After three defeats in five fights – two by Oleksandr Usyk, the other by Andy Ruiz – Anthony Joshua has been knocked off his perch as one of the three most marketable boxers on the planet alongside Tyson Fury and Saul Alvarez. Victory over Jermaine Franklin, a tough and destructive American, is a must on Saturday at the O2.
Here we look at how the two-time world champion has gone about getting his career back on track.
Change of trainer
Anthony Joshua needed a rebuild; almost a complete refit. Having lost what could have been a career-defining fight against Usyk in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last August, he had to be put back together physically, psychologically and, perhaps, emotionally.
Joshua has turned to Derrick James – a man he says he wants to work with “for the rest of my career” – to be his trainer after using Rob McCracken, and then the pairing of Angel Fernandez and Robert Garcia, in his past two fights.
James, who is based in Dallas, says: “He believes in me, and I believe in him. If he wants to stay with me for the rest of his career, yes, I’m there for him. He learns so quickly, he understands what I am telling him.” The key with James, and for Joshua, is that it is the trainer calling all the shots. “He drives me so hard,” Joshua says. “This camp has been a hard slog.”
Joshua is James’s first high-profile heavyweight. “That’s my challenge, but I think he’s different because he’s so mobile, so athletic,” James says. “The first time I saw it – I was like, ‘Man, he has a lot of room to grow, he’s a phenomenal fighter, he’s a phenomenal talent’.”
James, who favours an offensive style, which suits Joshua, will have been unearthing that aspect in the past three months, getting his man back to what he once was – an aggressive, destructive fighter.
New training techniques
Joshua’s training techniques have been significantly altered in camp. On Instagram there have been pictures of him chopping wood – “like the old-school greats” – but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Management of sleep, hydration and, even, exposure to light have all come into focus during camp in Dallas, which has been low key, uncomplicated and tucked away in terms of publicity.
Joshua has been training in a strength and conditioning gym, running on the streets and working in James’s gym, which is at the end of an industrial estate. Joshua says it has been “torture” at times and describes it as “back to basics”.
“We spar a lot more,” he says. “Sparring is one of the most challenging parts. It’s the closest thing to a fight, you’re sparring three to four fresh guys, coming into the ring. The good thing is, when I’m not sparring, the training he’s putting me through makes my sparring easier because I’m so well conditioned, but to get to that stage is the torture.
“You have to go through a lot of pain to be in the position where you can do those type of things easily: where you can beat up your opponent, they do three rounds apiece and you’re winning each round, no matter who comes in. To get to that position, you have to go through a lot. Derrick’s an ex-fighter so he knows what it takes, he knows what being fighting fit is about. I really like the fact that Derrick focused on the basics.”
As former Great Britain training and sparring partner Frazer Clarke says: “Going away to the US was spot on. I think it was time to forget about every media obligation, forget about everything. What did Marvin Hagler say? Go to prison, go and be with yourself, go and self-improve, don’t worry about what anyone else is thinking. He’s taken that attitude – don’t worry about Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, go and work on yourself, and credit to him.”
Team Joshua steers commercial ship
Joshua has kept in touch with his management team by daily Zoom calls.
Andy Bell, co-founder of Soapbox London, his long-term publicist, has a different take on the comeback. “A narrative has developed in boxing circles that AJ needs to ‘rebuild’ and his star has fallen,” Bell says. “It’s not my place to comment from a performance standpoint, but it is certainly not correct from a popularity and marketability point of view outside of the sport. He remains the biggest crossover commercial and mainstream media draw the sport has to offer and, if anything, his appeal has grown over the past few years.
“From prime-time TV shows, film offers to national newspapers, he is as in demand as he has ever been and it’s lazy to think the boxing bubble’s view is the perception of the wider public. He also continues to be the biggest commercial draw in the division, as we saw from comments made by Usyk’s manager, showing Usyk made nearly three times as much fighting AJ in the rematch against what he stood to make against Tyson [Fury]. The 02 is 90 per cent sold out as of now and will be a total sell-out by fight night, despite some recent stories and a cost-of-living crisis.”
New broadcast partner
Joshua has a new broadcast partner in DAZN in the UK for this contest with Franklin. A multi-fight deal is believed to be worth £20million a fight.
Joe Markowski, DAZN’s chief executive of North America, explains: “We know better than anyone that whenever Anthony fights it is a big fight and so it was only natural for us to try to sign a broadcast deal with him in the UK. Anthony buys into what we are doing as a broadcaster, shares our values and is a brilliant ambassador for us. We have been looking at launching the channel for a while in the UK and with Anthony on board it made perfect sense to do so in conjunction with his debut on the UK platform on April 1. We are incredibly excited to see him being reinvented, becoming a three-time heavyweight champion of the world.”
Hearn’s change in attitude
Joshua has been with Eddie Hearn, his promoter, for a decade and he prefers to view his charge’s latest challenge as “regaining momentum” rather than being a complete rebuild. “That’s the key,” Hearn says. “He’s been too inactive the past few years. Now’s the time to get momentum in his career.
“Away from business, for Anthony Joshua, for me and the team, this is perhaps the most important chapter of the story right now. This has been over a year and a half of pain from the first Usyk fight where he’s coming off back-to-back defeats. People are questioning his ability, his mental capability, his desire, and everything that he’s achieved in his career strangely starts to become questioned in the crazy world that we live in.” This chapter, Hearn says, is about Anthony Joshua “doing it for himself”.
“I want to see him happy, I want to see him enjoying himself. Dallas has made a difference to him, and we’re all nervous because we believe this is a tough fight. We don’t know how he’s going to react after the two defeats, but we’re also excited because we believe physically and mentally he has more desire than ever and we believe he’s in his prime. We want him to go out and show the world how good he is.”
If he does that then the change in Joshua’s routine will have been worth it.
This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph