Joshua returned to the 02 Arena in the UK for the first time since 2016 and racked up his first victory since 2020. The bout marked Joshua’s first non-title bout in roughly seven years which goes to indicate the level of success he has had in the division for a good stretch of the 2010’s. Joshua was a three belt champion and held a high status among fans and pundits on the way to what was supposed to be a bout for all of the belts in 2021 against Tyson Fury. That fight was scrapped when Joshua dropped a decision to Oleksandr Usyk and then lost the follow up rematch in 2022. Since the defeats Joshua’s stock has plummeted as Fury and Usyk hold the mantle of title belts and Wilder reestablished himself with a KO of Robert Helenius. Though Joshua is only 33 years old he is beginning to be written off by many fans and observers who feel his time on top has ended with the losses to Usyk and a lack of many believing he can beat Fury. Also at this time there is an emergence of new fighters like Joe Joyce and others who possess dangerous attributes. This was supposed to be a statement fight for Joshua to announce to boxing that he is back and he won, but did not make that statement.
Joshua won a very Klitschko like performance with scores of 117-111 from judges Fabian Guggenheim and Alex Levin and 118-110 from Steve Gray. I scored the bout 117-111 and had it 57-57 at the midway point, perhaps more generous than other scores I saw on round by round discussions but nonetheless it was a dominant showing from Joshua. Joshua swept the back half of the fight and really dominated behind his jab and lead right hands without the jab. He snapped Franklin’s head back with these right hands but rarely was able to follow up. Franklin did score the occasional right hand in return but was not very successful leading on offense. At times, Franklin could employ a bobbing and weaving approach behind a jab but ultimately became gun shy. Joshua also scored a few effective left hooks to the body, one particular in the second half did damage and changed the fight. Overall, Joshua was dominant but not very inspiring. It was his first fight with Texas trainer Derrick James, best known for his work with Errol Spence and the Charlo brothers. This was after firing long time trainer Mckracken and having one fight with Robert Garcia. Joshua seems like man in search of his identity and looked uncomfortable in the ring at times. Blood leaked from his nose early on in the fight and he had a bizarre expression on his face for a lot of the contest. Obviously I cannot read minds but he looked either confused, nervous or not confident at many stages of the contest.
Some other notes include Joshua weighing a career high 255 lbs. I feel this is not a good weight for Joshua who has shown fatigue issues and is accused of being stiff. I feel his best weight was the light weight he entered the ring in the Andy Ruiz rematch. I know he is still chasing the Tyson Fury fight and that has been the subject of his interviews and team statements since this victory. The weight gain appears to be in preparation to tussle with the large Tyson Fury but I think this is a mistake. He is not going to match Fury size for size so he is better off shedding some weight for speed and stamina. The Fury and Usyk talks continue to stall and a Joshua fight in the UK may still be a draw though last night’s performance might not have inspired much excitement. On the other hand, maybe this vulnerability may lure other fighters like say Deontay Wilder to fancy his chances and leap at this opportunity. Truthfully, I’d like to see Joshua in a fat trimming fight against either Zhang, Joyce or Hrgovic to separate the contenders from the pretenders and leave the lane open for the unification clash.