time where fighters that are regarded as top level fighters or world champions are making millions of dollars each time they compete, it is hard to tell a fighter that they should be more active. In this case, if a fight against Tyson Fury is not available to him within a window of two to three months, this observer believes the best option will be for Joshua to simply fight whomever is available even if it meant that he might have to face a fighter of little regard that is not ranked highly in any of the five recognized world sanctioning organizations as by being active he will not only be able to polish and refine his skills and apparently a new style that he and his trainer Derreck James used in this fight against Jermaine Franklin, but by being more active than his contemporaries at the top of the division, it will improve his odds of success when the next opportunity to fight for a world title does come along.

While it is still unclear whether the version of Anthony Joshua we saw against Jermaine Franklin is a “Reinvention,” the best way to continue to improve and move on from those setbacks he has suffered throughout his career is to be as active as possible. Something that can only happen inside the Boxing ring and not by waiting by the phone while negotiations on the business side of the sport, hopefully, play itself out.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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