For so long the poster boy of boxing’s heavyweight division, Anthony Joshua has been facing a new reality in recent months.
Suddenly, the British fighter is on the outside looking in.
His star has fallen — even his promoter acknowledges that — in the wake of punishing, back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk that have led many to question Joshua’s ability, even as a two-time world champion.
“You can’t be like, ‘Man, it’s been tough, you know, life’s been down,’” Joshua told the Associated Press. “You always have to walk with your head held high, chest out.
“It’s a different perspective for me now, but it’s not one that rules me or makes any difference to my behavior.”
So, while the biggest heavyweight fights are being made — or, in the case of the collapsed bout between Usyk and Tyson Fury, not made — around him, Joshua is adapting to his new status and beginning a fresh phase in his career.
The hunter, as opposed to the hunted.
The pressure, however, is still very much on him.
On April 1, Joshua takes on American boxer Jermaine Franklin in London for his first fight since losing the rematch against Usyk in Saudi Arabia in August. It’s the first time in 13 fights, stretching back to December 2015, that Joshua won’t be attempting to either retain or regain a world title.
Win, and Joshua — with his brand and standing — will no doubt be thrust back into the conversation for world title fights.
Eddie Hearn, his promoter, was even tweeting excitedly on Thursday about a potential all-British fight with Fury next up followed by, somewhat optimistically, a fight to be undisputed champion.
Lose to Franklin, though, in a fight being televised by the DAZN streaming service, and Joshua’s career will be hanging in the balance. It would be three straight losses — or four in six fights taking in the shocking defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. at Madison Square Garden in June 2019.
Even Hearn would struggle to sell Joshua as a credible heavyweight force in that case.
And deep down, Joshua knows it.
“This is what I’ve signed up for, this is what I want, and I’m going to live up to the expectation,” Joshua told the AP.
After the second loss to Usyk, Hearn spoke of Joshua likely having three or four fights in 2023 to build him back up for a shot at being world champion for a third time.
With the heavyweight division in flux after the collapse of Fury-Usyk, that title shot could yet come much quicker.
“I’m going to be flexible, keep a flexible mindset, be open-minded,” said Joshua, who spoke of wanting his world titles back within “12-16 months.”
It all hinges on beating Franklin, an American who lost for the first time in his 22-fight professional career in a majority decision against Dillian White in London in November.
“I’m a promoter, I’m hyping the fight, but I am nervous,” Hearn said.
Joshua has another trainer — a third different one in as many fights — for the Franklin bout, with Derrick James in his corner.
Joshua has been with James, who also has Errol Spence Jr. in his stable, in a training camp held exclusively in Dallas during which the Brit says he has dedicated himself solely to boxing and avoided distractions.
“He is the truth, you know,” Joshua said of James, who he seems to regard as a permanent trainer. “I don’t want to put him under any pressure, though. I’ve got to fight at the end of the day.”
All the pressure, instead, will be on the 33-year-old Joshua while he is at the crossroads of a career that started with an Olympic gold medal in 2012 and includes that era-defining fight with Wladimir Klitschko in 2017.
“Of course, his star has fallen,” Hearn said, “but he’s a man who, in my opinion, is an elite heavyweight — a top-three heavyweight in the world — and I’m sorry if that’s such a crime.
“He makes more sacrifices and commitments than any athlete I’ve seen, and he’s my mate. I’m so pumped for his return.”
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