Anthony Joshua has new challenge but can be champion again with three-fight plan

In his latest column, former Olympian and heavyweight contender Frazer Clarke assesses Anthony Joshua’s next move, the changes to his team and his route back to the top.

Franklin beat Whyte and is a big test for AJ

Jermaine Franklin is the perfect opponent for Anthony Joshua to come back against. That’s not intended to disrespect Jermaine at all because I believe he was done harshly last time he came to England against Dillian Whyte.

But for me, it is the right test coming of those defeats to Oleksandr Usyk. Of course it is not an easy fight, I don’t think that for one second, but given AJ’s previous wins over certain opponents, I would expect him to win and win well.

Against Whyte, I thought Jermaine did enough. He has that typical American style, nice and compact. He is heavy-footed but he puts fast punches together and a lot of them. You can tell he is well schooled and he a very credible opponent and I thought he did enough to get the win against Dillian last November.

Say whatever you want about Anthony, but when you fight him it is like a world title fight, regardless of whether he has got the belt. It is a situation where Jermaine can’t lose.

Beating Dillian Whyte would have opened up serious doors but if you come over here and beat AJ or even just deliver a really credible performance against him, it opens up a whole new level.

I think Franklin will have a similar gameplan. I can see AJ almost using Andy Ruiz tactics from the rematch, maybe in the early going of the fight. With him being with a new trainer in Derrick James, that could be the case. There will be an air of caution in the beginning but I think he will be looking to unleash the heavy artillery soon after.

We all know what Derrick James’ fighters are capable of, Errol Spence Jr, Jermell Charlo, they are vicious punchers. It sounds crazy, talking about Joshua having to make a statement, but I think to put his names back among the top fighters alongside Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk and Deontay Wilder and get the respect on his name he deserves, an explosive performance is needed.

Trainer change vital for Joshua

I hope going over to the US will be the key to helping AJ. Change can be good, change can be difficult, especially the first few weeks or maybe months when you are just adapting to your surroundings, getting used to the training regimes, the different food, the area. Then the real work begins. There are no distractions out there.

You have got to remember with AJ, it is not just about the boxing, it is about the product. It is the commitments to media, commitments to everything else he has got going on around him. Heading out there to the US takes a lot of that out of his hands and all the other obligations he has can be taken care of after the fight. For now, it looks like to me that it is just pure boxing and self-improvement. 

The big thing will be being surrounded by other world champions. No matter what level you are at or what level you have been at before, you feel a sense to try and impress. You work a little bit harder, you want to show your professionalism, you want to show the other fighters you belong and you deserve to be at his level and in this environment. That is the mindset for AJ.

I have no doubt Derrick will have sat down and gone over the last performance and where he wants him to improve. Anthony Joshua has been at this a long time, I don’t think you are going to change him dramatically, he is not going to become a completely different fighter. But of course, there will be things the new trainer wants want to polish.

Joshua and Angel Fernandez

Whether Angel Fernandez will have a role in Joshua’s camp going forward, I would say probably not at this stage. Derrick James is a well-enough respected coach in his own right and if you are going to change, you need to change completely. Angel had been there since 2019, the set up with Joby Clayton with Rob McCracken leading and it stopped working, we saw that in the first Usyk fight.

For the Usyk rematch with Angel playing a prominent role he didn’t get the win but did it work? I would say yes, it did. There was lots of improvement. Robert Garcia was also in the mix but from the outside looking in, it looked like it confused everyone which I understand. I have said it before and I will say it again, Angel Fernandez did the majority of the work in the training camp for that fight.

Bu if AJ is going to start again, it has to be completely new. Angel, who is a really relaxed, nice geezer, was more than happy for Joshua to go after and experience new things and get what he needs physically and mentally to get back to being heavyweight champion.

I am sure Angel will always be there on the end of the phone for Anthony if he needs him. Not just as a trainer, but as a friend because you build a bond with these people when you work so closely with them and that doesn’t go away.

The route back to world title gold

Right now it is important for Joshua to get back into the world title picture. Beating Jermaine Franklin will of course do good things for him, but I think activity will be so important for him this year. There has been talk of getting him out three times which would be fantastic for him.

When you look at the scope of things since he lost the belts, other contenders have put themselves right in the mix, none more so than fighters from the UK. Right now, Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois, Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz and Filip Hrgovic are right there. Not too long ago, the conversations were just about the fights between Joshua and Tyson Fury, fights involving Oleksandr Usyk and Deontay Wilder.

But now there are a couple more creeping into the mix. So for AJ, a few more fights might be needed to put him in pole position with the governing bodies. Getting out three times with the three right opponents will prove this guy is back in line for the title shot.

The Dillian Whyte rematch is a fantastic fight. If AJ beats Jermaine Franklin, the natural next fight would be Whyte. It makes sense and it is almost a world title eliminator if it gets made. But we cannot forget about the other leading heavyweights in this country in Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois.

Once upon a time AJ was leaps and bounds in front of them, they weren’t on his radar. But now, the fights between Joshua, Whyte, Joyce and Dubois could be closer than ever.

They might not be for the title at this stage but they are fights that will absolutely put you back in contention to fight the winner of Fury vs Usyk. It is great for British boxing, you could have a set of worlds title eliminators in this country alone with Joshua, Joyce, Dubois and Whyte, any of those could be stadium fights.

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