According to media reports, former 3-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua will be making his return to the ring April 1 at the O2 Arena in London against Jermaine Franklin.
Why Franklin, who is coming off a November 26 loss to Dillian Whyte, of all people? It’s simple matchmaking logic for a fighter who desperately needs a high-profile win, but isn’t quite ready for a high-profile challenge. It’s because Joshua’s people feel “AJ” can beat Franklin spectacularly.
Franklin, a Saginaw, Michigan native, was brought in to face Whyte back in November to, frankly, play the part of a patsy fall guy for a top contender.
The 29-year-old certainly fit the bill of a typical boxing fall guy for an upwardly-mobile contender. With an impressive-on-paper record of 21-0, built entirely on nondescript opposition and competing mostly in soft commissions, Franklin looked enough like a player to fool casuals, but didn’t seem to be in the same league as someone who had shared the ring with a bevy of elite-level opposition.
“The 989 Assasin,” though, surprised everyone (but himself) and gave Whyte a battle that many say he should’ve edged on the judges’ scorecards. His majority decision loss upped his name value and all but guaranteed a few more good, main stage paydays.
But Franklin remains a sought-after B-side by guys like Joshua, for the same reason he was a sought-after B-side by Team Dillian Whyte. There’s still doubt about his high-end viability and there was enough of a late-fight fade in the Whyte bout to suggest vulnerability and, maybe, a bit of “my best night vs. his worst night” dynamic in his showing that evening. Franklin also displayed a distinct lack of punching power for a true high-end heavyweight.
All of that likely went into the decision to choose Franklin in what is probably Joshua’s most crucial fight to date.
With back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk and a 2-3 record in his last five bouts, the UK star desperately needs an impressive victory right now. Even his promoter Eddie Hearn acknowledges the “must-win” nature of this next Joshua comeback bout.
“You go into that fight in April – you know that with defeat, it’s all over, really. It would be a third back-to-back defeat,” Hearn told iFL TV earlier this month.
“And yet a great performance and a showreel knockout gets everyone saying, ‘We’re back, we’re back baby.’ That’s what I can’t wait for, because I love it when our backs are against the wall. That’s the best moments, and this is one of those moments for AJ.
“AJ wants a big fight in the summer. The one that would make sense and the one that should be hopefully quite straightforward to make is the rematch with Dillian.”
And what better way to spotlight another go at Dillian Whyte (who Joshua stopped in seven rounds back in 2015) than to crush the guy who took Whyte to the brink of defeat in his last bout?
Team Joshua is hoping that their guy is big enough and strong enough to blast away a fighter whose vulnerabilities weren’t made an issue by a Whyte who maybe wasn’t at the top of his game. The goal is to step on Franklin en route to Whyte or even bigger bouts with Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.
Of course, Dillian Whyte and his people also hoped to use Franklin as a step stool to bigger, better things down the road and that almost turned out disastrously for them.
Come April 1, Jermaine Franklin will head back to the UK as an underdog and presumed fall guy. He’ll get his second chance to truly flip the script.