Anthony Joshua won his first fight in more than two years with a comprehensive points victory over a brave and resilient Jermaine Franklin. The gritty American disappointed Joshua’s supporters, who had been hoping for a sensational win by knockout, by lasting the full 12 rounds late on Saturday night.
All three judges scored the fight in Joshua’s favour by accurately decisive margins of 117-111, twice, and 118-111. Despite Franklin’s innate toughness, Joshua had expected to win the fight in far more thrilling style. Instead he landed the overwhelming majority of telling blows but could not force a stoppage.
It was a decent but mildly underwhelming performance from the former world champion who lacks some of his old fire and conviction. Joshua is no longer a brutal finisher. Perhaps three defeats in his previous five bouts, before he faced Franklin, have left their mark and made him more apprehensive.
Joshua was cautious at the start, taking control behind his jab, but Franklin looked untroubled amid the intense atmosphere. He had won the round but Joshua’s nose began to bleed and needed a little attention from his corner. In the second, a long right hand from Joshua had Franklin shaking his head and sticking out his tongue in goading contempt. Joshua landed a more meaningful combination which made Franklin fire 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 thudding blows.
Joshua was winning the rounds clearly, with his jab dominating. But Franklin was not cowed and at the end of the fourth he backed Joshua up against the ropes and let his hands fly with limited success.
The difference in height, weight, power and sheer pedigree was meant to be conclusive. At Friday’s weigh-in, Joshua had scaled 255lb, the heaviest he has ever been in a professional career which began almost 10 years ago. Franklin weighed 234lb – 23lb lighter than he had been when he suffered his first defeat against Dillian Whyte last November. The intent of both men seemed obvious then. 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 combat. As they reached the halfway point, Joshua’s shimmering white trunks were stained a pinkish hue from the blood which still trickled from his nose while there was a slight swelling across Franklin’s right cheekbone. Early in the eighth a series of fast and shuddering punches from Joshua, with sharp left jabs followed by heavy right hands, jolted Franklin’s head back. They forced the American to try to smother the bigger man with grappling clinches. It was messy but it helped Franklin avoid more punishment.
The referee, Marcus McDonnell, eventually had to step in to instruct both fighters to stop their excessive grappling in the ninth. They took heed of the warning and the following round was perhaps the best of the fight. Three big right hands from Joshua hurt Franklin in blurring succession and it looked as if he was readying himself for a concussive finish. Another right uppercut rocked Franklin but, admirably, he fired back as both men threw flurries of punches. A hard right and left hook from Joshua again won him the round – only for Franklin to finally shade the 11th while connecting with a meaty blow to Joshua’s head.
Joshua came out for the last round looking for the knockout but Franklin withstood the attack. Fighting broke out again briefly after the final bell, before they were separated, in a sign that Joshua harboured some frustration at 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 victory. The former world champion has shared the ring with fighters of the calibre of Wladimir Klitschko and Oleksandr Usyk, while Franklin’s best opponents, apart from Whyte, have been more humble figures such as Rydell Booker, Jerry Forest and Pavel Sour – and the American lost some rounds against that mediocre opposition.
If it was clear that the two men operate at contrasting levels, the disparity in class was not sufficiently wide to earn Joshua the spectacular win he craved.
Any muted clamour for Joshua to fight Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder now seems premature. Joshua has just begun working with Derrick James, his blunt and highly respected trainer in Dallas, Texas, and it would make more sense for their work to continue steadily before they are thrust into a heavily hyped showdown with Fury or Wilder. A more likely path for Joshua would be to next face Whyte, whom he has beaten before, and to build towards a far more difficult defining test much later in the year.
This winning performance against Franklin told us nothing new about Joshua. He is a cut above routine opposition but a very long road still stretches before him if he is to become a world heavyweight champion again.