Anthony Joshua has marked his return to the ring with a confident decision victory over Jermaine Franklin back at the O2 Arena.
At the same venue where he made his professional debut 10 years ago, the Briton secured the victory he needed to revive his world title prospects, controlling the contest over 12 rounds to seal a unanimous decision win.
A relatively clean fight turned sour after the final bell with security forced to step in with both teams involved in a brief melee inside the ring and at ringside.
Coming off the back of two successive defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, defeat in London on Saturday night would have been unthinkable. Fighting in his first non-title contest since 2015, the 33-year-old has faced questions over whether his star power is on the wane with promoter Eddie Hearn describing the fight as a ‘final roll of the dice’ for the two-time world champion.
While there are greater tests ahead, victory back in the capital sets him back on course for some huge fights this summer.
Franklin, 29, was making his second appearance at the O2 in six months, having travelled to the capital to take on Dillian Whyte last November. While he suffered the first defeat of his career that night, he gave the Brixton heavyweight problems and considered himself extremely unlucky to have lost on the judges’ scorecards.
Joshua, who weighed in at his career-heaviest on Friday, was given a similar examination by the skilled and game American before finally breaking his resistance.
Despite the towering height difference between the two, Franklin was not fazed and engaged Joshua from the opening bell with blood tricking from the Briton’s nose from the first round.
Joshua took aim with straight left jabs from the early stages, landing a big right hook at the end of the third with Franklin taking it well.
A superb fourth round saw Joshua find the target with that jab again but was still unable to follow up with Franklin countering superbly, fleet-footed and intent on throwing back.
Joshua needed more work in his corner ahead of the sixth with blood flowing from his nose but scored with a tremendous left uppercut that rocked his opponent.
Those shots looked to have slowed Franklin down by the half-way point with the work done locked away in the gym with Derrick James on show, if lacking the destructive ambition to find the finish.
With Joshua leading comfortably on the scorecards heading into the final rounds, a tiring Franklin clung on but prodoced a superb shot that drew a gasp from the crowd towards the end of the ninth.
An explosivie 10th saw Franklin hurt Joshua who responded in kind with a massive uppercut that had both men staggering. The open warefare benefited Joshua, who began finding the follow-up shots his trainer had been calling for with increasing ease.
Superb body shots crashed into Franklin as Joshua continued to show off his skillset late on but the American stood his ground until the final bell.
During fight week, Hearn teased the possibility of Joshua vs Tyson Fury once again, insisting the fight that collapsed for a second time in three years last October can be revived this summer.
A rematch against Whyte remains another compelling option, as does a long-awaited meeting with Deontay Wilder in a fight, even without world titles on the line, would promise to be one of the biggest in recent heavyweight history.
Victory in London opens those doors again for Joshua.
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