Joshua is well aware of what is at stake at the O2 Arena on Saturday night and yet he goes into the fight much more relaxed than many of his more recent bouts. Prior to Andy Ruiz Jr, there was an optimistic mood from both him and his team that they had cracked the UK and were now ready to take the US by storm.
For Oleksandr Usyk, there was a tension as he desperately tried to prove to himself and anyone who would listen that he was technically the better boxer. All that happened was he fell into the trap of playing Usyk at his own game and being completely outboxed.
Gone are the world titles that – aside from Ruiz Jr.’s brief hiatus. — have been his for so long to take the pressure off, but there’s the knowledge that Franklin, while an impressive heavyweight, isn’t in the same ballpark as Joshua. In fact, only Usyk, Tyson Fury and possibly Deontay Wilder can consider themselves better heavyweights.
Joshua has been repeating the mantra throughout the run up to this fight that all that matters is victory one way or another. But winning alone is not enough. Should it be little more than a skillful points win, he is well aware that the critics he spoke of this week will be as vocal as they were after that second Usyk loss.
An explosive knockout from yesteryear will be a way to quiet those disapproving voices and to get the attention of his rivals. This makes every conversation between Joshua and Fury more and more realistic.
Franklin has talked about putting Joshua on his back and knows how fallible he has seen his defeats at the hands of Ruiz Jr and Usyk. And the American looks much fitter and bigger than he did in the points decision that went against him in his last fight against Dillian Whyte.
After two Usyk fights in the span of a year, Joshua looked tired, not just from the defeats, but from the anticipation of it all and anyone wanting a piece of him. He called it the “kissing babies” expectation.
His great weakness is that he hates to disappoint people. It may explain why he stayed with trainer Rob McCracken for so long when in reality he stopped listening to him. And it’s that same facet that has seen him pull in too many directions, whether it’s his countless messages of support or other out-of-the-ring activities.
Talking to him this week, he seems well aware of that. Getting himself out of London could prove to be the masterstroke for this final run of his career.
Dallas will presumably be the scene of his rebirth and on Saturday he is determined not to let down his new trainer Derrick James, aiming to put on a performance to show he was worth it. James will be one of many waiting to see if he gets the right answer.