This weekend, Anthony Joshua returns to his old home ground on the Greenwich Peninsula after seven years to fight American Jermaine Franklin. Yet he returns to this scene of past glories with starkly contrasting fortunes.
The last time Joshua climbed the ropes at London’s O2 Arena was on the night of June 25, 2016, when he made the first defense of his IBF world title against another American boxer, the little-known Dominic Breazeale.
Despite Breazeale’s obscurity, tickets to the fight sold out in just 30 minutes as fans clamored to see the new British heavyweight superstar in person. With 16 knockouts in 16 ring fights and an infectious charisma, AJ was a man in high demand, and his ruthless seven-round elimination of Breazeale only added to the hysteria.
While Tyson Fury struggled with mental health issues away from the sport, Joshua had become the undisputed standard bearer for UK boxing, generating levels of popularity not seen on these shores since the days of Frank Bruno. And with possible unification blockbusters against Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder on the horizon, the sky seemed to be the limit.
Anthony Joshua was the man of the hour at the O2 seven years ago (left), now returning to his old ground stomping on contrasting fortunes.
Joshua knocked out Dominic Breazeale in his last appearance at the O2 in June 2016.
This weekend, his boxing career hangs in the balance when he returns to the Greenwich Peninsula to take on American heavyweight Jermaine Franklin (right).
Although almost 2,500 days after that rosy night, Joshua returns to the O2 on Saturday night with his boxing career hanging in the balance.
Two consecutive defeats at the hands of the masterful Oleksandr Usyk in the last 18 months have left the 33-year-old dejected; relieving him of three heavyweight championships as he dented his ego and aura in equal measure.
There have only been two wins from his previous five contests, with Andy Ruiz Jr. the first to expose his shortcomings in shocking fashion on that dramatic June night at Madison Square Garden four years ago. In the time since, Joshua has only an uneventful points vendetta over Ruiz and a knockout of the 39-year-old Kubrat Pulev to showcase his heavyweight exploits.
As a result, his unwanted return from O2 hasn’t provided the kind of ticket frenzy that AJ and promoter Eddie Hearn are used to. With just over a week to go until the showdown with Franklin, Hearn revealed that only 15,000 had been sold, leaving fewer than 1,000 to flog.
After seven years of sold-out arenas, high-profile events across the United States and lucrative trips to Saudi Arabia, Joshua’s return to his old stronghold, for his first non-world title fight since December 2015, feels like a case of how the mighty have fallen. .
However, while losing fights is the most obvious factor to note when assessing his decline, the Olympic gold medalist no longer carries the same public image, regardless of his current form, seven years after his last outing at the O2.
Adding to the power shift to Fury on these shores, as he is now capable of packing stadiums in his own right as Britain’s number one heavyweight and leading personality, Joshua has generated controversy and alienated a large section of his supporters with certain antics. in recent years.
The most surprising came after his rematch loss to Usyk in August. At the end of other points of humility against the Ukrainian, an emotional and disillusioned AJ took the microphone and embarked on a bizarre post-fight speech, addressing the crisis in Ukraine, responding to his critics and leading a series of “hip hip hurrahs.” “. ‘ for the victor.
His return to O2 hasn’t provided the kind of ticket frenzy Joshua has grown accustomed to.
Two defeats at the hands of the masterful Oleksandr Usyk (left) have derailed his career
After the second humiliation, Joshua delivered a cringe-worthy post-fight speech in the ring.
He has only recorded two wins in his last five fights, one of which came against the 39-year-old Kubrat Pulev (pictured)
He also threw Usyk’s heavyweight title belts out of the ring after hearing the judges’ decision in an embarrassing meltdown that earned him widespread criticism.
It should be noted that Joshua raised his hands after the outburst, revealing that he had also reached out to former foe Klitschko to apologize to fellow countryman Usyk on his behalf. Throwing their toys out of the stroller like that after two clear losses, however, has only brought more detractors.
On a broader scale, another point of contention was when Joshua delivered a speech that divided opinion at a Black Lives Matter rally three years ago.
“Show them where it hurts, refrain from spending their money on their stores and economies, and invest in black-owned businesses,” he told the rally in Watford.
“And that’s for all communities, if you want to rise up, invest in your own business.”
The comments ignited a fierce debate on social media, with many accusing the heavyweight star of encouraging a boycott of white-owned businesses and, in turn, fueling inter-ethnic tensions.
Joshua also alienated a portion of his fanbase with controversial comments at a Black Lives Matter rally in Watford.
But he issued a colorful response to online criticism, saying: “If you think I’m racist, fuck you!”
Joshua was quick to respond, insisting that someone who couldn’t make it to the event had passed him a speech to read. ‘If you think I’m racist, fuck you!’ was the most colorful response from him.
And while it can be argued that his words were taken out of context, several of AJ’s white supporters took this comment to heart, meaning some have turned their backs on his future boxing endeavors ever since.
Unlike 2016, it is no longer the love of the nation.
Inactivity may also have played a role in Joshua’s diminishing star power, given that he has only boxed three times in a little over two years. The Covid-19 pandemic, of course, did not help this, delaying both his return after beating Ruiz and his first meeting with Usyk.
But good times with AJ, the kind of nights we’d grown accustomed to in his prime, have been a rarity in recent years. Who would have imagined that, after beating Alexander Povetkin at Wembley in September 2018, over the next four and a half years he would rack up just another two victories, before letting go of his heavyweight crown and fighting to sell out the O2?
Joshua is no longer the darling of the nation, but a resounding victory over Franklin will propel him back into the mix at heavyweight and revive his star power.
That being said, the win against Franklin this weekend, and a resounding one at that, will breathe new life into Joshua’s faded reputation. After his 12-round war with Dillian Whyte last year, wiping the floor with the 29-year-old in the distance is the kind of statement he desperately needs to propel himself back into the mix.
Do this, and suddenly a lucrative showdown with Fury at Wembley is a realistic proposition again for the summer, until the inevitable collapse of negotiations, of course. Megafights against Deontay Wilder and Joe Joyce also reemerge as impressive alternatives.
All hope is not lost for AJ as he prepares to return to the lion’s den on Saturday night. Anything but a big win will leave his heavyweight ambitions in shambles, though.