One minute he’s talking about a blockbuster, all-British heavyweight fight with Tyson Fury. The next he’s looking forward to “loving life” in retirement, free from the pressure of an expectant public.
Such are the stakes for Anthony Joshua in a fight that comes at a crossroads in his career.
Coming off consecutive losses to Oleksandr Usyk, the former two-time world champion takes on American boxer Jermaine Franklin at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday for a non-title bout that is bigger than it appears at first glance.
If Joshua loses, his career is pretty much in ruins. He could still sell fights — he has been a huge draw in Britain for a decade, ever since he won Olympic gold at the London Games in 2012 — but he will no longer have the credibility to go along with the hype.
And, to be sure, the hype was justified in his golden period from 2016-18 when he won seven straight world title fights, including an epic against Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 spectators in 2017, to allow him to dream of becoming the first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999-2000.
“I was really pushing that undisputed narrative for so long, that road to undisputed hashtag with all of the brands we work with,” Joshua said this week. “We pushed it, but now we’re at a new stage.
“We can’t look back. We’re only looking forward and I see a bright future and that kind of keeps me in good spirits.”
He would love that future to include a fight with Fury, which has been sought for so long but — maddeningly for the British public and beyond — has never materialized for various reasons.
Joshua (24-3) thinks there is still a chance, especially after Fury — the WBC champion — was unable to secure a fight with Usyk, who holds the WBA, WBO and IBF belts that Joshua had for so long.
“There’s no better time to get Fury in the ring than now because he needs me to redeem himself from this circus, this letdown,” Joshua said.
“He needs me, so there’s no better time than for him to call my name out and I’m someone that will take on any challenge.”
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, still yearns for Joshua-Fury even if he has grown weary of negotiating with the Fury camp.
“Neither guy would have a fight (lined up), the politics would be gone and it might be a chance to get it made,” Hearn said, “but we’ve been there before.”
And Hearn is wary of getting too far ahead of himself, considering what’s at stake for Joshua if his man loses.
“People talk about whether his career is over if he loses this fight,” Hearn said. “Well, his world title ambitions are in tatters if he loses this fight.”
Franklin has only lost one of his 22 professional fights, and that was his most recent one — against Dillian Whyte on points in November. His previous opponents have been low on quality, though, and Franklin has never fought for a world title.
In short, and for a man still believing he belongs in the category of the world’s top three heavyweights, Joshua shouldn’t lose. And the 29-year-old Franklin knows there’s a general feeling that he’ll be “a pushover or a walkover or something like.”
“The circumstances around this fight are very different,” the Michigan native countered. “For the Dillian fight, I was working a job before we got that phone call. I wasn’t in the gym. We took like five to seven weeks to get in shape for that fight. For the time I had, I did what I could. This time I’ve got more time to prepare and more time to get in shape.”
Time is of the essence for the 33-year-old Joshua. He reckons he has three or four years left at the top of the heavyweight game and doesn’t see himself fighting into his 40s like Klitschko or Alexander Povetkin.
“I truly believe that boxing’s a young man’s sport,” said Joshua, who has faced repeated questions about whether he will retire if he loses to Franklin.
There doesn’t appear a clear-cut answer on that.
“I know when I am retired, I am going to be chilling,” he said. “You lot (the media) put so much pressure on me so when I am done, the chains are going to be gone. I am going to be laughing and loving life.”
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