Algieri's School of Thought: Joshua can revive his career if James has revived what made him great

If I was going to create a heavyweight champion in a video game, I would create Anthony Joshua. When I picture how a heavyweight champion looks, acts and fights, it’s just like him.

The string of victories he put together leading up to the Wladimir Klitschko fight in 2017 was tremendous. He was fighting young, hungry opponents like Dillian Whyte, Charles Martin and Dominic Breazeale – showing beautiful technique, and a killer instinct – and he was stopping them. I loved the Whyte fight – Whyte’s a fantastic fighter with world-class power – and Joshua was right in the mix, getting hit with shots and coming right back.

The Klitschko fight was one of the best heavyweight fights I’ve seen live. For Joshua to get up off the deck and get the stoppage in the way that he did against someone with as storied a career as Klitschko was incredible. 

There’s also his amateur pedigree, and how fast he got to a world title. He’s been magnificent – and there’s more left for him to achieve.

That Jermaine Franklin’s coming off a loss initially made him feel like a curious opponent for Joshua, even though Franklin did very well against Whyte – some would even argue he won. But Franklin showed he’s a world-class heavyweight – he took big shots well, came back, and impressed with the skill set of his fast hands and combinations – and increasingly looks a good opponent for Joshua. 

Algieri's School of Thought: Joshua can revive his career if James has revived what made him great
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

It’s not only a fight Joshua should win – they’re at different levels – he should be tested by Franklin’s skills and willingness to mix it up, which could even make him the type of opponent to bring back the Joshua of old. Joshua used to be a combination puncher whose combinations were set up by his jab; in the years since beating Klitschko he’s been more of a jabber. He’s not got one-punch power; he’s incredibly athletic, and it was his combinations that stopped his opponents. If Franklin can force the action and force him to fight like that, we’ll see a resurgence in Joshua, who’ll still need to be wary of Franklin’s hand speed, given Andy Ruiz Jr and Oleksandr Usyk troubled him with those very traits.

I was very impressed with Joshua in the rematch with Usyk. He was making adjustments and doing things that would have got him the win that night had Usyk not been capable of finding yet another gear – he had a good game plan, and was executing it impressively, making him far more competitive than he was during their first fight. Usyk’s a complete puzzle, and we’re seeing more folds to him as he’s needed to show them when his opposition has improved. It’s tough to judge Joshua on those two fights – we could look back on Usyk as one of the best fighters we’ve ever seen. 

I’m curious about how the change of camps to Texas will affect Joshua. He’s not just changed trainer from Robert Garcia to Derrick James, he’s out of his element and being uncomfortable. Getting out of my comfort zone always helped me as a fighter – I wanted to be on edge going to the gym, and at the highest level that’s really important. 

I also like James’ coaching style, and the way his fighters fight. Errol Spence, at the highest level, is one of the best combination punchers in the world – if Joshua can take some of that from James, with his phenomenal jab and high boxing IQ, there’s so much he can still achieve. That the Charlo brothers are so different to Spence shows James knows what his fighters are good at and how to maximise their potential. My one concern for him and Joshua, as a combination, is that it’s only been one camp – it takes a few to enact the changes your coach wants – but they look a good fit.

Algieri's School of Thought: Joshua can revive his career if James has revived what made him great
Photo: Matthew Pover/Matchroom Boxing

When Joshua first announced Garcia was going to train him for the Usyk rematch I was a little surprised. Garcia’s a great trainer, but Joshua’s more of a boxer-puncher than a puncher – as good as he looked that night against Usyk his physical gifts mean that going for broke to get an opponent out of there probably isn’t the best style for him in the long-term. He needs to box smart, use his jab and his skills, and then show his power at the right time.

Great fighters, regardless, have thick skin and short memories. Whatever might have happened to them in the past – good or bad – they still have to go forward and win. You’re naked when you’re in that ring, and there’s been times Joshua’s looked like he’s showing some scars from the defeat by Ruiz Jr, or looked confused and caught between two styles of fighting, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. He can reinvent himself in style, as well as physically and mentally – he just needs to start by getting his confidence back, and this could be the fight where he does.

Floyd Mayweather Jr said years ago that if a fighter says he’s not fighting for money, he’s lying, so Joshua might just have been being too honest when he said money was what’s motivating him. Hunger’s really what drives fighters to draw on what they need to succeed – and the fact that he’s been willing to relocate to work with James is a very good sign. If being uncomfortable and suffering during his camp – and a competitive culture in a gym, particularly for a fighter who’s made as much money as Joshua has – has given him an edge then he could have what he needs when a fight gets tough.

I still hope the time will come when we’ll see him fight Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. Against Franklin we need to see Joshua reignite the fire that first took him to the top. He has a lot more to lose than Franklin does – Franklin can change his life again with victory – and Joshua could struggle to come back from defeat, but if he wins we can again start to relish what his future holds.