ANTHONY JOSHUA got his career back on track with a laboured victory over Jermaine Franklin.
The former two-time unified heavyweight champion returned to action at London’s O2 on Saturday night for a make-or-break fight for his glittering career.
AJ’s hopes of forging a path back to world title contention hinged on making a definitive statement against the American, his first opponent since back-to-back defeats to pound-for-pound king Oleksandr Usyk.
But the burly Brit failed to prove he’s still a major force to be reckoned with by going the distance with American gunslinger Whyte.
Joshua, the golden boy of British boxing, predicted a brutal victory over Franklin in the build-up to the do-or-die showdown.
The 33-year-old said: “I think we will see blood and I just really look forward to getting in there again.
“I’m so happy I’m fighting again because when you look at the champions now, it is just a shambles when you are trying to compete with mandatories and negotiations.
“Honestly I can’t believe no fights have been made at championship level.
“I am so happy I can get back to work, get on with my job and I am looking forward to this assignment.
“I can’t wait honestly. I am really looking forward to it.”
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Joshua immediately took the centre of the ring after a touch of glove sand immediately went to work with the jab.
The pride of Britain was cool calm and collected as the smaller Franklin tried to jump into range and land his shots.
Joshua took his time trying to get reads on the advancing Franklin and was cautious with throwing his devastating right hand.
But he found a home for it with a minute of the first left after landing a nice short left hook.
Franklin gave AJ a menacing stare at the end of the first but was met with a ‘f**k you’ by the former champ.
Joshua continued to work behind the jab in the second but in a much closer range that he did in the first.
Chants of ‘Oh, Anthony Joshua’ rang throughout the arena. And AJ responded to the crowd’s chants with a stiff right hand that snapped back the head of the American.
And he drew a huge reaction midway through the round with a massive one-two which sent the sweat flying from Franklin’s forehead.
But Franklin responded well, coming forward and landing a left hook on a bloodied AJ – which he followed up a few moments later with a big one-two of his own.
Joshua went back to work at range and pawing away with his jab in the third, in which Franklin had renewed confidence.
Joshua was surprisingly hesitant to engage in close after finding a home for his jab, much to he surprise of many.
But he did punctuate the round with a good left hook, which he followed up with a straight right at the bell.
Franklin changed the ebb and flow of the fight by taking the centre early in the fourth and firing out a laser-accurate jab to the chin of AJ.
Joshua was in reaction mode and looked to counterpunch the stumpy American – who repeatedly tried to bulldoze his way into range and land a big shot.
Franklin did just that with a minute of the round left but Joshua took it well. Joshua ended the round strongly with a big uppercut after being backed up onto the ropes.
Joshua started the fifth well with a good overhand right. But he soon ate an uppercut in tight after Franklin yet again closed the distance and threw a flurry inside.
Another punishing right landed midway through the round but Franklin immediately threw back.
Despite having success with his right hand, Joshua was tentative to throw punches in bunches – which would’ve been a worrying sight for his new trainer Derrick James.
Joshua went back to throwing out more jabs early in the sixth but seldom followed up with combinations.
A lovely lead uppercut from AJ drew a big reaction from the crowd and forced Franklin to barrage forward once again.
And a chopping right hand forced Franklin to continue to try and make the fight a rough one.
Franklin continued to try and stifle Joshua’s work with repeated clinches and roughhouse tactics.
Joshua eventually found a home for his right hand with 45 seconds of the round but was unable to land another meaningful shot before the end of the stanza.
The O2 roared in anticipation after AJ landed a big right hand early in the eighth. But Franklin, once again, closed the distance and initiated a frustrating clinch.
Franklin’s uncanny ability to tie up Joshua continued to be the story of the round – much to the frustration of Joshua – although he did manage to land a nice uppercut before yet another tie-up before the end of the round.
A careless lead uppercut led to AJ eating a big left hook early in the ninth but he ate it like it was a late-night snack.
By this point, it was clear that Franklin had given up hope of outboxing Joshua and was content with trying to frustrate him on the inside.
But he had success with an overhand right after closing the distance, but Joshua took it well.
A nasty three-piece combination early in the tenth snapped back the head of Franklin and had Joshua fans hopeful of a stoppage.
But Joshua didn’t capitalise on the golden opportunity, much to the frustration of fans.
The roof nearly blew off the arena as the pair exchanged heavy shots against the ropes midway through the round.
Joshua as cautious early in the penultimate stanza, which led to Franklin securing uet another clinch – although he did eat a big uppercut for his troubles.
A thudding left hook to the body hurt Franklin but he played it off well before landing another clinch.
Franklin found a home for a bomb of a right hand after being hit with another heavy lead uppercut that would’ve felled most.
And he landed another ten seconds before the end of round – in which he landed a sot after the bell.
Joshua began putting more venom into his shots in the 12th in the hopes of a late highlight-reel knockout.
The former champion got frustrated with Franklin’s roughhouse tactics and let him know about it after he was pushed into the fence.
And he responded with a nasty hook and uppercut midway through the round that saw fans rise to their feet.
Franklin survived the storm and went back to his clinch game to end the round.
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