Jermaine Franklin is among the softer souls to possess such heavy hands. In fact, his voice is gentle enough that it is almost drowned out by each creak of the door, and by the din that spills in from the corridor.
Franklin sits at one end of a long table, in the middle of a hotel function room in Brentford, surrounded by journalists. Each creak, each spillage draws aggravated glances from the group. Yet, every time, there is also an undercurrent of curiosity as to whether it may just be the hulking figure of Anthony Joshua that strolls in.
That figure would cast a shadow over most fighters, but – in any case – Franklin is content to sit in the dark for now. He was content to sit in the dark during the Covid pandemic, when he took employment at a roofing company to make ends meet, but on Saturday night, the American plans to step out into the light.
“Every fight changes our lives, honestly,” Franklin says. “As long as I’m able to take care of and provide for my family, I’m good with that. I’m not a real flashy, flamboyant person – nothing like that, it’s not like I live a luxurious life. As long as the bills are paid and my kids are happy, I’m good.
“I need people to understand this,” Franklin continues, “my whole career, I’ve always been put on the backburner. I’ve always been the underdog, I’ve always been looked as the guy who’s gonna lose once he gets to the top level. I’ve been fighting the odds my whole career. It doesn’t offend me, it just makes me want to prove people wrong.”
In November, the 29-year-old was the underdog against a Briton in a London arena. On Saturday, the same will be the case. This time, however, it will be Joshua at the O2, rather than Dillian Whyte at Wembley.
Five months ago, on his UK debut, Franklin was on the wrong end of a majority decision against Whyte, with many onlookers feeling that the Michigan fighter had edged the contest. That bout quickly became a brawl, and its result soon became irrelevant; the winner’s reward was to be a clash with Joshua, yet it is Franklin – not Whyte – squaring off with “AJ” this week.
And Franklin, assessing Joshua’s last fight, sees an opportunity to exploit. Discussing the Briton’s second straight points loss to Oleksandr Usyk, who retained the unified heavyweight titles against Joshua in August, Franklin says: “I’m used to seeing AJ like a raging bull. Even though he’s not overly aggressive, he’s dominating, so when I watched that fight… it was weird to this little guy pop-shotting him, and all the frustration start to come out [of Joshua]. This guy [Usyk] already got you off your gameplan, not even in the sixth or seventh round of the fight. All he’s gotta do is touch you – they don’t gotta try to hurt you or KO you – and you’re gonna start fighting their fight?”
Since Joshua’s losses to Usyk, some have questioned the 33-year-old’s ability and appetite. AJ candidly confessed that “money”, “money” and “money” were his motivations for fighting Franklin, yet the American does not look at Joshua and see any decline or diminished desire.
“I won’t say the hunger won’t be the same, I just think his losses probably messed with him a little bit,” Franklin suggests. “As fighters, we train to be the toughest people ever, so one little slip-up… it can mentally harm you. If I’m always thinking I’m the best, and I lose a fight, it can send me back – some stuff can start a depression.
“A lot of boxers don’t talk about [this] stuff, but there’s a lot mentally that comes behind a fight. I wouldn’t say he’s declining or nothing, but he could’ve went through something mentally that could’ve backfired on him in the fights. It’s all about feeling. I look at the world differently. If you tell the universe that you’re scared or have doubts, that can come to fruition; but if you tell the universe, ‘I’m gonna do it,’ then there’s a high possibility of that coming to fruition.”
Some feel that there is a high possibility of Joshua retiring if he is to fall to a third straight defeat, but Franklin is not so sure.
“No, because… people are saying I’m a bum,” he explains. “If you’re saying AJ loses to me and his career is over, you’re saying I’m not a guy who can beat AJ. That’s what the world is saying. The world is still sleeping on me, but y’all are giving him somewhat of a bad reputation, but the guy he [just] lost to hasn’t lost yet.”
Franklin himself had not lost until his disputed defeat by Whyte, and the American counts himself among the top 10 heavyweights in the world. There is an air of realism to his assessment; “I still need some big fights,” he admits, and the next will arrive this weekeend.
With a win over Joshua, Franklin could change his life. Yet some things never change. On Saturday, just as she was at the start, Franklin’s mother will be present to cheer on her son.
“I ain’t gonna say I was a bad kid, but I used to be in fights and s*** like that,” Franklin laughs, “so seeing me doing something positive was always something good, I guess! She just stuck with it, once I started. She didn’t really have no objections. And I was kind of a big kid, so I guess that was easier for her, not to see me get beat on. Actually my little sister probably is the loudest, you can hear her anywhere; she could be in the nosebleed seats, you’d hear her!”
Keep an ear out for Franklin’s sister, but keep your eyes on the heavyweight himself. In a contest like this, one punch can change the fight. It can also change a life.
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