Joshua v Franklin preview: Former knockout kings to go the distance with careers at crossroads

By Sports Desk March 31, 2023

Anthony Joshua's return to the ring on Saturday to face Jermaine Franklin is a bout where both have plenty to prove.

Back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk saw Joshua lose his heavyweight titles, while leaving him with three defeats from his last five bouts.

Franklin, meanwhile, was undefeated and on a meteoric trajectory with 21 victories in a row, including 14 knockouts, before his unbeaten run came to a close at the hands of Dillian Whyte in November at Wembley – his first test outside the United States.

With Joshua in need of a win to stop the rot and Franklin looking to show his worth at this level, their clash at the O2 Arena is one where defeat does not bear thinking about.

Contender or pretender?

Dominating the heavyweight scene for years, the AJ of old was completely lost in the two defeats to Usyk which, although both went the distance, were bouts where the British Olympian never truly looked capable of victory.

The 2019 defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. was a shock, requiring Joshua to come back six months later to reclaim his belts, but the same cannot be said about Usyk, who was on top throughout almost every round across the pair's two meetings.

Now, the big question is whether the downward spiral will continue, or whether Joshua can force his way back into contention with the heavyweight elite in a period of great change, with the old guard not getting any younger and fresh blood creeping into contention.

For now, Joshua remains in the conversation. Discussions for a fiercely-anticipated all-British bout against Tyson Fury fell flat but Joshua has been touted for a meeting with Deontay Wilder later this year.

Defeat to Franklin, however, would hit hard and would see Joshua's recent record extend to four losses in six fights, not the sort of calibre required to remain at the top of the game, with some already suggesting that such a loss should result in AJ hanging up his gloves, including the man himself.

Franklin's rise

For many, facing Whyte is seen as an entry test into the heavyweight elite, with the Brit having faced the majority of the division's top fighters – including Fury, Joshua, Derek Chisora and Alexander Povetkin.

Defeat to Whyte in November was a blow for Franklin, a majority decision ending the 21-fight win streak, and he is now looking to prove his credentials outside the US by taking a significant scalp in the form of Joshua.

What Franklin lacks in experience, he certainly makes up for in confidence, declaring he will either secure a knockout win or "brutally" dominate the fight.

"If it's not a knockout then it will be a domination brutally. I'll go at him, see what he's going to do and see if I can make him make mistakes early," he said.

Coming out the blocks flying may be the best approach for Franklin, quickly putting the pressure on Joshua and silencing the home crowd, particularly with AJ unable to muster a response in similar circumstances against Usyk.

Pound for pound

Though Joshua boasts height and reach advantage over Franklin, that may not provide a significant indication on the match up given AJ had similar upper hands over Usyk, and a bout may well go the full distance.

Four of Joshua's last seven fights have gone 12 rounds, including three of the last four, and the knockout dominating AJ of old seems to have been lost in the latter years of his career.

Franklin is in a similar position, with just one knockout victory in his last six – having had 14 KO wins in his first 16 professional fights.

Prediction: Joshua wins on points

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