Anthony Joshua fights 21-1 contender Jermaine Franklin on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. He can’t win. That’s not to say beating the 29-year-old Michigan man is beyond him. In fact, in all likelihood, Joshua will have his hand raised this weekend. But the idea he cannot win is born out of the reaction to this fight and the likely aftermath of it.
A groaning populace were quick to chastise Joshua for taking this fight in the first place. While Franklin is not the first name on any heavyweight’s “dream fight” list, he is a respectable pro. ‘989 Assassin’ just gave former world title challenger Dillian Whyte all he could handle, winning the fight in the eyes of many despite losing on the cards.
The backlash to Franklin’s selection shows a disconnect in terms of what casual fans expect from boxers. ‘AJ’ is coming off a run of 12 consecutive world title fights. By any measure, he has earned a more straightforward assignment. This is especially true when you realise the same standards are not applied to his peers.
Joshua is getting pelters for facing a once-beaten fighter in his physical prime. WBC champion and domestic rival Tyson Fury has just defended his title against Derek Chisora. ‘Del Boy’ lost for the 13th time on the night and for the third time to Fury himself. The British public want their fighters matched tough, some tougher than others though it seems.
Joshua is also in need of a rebuild. Having lost three of his last five bouts, once to Andy Ruiz Jr and twice to Oleksandr Usyk, you can forgive the Olympic gold medalist for going back to the drawing board. Taking a step back in your quality of opposition after a poor run of form is common in combat sports. The fact that a nitpicky fanbase want to act like Joshua is the first fighter to take this route is embarrassing.
This is especially so given it’s not a rewarding route to take. Financially it doesn’t pay off, as evidenced by the slower-than-usual ticket sales for an ‘AJ’ outing. There is also the prevailing sense that this is a fight Joshua can’t win. Not as a consequence of his opponent’s abilities, which if anything have been underestimated. But rather due to the fact that it is hard to envisage an outcome that will satisfy Joshua’s many critics.
If the two-time unified champion knocks out Franklin in double-quick time, people will say Franklin was a weak opponent. If the American puts up another impressive effort and runs Joshua close, as he did against Whyte, then people will say ‘AJ’ is finished at world level. From minute one to minute 36, there is nowhere in this fight where Joshua could end it and satisfy his doubters. If he doesn’t end it at all and actually loses it, then there is no coming back.
For a decorated amateur and professional, Joshua rarely gets his due. He has suffered for his aloof nature in the eyes of a public besotted by Fury’s “you big dosser” brashness. Like Lennox Lewis before him, the British public have failed to fully warm to a fighter who has achieved so much because he lacks the everyman approach of a rival. For ‘AJ’, read Fury. For Lewis, read Bruno.
At this stage, Joshua would do well to simply block out the noise and do what he does best. Focus on entering an impressive performance against Franklin, come what may. He is a bankable name and a victory will likely secure further paydays. A Joshua victory would also help him to reestablish himself after back-to-back defeats. The battle for hearts and minds can wait. Right now Joshua’s only battle is with Jermaine Franklin.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change