Anthony Joshua’s performance, in the victory over Jermaine Franklin, wasn’t the one I expected. I was hoping for a lot more from him – for a resurrection of the Joshua of old – but, on reflection, that wasn’t realistic.
He brings to mind Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko took a lot more chances early on, got knocked out a few times, returned a lot more cautious, and found himself dominant. He was never the most exciting fighter after that, but he ruled the heavyweight division for a long time.
The Joshua of old is not going to come back. He’s not going to be the seek-and-destroy killer he was. Instead, we’re going to get a cautious fighter who jabs really well – who controls the space and time at which his fights unfold, and who probably wins a lot of decisions.
I don’t necessarily think he’s gone backwards since he impressed in his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk. Franklin isn’t a world beater, but he’s going to give everybody a worthwhile fight, and he’s got a great chin – some of those right hands he got hit with were massive. To have his head spin backwards the way it did, and to survive, is testament to his toughness – Dillian Whyte’s a big puncher, and also landed on him – and he’s got fast hands, which is something that’s troubled Joshua in the past.
But Franklin was also outclassed. Joshua’s jab was phenomenal – he was snapping it hard, and landing right hands – we just didn’t see his combination punching or a lot of good bodywork, and he found the uppercut a little late. He made everything work – it just wasn’t as stylish as hoped.
We all have such high hopes for Joshua that he’s almost always going to leave you wanting more. Everyone respects his skills and his physicality, so if it’s anything less than elite, he’s seen as underperforming.
Joshua and Derrick James – who still strikes me as the right choice as his new trainer – need more time before they can be judged. Joshua still did a lot of good things against Franklin. His jab was brilliant, especially early on and then late on. He threw more than just the jab in this fight. His right hand landed brilliantly; his left hook was there; his uppercut was there, and James deserves credit for getting him to throw punches he’d got away from throwing. It’s really difficult to make real changes in one training camp – especially at that stage of a fighter’s career, and coming off of two losses.
But I saw trepidation and hesitancy in Joshua, and I saw questioning in his eyes when Franklin was throwing punches – especially during the first seven rounds. His defence looked shaky early – he was getting hit quite a bit, and Franklin, who isn’t a big puncher, stung him a few times. It was later on that Joshua found his rhythm, and became looser, and more effective. By the end of the fight Franklin also had no firepower left, which is why a lot of the trash talking happened – and upset Joshua, leading to what happened after the final bell.
Joshua’s frame of mind concerns me. I also saw him looking to his corner and looking at the crowd; he didn’t look comfortable, or focused. The pressure on his shoulders both from himself and from the world’s perception of him, and a lack of confidence after being so dominant earlier in his career, is contributing to that. He’s since been tested – and he was also right when he said he’s fighting the best version of his opponents and that they perform at their best against him, which also harms his confidence and reputation.
What happened at the final bell when he confronted Franklin was the result of a long training camp and a fight that was frustrating for Joshua. There was a lot of questions; a lot of things to overcome, and he had someone in front of him who was a lot tougher than he expected. Franklin was tired by the end of the fight – he’d been overwhelmed, and at one point I read his lips, when what he said was very vulgar and aggressive, and got under Joshua’s skin.
Someone as small as Franklin was able to come through the front door and land right hands over the top – that really shouldn’t happen. Klitschko wouldn’t have allowed Franklin to get anywhere near him, and I keep going back to Klitschko because Joshua ought to be treated now like Klitschko was in the second half of his career. Keep his opponents at distance; throw the one-two long, and then when they get too close, grab them, hold them, and spin them. It’s not fun, but as long as you get the knockout later on, which Klitschko often did, it’s okay. Joshua doesn’t have punch power like Klitschko did, but we saw Joshua holding like Klitschko towards the end of the fight – pawing the jab, and then grabbing Franklin behind the head with his left hand to control him.
Whyte’s his likeliest next opponent, which makes sense for a lot of reasons – particularly commercially. Whyte’s also dangerous enough to be a good test, and if he beats him well again there’ll be a fresh clamour for him to fight Tyson Fury. Fighting Whyte will give a lot of answers regarding where Joshua’s at – particularly if he fights to control him and earn a decision.
Joshua’s psychology will determine so much. If he turns the switch, and dials in the way Klitschko used to – makes the necessary adjustments – there’s fight left in him. We’re watching a fighter going through being an Olympian, to a leading prospect, to a contender, a heavyweight champion, unexpected loser, and now being perceived as psychologically broken.
As with all marquee fighters, he’s completely exposed, and he doesn’t wear a mask well – he’s not good at hiding his thoughts or emotions. Trying to resurrect your career under a microscope is a daunting task. It’s very tough to be Joshua right now.