SO IT won’t be Tyson Fury, Otto Wallin or Demsey McKean. The next man to face Anthony Joshua will be Jermaine Franklin, the 21-1 (14) American who was unknown in the UK until he gave Dillian Whyte a tough comeback fight in November. It was confirmed on Monday that the 29-year-old will tackle Joshua in a 12-rounder on April 1, inside the O2 Arena.

The London venue was once a favourite haunt of Joshua during his rapid rise to stadium-conquering superstar. His record in the North Greenwich arena is 6-0 (6) and set the scene for his victories over Denis Bakhtov, Kevin Johnson, Gary Cornish, Dillian Whyte, Charles Martin and Dominic Breazeale. The seventh round win over Breazeale was his most recent outing at the arena, in June 2016.

The Killers frontman, Brandon Flowers, said while playing the John Peel stage at Glastonbury in 2018, “You get to play this stage on the way up and again on the way down… it’s good to be back.” But the rock band bucked that trend; by the following year, they were headlining the entire festival again. Joshua, alongside new coach Derrick James, will hope to follow that formula and prove he remains a force to be reckoned with.

“I want to put on a show and impress my coach as he has high standards,” Joshua said. “Franklin has a good style and a great attitude, which he has shown in recent fights.

“Mentally and physically I feel ready,” the 33-year-old added. “I’m looking forward to stepping back into the ring on April 1.”

Since he last fought at the O2, Joshua’s career has been impossible to ignore. Triumphs over the likes of Wladimir Klitschko, Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin turned him into a true crossover star. But now he’s at the crossroads. An upset loss to Andy Ruiz in New York in 2019 was followed by revenge in Saudi Arabia, a post-lockdown stoppage of Kubrat Pulev before two losses in 2021-22 to the great Ukrainian, Oleksandr Usyk.

Some hardcore fans may scoff at Franklin as an opponent but he seems a wise choice. Slippery and canny enough to avoid being blown away early, but surely not dangerous enough to actually win, Joshua can take his time as he looks to rebuild the confidence he once had in abundance.

Franklin started boxing in his early teens in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan after his father took him to the gym to stop him from fighting on the streets. He won a National Golden Gloves title in 2014 before turning professional in 2015 after deciding against staying in the amateur code to pursue qualification to the Olympics. As a professional he made steady progress, with his best victories all coming by way of 10-round decisions over gatekeeper types like Jerry Forrest, Rydell Booker and Pavel Sour. He describes himself as a “thinker inside the ring, although I can brawl, I can box too.”

He took comfort from sparring division leader Tyson Fury last year. “I tell you I learned a lot on the first day,” Franklin said. “I realised what many do not believe or want to believe – I can compete with the Tyson Furys of the heavyweight division. He is the best, but I believe I have skills and talent to be a champion also.”

Franklin subsequently gave Whyte – returning after being flattened by Fury – plenty to think about, with many observers believing he was unlucky to be adjudged a majority decision loser after 12 rounds inside Wembley Arena. From ringside Boxing News scored that contest all square. He insists fighting in the UK again doesn’t concern him. “One thing I have learned about boxing. Never let the judges decide the winner,” he declared. “April 1, tell the judges to take the night off. We won’t need them. I don’t play boxing.”

This contest will mark 24-3 (22) Joshua’s first outing under James. The Watford man split with long-time coach Robert McCracken following the first loss to Usyk and joined forces with Robert Garcia for the return. Despite performing better while losing a split decision, he again looked a clear loser and opted to continue his search for a new head trainer.

James, from Dallas, was beaten by Chris Byrd in the 1992 Olympic trials and went on to have a 27-7-1 (12) professional career, coming up short against opposition like Otis Grant, Joe Lipsey and Ole Klemetson as he fought from middleweight to light-heavyweight. His last contest was a third round win over Martin Verdin in 2008. He currently trains Errol Spence Jnr and Jermell Charlo, and is regarded as one of the best coaches in America, one who promotes aggression and spitefulness in his charges.

Joshua’s comeback was confirmed by DAZN and Matchroom on the same day the streaming channel announced new prices for subscribers. The current flexible £7.99 monthly fee will increase to £19.99, with options to pay £9.99 per month or a one-off annual charge of £99.99 if customers are willing to commit to 12 months. The bout with Franklin will not be a pay-per-view event in an effort to persuade fans to take up long-term subscriptions.

There is no news yet on the undercard.