Anthony Joshua won his first fight in over two years with a comprehensive victory on points over a brave and resilient Jermaine Franklin. The plucky American disappointed Joshua fans, who were hoping for a sensational knockout victory, by going the full 12 rounds late on Saturday night.
All three judges scored the fight in Joshua’s favor with precise deciding margins of 117-111, twice and 118-111. Despite Franklin’s innate toughness, Joshua expected to win the fight in a much more exciting style. Instead, he landed the overwhelming majority of decisive punches but couldn’t force a stoppage.
It was a decent but slightly disappointing performance from the former world champion who lacks some of his old fire and conviction. Joshua is no longer a rough finisher. Maybe three losses in his previous five fights, before he faced Franklin, left their mark and made him more worried.
Joshua was cautious at first, taking control behind his jab, but Franklin seemed serene amid the intense atmosphere. He had won the round but Joshua’s nose was starting to bleed and needed some attention from his corner. In the second, a long right hand from Joshua had Franklin shaking his head and sticking his tongue out in contempt. Joshua landed a more meaningful combination that had Franklin firing back. But the American looked less comfortable when Joshua nailed him with a heavy right hand and then later in the round went to the body with thumps.
Joshua was clearly winning the rounds, with his dominant jab. But Franklin was unintimidated and at the end of the fourth he backed Joshua against the ropes and let his hands fly with limited success.
The difference in height, weight, power and pedigree was supposed to be conclusive. At Friday’s weigh-in, Joshua weighed in at 255 pounds, the heaviest he has ever weighed in a professional career that began nearly 10 years ago. Franklin weighed 234 pounds – 23 pounds lighter than he was when he suffered his first loss to Dillian Whyte last November. The intention of the two men then seemed obvious. Joshua planned to bludgeon his opponent into submission while Franklin hoped to stay out of too much danger.
But Franklin proved he had the appetite for battle. As they reached halfway, Joshua’s shimmering white trunks were stained with a rosy hue from blood still dripping from his nose while there was a slight swelling on Franklin’s right cheekbone. Early in the eighth, a series of fast, shivering punches from Joshua, with sharp left jabs followed by heavy right hands, shook Franklin’s head back. They forced the American to try to smother the bigger man with clinches. It was messy but it helped Franklin avoid more punishment.
Referee, Marcus McDonnell, eventually had to step in to tell both fighters to stop their excessive wrestling in the ninth. They heeded the warning and the next round was perhaps the best of the fight. Three big right hands from Joshua hurt Franklin in a blurry succession and it looked like he was setting up for a concussive finish. Another right uppercut rocked Franklin but, admirably, he fought back as both men unleashed flurries of punches. A hard right and left hook from Joshua earned him the round again – only for Franklin to finally shade the 11th while connecting with a meaty jab to Joshua’s head.
Joshua came out for the final round looking for the knockout but Franklin held off the attack. The fights broke out again briefly after the final bell, before they were separated, a sign that Joshua harbored some frustration over his failure to close the show in clinical style.
Joshua, who at 6ft 6in is also four inches taller, with a five inch reach advantage, had used his physical attributes to secure the win. The former world champion has shared the ring with fighters of the caliber of Wladimir Klitschko and Oleksandr Usyk, while Franklin’s best opponents aside from Whyte have been more humble figures such as Rydell Booker, Jerry Forest and Pavel Sour – and the American lost a few rounds against this mediocre opposition.
While it was clear that the two men operate on contrasting levels, the class disparity was not great enough to earn Joshua the spectacular win he craved.
Any muted clamor for Joshua to fight Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder now seems premature. Joshua has just started working with Derrick James, his direct and highly respected trainer in Dallas, Texas, and it would make more sense for their work to continue steadily before they’re thrust into a high-profile showdown with Fury or Wilder. A more likely path for Joshua would be to next face Whyte, whom he has already beaten, and head to a much tougher Definition Test much later in the year.
That winning performance against Franklin taught us nothing new about Joshua. He is a cut above the usual opposition, but still has a very long road ahead of him if he is to become world heavyweight champion again.