Anthony Joshua beat Jermaine Franklin by unanimous decision at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night, an essential victory for the former champion’s future progression.
After a painful loss in his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk last year, former champion Joshua had to win against the tough American and took a clear unanimous decision, 118-111 and 117-111 twice.
While this fight was his first without at least one world title on the line in seven years, for Joshua it was still one of his most crucial. A third consecutive loss, for a star of Joshua’s calibre, would have left his further aspirations in tatters.
In the build up to the contest he himself said he would retire, such were the stakes for him going into this fight. The win, however, propels him back once again towards his more accustomed place at the upper end of the heavyweight division.
The grim set to Joshua’s expression once he stepped into the ring was perhaps an indication of that pressure. He barely acknowledged the wild cheers that rang out for him as he stood in his corner waiting for the first bell.
In recent years Joshua has tended to fill out entire stadiums when he’s boxed in the UK. While this event was held at a smaller arena, that rapturous reception from the crowd showed Joshua is still a hugely popular figure on the British boxing scene.
Rather than take in the moment however, he had to keep his focus. At his side was new trainer Derrick James. This was the third fight in succession in which Joshua has had a new team in his corner.
Ahead of the fight this week, Joshua had declared that with all the questions he’d been asking of himself, now he had found the answers. After his performance on Saturday though, others won’t be so convinced.
Joshua didn’t rush himself to begin with. He kept his form in the opening two rounds, content to box behind rapid jabs, beating Franklin to the target. He stepped back smartly as well from Franklin’s darting shots in the first round.
The two though exchanged words after the bell, the hostility between the pair suddenly clear.
Joshua rocked Franklin with a sharp double left in the second but it was the American who drew blood from Joshua’s nose and then thumped a strong cross to the chin that prompted Joshua to hold.
Joshua kept the measured approach to his boxing through the middle rounds, only occasionally unleashing his heavy cross or solid left hook but generally letting quick jabbing catch out Franklin.
Yet the American grew in confidence, bursting forward to wing hooks at Joshua that saw the Briton cover up behind his guard.
Joshua pinged a cross flush into Franklin in the seventh round and the tough American had to nod to acknowledge the impact.
The former champion generated another roar from the crowd in the eighth when he slammed a combination into Franklin.
But the two got tied up in clinches and, in a sign of frustration, Joshua pushed Franklin back with a glove to the face after the end of the round.
He wasn’t though sustaining combinations. Joshua heaved a right down as his opponent bobbed forward, only for a hard right from Franklin to reply instantly and catch him on the chin. Joshua took it, but the clinches continued.
He lined up single shots, screwing his left up through Franklin’s guard, popping his right cross straight in – but when he had Franklin under pressure, the American bulled forward up close, driving Joshua into the ropes.
Joshua did hurt Franklin in the 11th round with a fine right uppercut on the inside, but rather than capitalise he again found himself caught on the end of a clean right cross. Franklin snuck his right in again before the close of the session.
The Briton was picking up the rounds, but the kind of statement he might have hoped to make, to score the knockout or at least a knockdown, was eluding him.
He strived to find it still in the final round, attacking Franklin with gusto as the crowd roared him in. But he could not find a breakthrough.
Instead the contest finished with ugly scenes with a brawl nearly erupting on the ring apron. Franklin’s corner rushed at Joshua as the two fighters had to be separated.
While it came by a wide unanimous points decision, Joshua had still secured the victory he needed. For a fighter of Joshua’s stature, working his way back to the top of the division, that win was all that mattered.