JERMAINE FRANKLIN has fanned the flames of his burgeoning rivalry with Anthony Joshua by suggesting it may be a little introspection and not another new coach that AJ needs most.
For the second time in five months, Franklin will be heading to Britain to face a London heavyweight with a new trainer in their corner after agreeing to take on Joshua on April Fool’s Day at the O2 Arena.
In November, the Michigan man was narrowly beaten on points by Buddy McGirt-trained Dillian Whyte across town at the Wembley Arena and screamed robbery in a side room an hour after the final bell. His reward for that performance was this return to the capital.
Now Joshua is making his first appearance since forming a new bond with an American trainer following his decision to link up with the esteemed Derrick James in January. The former world heavyweight champion had brought in Robert Garcia for August’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk but after suffering a second successive defeat to the Ukrainian, decided not to persevere with the relation.
Now Franklin, who has been with his current coach Jesse Addison since he was 12, has questioned that decision. “Every time, just because you lost it might not be your trainer’s fault,” says the softly-spoken Franklin. “It could be you.
“I don’t blame the trainer. This is the third trainer he’s had in three fights. At what point do you start blaming yourself and not the trainer? It can’t be every trainer. Not every trainer can be making you lose.
“I don’t know how to feel about the Derrick James thing because you’re already kinda aggressive and Derrick James trains aggressive fighters so I don’t see what more he can add to his game. But most of his guys are body hunters, you’re 6ft 6in, it’s going to be harder for you to get down and get to the body like that.
“Maybe he’s just trying to find the trainer that he’s most comfortable with. But I feel like you and your trainer should have a real solid relationship win, lose or draw. Early on when you’re with these people they don’t get paid. They’ve been with you for years. They know you inside and out. Your relationship might get a little shaky but it’s up to you how you fix it and bring it together.
“If you’re not liking some stuff your coach is doing you should be able to talk to him and tell him: ‘I need you to do this and this’. If you can’t reconcile then that’s ok, this is business. It’s OK to go and get another coach but I would at least try to fix what’s going on first.”
Much like he did back in November, Franklin looks relaxed and in no way overawed by the situation. Unassuming, quiet and dressed in a black tracksuit, the 6ft 2in Franklin smiles as he acknowledges that his life has been changed, financially at least, by these two successive trips to Britain.
By many he is seen as cannon fodder for a revamped Joshua, who has fights with bigger names looming large on the horizon. Again Franklin smiles.
“I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me,” he adds. “Not because of him changing trainer but because of the other shit we’ve seen. Like footwork, the Usyk fight surprised me a little bit. It was a different AJ as a fighter. I’ve been watching that, studying that.
“Footwork of his is a big thing, I don’t think people see it because he’s such a bully and dominating that they don’t see some of the mistakes he makes with his feet. But I’m faster than most of the guys and have better defence than most of the guys. Right now we’re just trying to capitalise on how to get out of the way and set certain stuff up based upon his aggressiveness.
“I’m used to seeing AJ like a bull, a raging bull. Even though he’s not overly aggressive he’s dominant. But when I watched the Usyk fights it was weird to see this little guy pot-shotting. He’s not trying to knock you out, he’s just touching you and moving back. You can see all the frustration on his face.
“In my opinion, regardless of the way he fights we have ways to touch him in attack. We work for it all.”
It is suggested that he might be a different animal, a more dangerous one, now he has an L on his record. “I was dangerous anyway,” he says.
Meanwhile Joshua, outwardly at least, insists he is taking nothing for granted against Franklin, the 21-1 (14) ‘989 Assassin’ – a reference to the Saginaw area code.
This year brings up a decade as a professional for the London 2012 Olympic super heavyweight champion but he says his focus in camp so far is more intense than at any point in the last 10 years. He says there has been plenty of introspection too.
“I made a conscious decision last year to take a step back and put my heart into boxing and nothing else so I’ve definitely got that fire in there,” he says.
“I’m a serious person. I’m not really in camp to go out for coffees and talk about bullshit. I’m there to f**king work, put my head down, work and prepare for a fight.
“One thing is for sure that this is the most serious I’ve ever taken it. The way I’m training, I study the game. People question where my head is at, ‘is his head in the game?’
“But that’s only one thing. Waking up and going to the gym for a fighter is everyday life but there’s a difference when you put your heart into it. I’ve had to get rid of a load of distractions and put my heart back into it.”