Last week, it was announced that former unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua would be making a spring-time return to the ring in London.
After two successive decision defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs) will glove up against American Jermaine Franklin (21-1, 14 KOs) at the O2 Arena on April 1.
Joshua, who was linked with numerous opponents for a December 2022 date, elected not to box again last year after his August effort against Usyk (split decision defeat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia). Instead, he took some time away to mentally reset and prepare for the next portion of his professional campaign.
It looks like beating the elite men in his weight class is beyond Joshua's capabilities, but he is still a big name and an asset to boxing's most watched division.
The announcement of Franklin as Joshua's opponent was met with indifference across the board on social media. Although only defeated once, somewhat controversially dropping a majority decision to Dillian Whyte in London last November, Franklin is not rated as being a top tier test for Joshua. The fight has been described in some quarters as a ‘tune-up' or an ‘easy night's work' for the UK heavyweight.
That remains to be seen.
For Joshua and his team, Franklin's selection is part of a strategy to build him back towards the top of the division. Presumably, success against Franklin would be followed up by two more bouts this year for the man who last tasted success in the ring back in 2020 – gradually building a return to championship contender status. It's the correct way to do things.
Despite the public perception of the Franklin fight, there is pressure on Joshua to deliver. If he wants to continue at a reasonable level, he has to win. He should also want to look highly convincing in doing so. Promoter Eddie Hearn remarked that this was the beginning of the “most important chapter so far” for Joshua. Defeat would be catastrophic. Even a lacklustre win would do more harm than good.
With all of this in mind, it was interesting to hear Joshua's comments at last week's press event which publicised the bout.
“Money, money, money. I like making money,” Joshua stated matter of factly. “Straight up. This is a prizefighting sport. I've been broke, my family has been broke. I know what this shit means. I do it because I'm good at it and I hustle hard. When it's all said and done, nobody will care about me anymore so I've got to make the most of it while I'm here.”
This indicates that the fighter is focused and is in a good place in his mind. After his in-ring meltdown following the second defeat to Usyk, there was concern for Joshua's mental well-being. There was also ridicule from some. Joshua is saying he now won't be affected by the opinions of those not in his inner circle.
One major change has also occurred within Joshua's team. Robert Garcia is no longer training the English heavyweight. Derrick James has been appointed as head trainer. James, the 2017 Ring Magazine Trainer of the Year, is the man Joshua hopes will help him make the most of his remaining years in boxing.
The presser quote that truly caught my attention was this: “I always built businesses outside of boxing because of the fear of going back to square one. I always tried to build an empire. I made a conscious decision last year to step back and just put my heart into boxing and nothing else. Throughout my career, this is probably the most serious I've taken it.”
Good to hear for fans of Joshua.
But is it genuine or empty rhetoric? The only way to know for sure is to watch and analyse how Joshua performs on April 1.
The other interesting aspect will be observing how Joshua and James click in their first fighter-trainer outing. Will we see some new wrinkles from Joshua?
April 1 will be upon us soon enough. Talk at this stage is good, but ultimately it is cheap. If Joshua's heart is fully back in boxing and his mind is totally focused on the task at hand, he should win in good style against Jermaine Franklin and move towards a potential summer fight with some momentum.
We'll find out in a matter of weeks.