On the eve of the week of the biggest fight of his career, Jermaine Franklin learned of the sudden death of his godmother that has forced him to resist the urge to grieve.
The 29-year-old is preparing to fight Anthony Joshua on Saturday at London’s O2 Arena, and already had little choice but to confront the circumstances involved in fighting one of the world’s highest-profile and most marketable fighters, and the potential distractions and drain on his energy levels that that entails.
It had already been reported that he had filed a lawsuit against Salita Promotions, whose figurehead Dmitriy Salita has described as “frivolous and false” the allegations made against his company. Franklin – no doubt inadvertently encouraged by the team around him in London who are so willing to point out perceived weaknesses in his opponent – is also aware of the extent to which victory, over someone who has lost three times in five fights and been stripped of his champion’s aura, would change his life.
To that end, if at any point he had been tempted to feel intimidated by Joshua and the relative circus that continues to surround him, the death of someone so close to him could yet give him a level of perspective that may help. But when he is already having to adopt his most convincing, confident fighter’s persona and to retain the composure he will unquestionably require on Saturday, the challenge involved in doing so became considerably more intense when he also started fighting the unique and complex challenge of grief.
“It was kind of hard to take,” he said, speaking on Wednesday ahead of the arrival of the friends and relatives whose presence could risk renewing the sadness he is attempting to compartmentalise. “I didn’t think it was real. I kind of thought my mum was lying. I just put the phone down – I really didn’t wanna talk. So I just, really, went to sleep. I called her Booba – that was her nickname.
“I found that out two days ago. She was struggling with some health problems – she had a gastric-bypass and she kept catching infections from it. But we was very close. She’d always been around; always wished me the best; we’d always spent a lot of time together since childhood.
“I just had to put it to the back [of my mind] until I get back home and be able to [start the] debriefing process.”
One James “Buster” Douglas, when grieving his mother, once confronted the intimidating challenge of the undefeated Mike Tyson when the then-heavyweight champion’s aura of invincibility remained intact. He proceeded to record what continues to be regarded as the biggest upset in heavyweight boxing history, and ultimately changed the course of his life.
Joshua is not Tyson in the boxing ring nor in the way that, by comparison, despite the pressure he is under after successive defeats by Oleksandr Usyk he remains considerably more serene. When he lost to Andy Ruiz Jnr in 2019 he was the victim of another of the heavyweight division’s great upsets, and Franklin, in the region of 20lbs lighter for an opponent four years his senior after transforming his lifestyle, is similarly and unconvincingly having to resist the temptation to dream.
“[Ruiz Jr] just dropped the ball completely,” he said. “I like Andy but I don’t know if he had people in his ear, or was it just the lights that got to him? But he dropped the ball on that.
“I’m super confident. I really don’t think about stuff like that ‘till after the fight. Right now I’m just focused extremely on fighting and doing my job and doing what I gotta do. The rest of the antics come afterwards, and I’ll be able to open my mind to that but right now I’m just tunnel vision.”
He predictably refused to discuss the situation between he and Salita, who joined him at the top table at Wednesday’s press conference like doing so was the most natural thing of all. Salita and his trainer Jesse Addison exchanged knowing looks at certain soundbites from Joshua, suggesting a sense of unity that made their circumstances even more mystifying – particularly given, ahead of Salita’s arrival in London, Franklin was uncertain about whether the promoter would be joining them at all.
“I think they’ve all talked, and said, ‘Look, that situation is parked for another day,’” Eddie Hearn, who sat alongside them at that same top table, told Boxing News. “‘Let’s get through this fight and this week’. I don’t actually know the situation, but it wasn’t like Jermaine said, ‘He ain’t coming up there’. [Salita] was in the room [with them], sitting down, before I turned up, so I don’t know where they’re at with it all. I think there’s a couple of entities [Franklin] works with but Dmitriy was involved in the deal.”
“I wanna get to the bottom of this,” Salita told Boxing News. “The timing of this, from Jermaine’s sake – let’s say he wants to file a lawsuit against me – why would he do it the week before the fight? To cause this unnecessary tension – instead of focusing on Jermaine’s chances of victory – to focus on this?
“We have not received a formal letter of a suit. Jermaine’s advisor – we flew on the same flight from Detroit to London, and of course I asked him [about it], and I told him my peace. ‘Whatever it is, why wouldn’t you call me and tell me, Dmitriy, we’re filing a lawsuit against you, out of courtesy?’ I don’t want to bother Jermaine [about it] the week of the fight.
“That situation will take care of itself. But I want to help Jermaine win this fight – I don’t want to put any pressure on him. I don’t think it’s constructive. Of course I’m coming to this fight.
“It was a little awkward [being sat at the top table given public knowledge of the circumstances]. I’ve never had [this] happen the week of a fight.
“Such a big fight, certainly. It is what it is.”