After winning the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in front of his countrymen in London, Joshua quickly proved himself one of the top heavyweights in the professional ranks. Joshua knocked out Charles Martin in the second round of his 16th professional fight to become IBF heavyweight champion. Joshua won the then-vacant WBA title three fights later with a late stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko and took just two more fights to add the WBO title with a decision victory over Joseph Parker.
With three of the four recognized world championships already in his collection, it seemed Joshua was destined to sit atop the heavyweight division for years to come. Then came a fight with lightly-regarded Andy Ruiz Jr. in June 2019 and the first sign that the wheels were starting to come off the Joshua wagon.
Ruiz knocked out Joshua who entered the fight as upwards of a -2500 favorite — in seven rounds, scoring one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight championship history. Joshua was able to dominate the rematch with Ruiz, winning back his titles in the process, and followed that up with a knockout win over Kubrat Pulev before facing off with former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk.
Again, Joshua suffered an upset loss when he was thoroughly outboxed by the smaller man. Joshua entered the rematch as an underdog for the first time in his career. While he put on a better performance than the first meeting, it was Usyk whose had was raised again.
The back-to-back defeats against Usyk left Joshua in a new position, outside the top of the division and not in a spot where a world title opportunity was easily within reach. It also derailed the possibility of a showdown with fellow Englishman Tyson Fury to crown an undisputed champion in a fight that would have done incredible business as the biggest showdown in English boxing history.
“When you’re under pressure you put expectations on yourself I didn’t have time to stop but in those quiet times when I’m sitting there and questioning myself I definitely had to soul search a bit,” Joshua said in an interview with Sky Sports this week.
“Questioning myself, how do I get better, what am I looking for, what’s the purpose, why did I act like that (after the fight), if it happened again how could I do better?”
Forced to rebuild, Joshua needed a “get right” fight against a capable opponent he should be expected to beat. Enter Franklin, the +700 underdog.
Franklin won the first 21 fights of his career including decision wins over familiar names Rydell Booker and Jerry Forrest. That run of success led to a fight in London against former world title challenger Dillian Whyte.
The fight with Whyte was a close affair that saw both men have their moments in a largely-even battle. Ultimately, Whyte took a mildly-controversial majority decision, though Franklin proved he could hang with one of the better heavyweights in the world.
Franklin now travels to London for the second straight time as the underdog dealing with a hostile crowd.
Interestingly, Joshua is also traveling back to his home country. Joshua began training with a new team in Texas following the Usyk losses, looking to both change his approach to fighting and place himself somewhat out of the constant spotlight that has shined on him in England for his entire career.
If Joshua hopes to again ascend to the top of the heavyweight mountain, he can afford no further slip-ups or unexpected speed bumps.
The undercard is not incredibly deep as this serves more for Joshua, but there will be three fights that precede the main event on Saturday night. Austin Williams is set to make his return to the ring against River Wilson-Bent at middleweight. Prospect Galal Yafai is set for his latest test when he welcomes Moises Calleros in a flyweight contest. And Fabio Wardley opens the festivities with a heavyweight showdown against Michael Polite Coffie.