Anthony Joshua knows a Battle of Britain with Tyson Fury is the fight “the boxing world needs” to see after he survived his “do-or-die” clash with Jermaine Franklin.
Joshua laboured to his first victory since 2020 with a unanimous points decision success over the American heavyweight at the O2 Arena.
After back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, the former Olympic champion could not afford another loss on his CV, with retirement talk the elephant in the room since Usyk won his world titles in Tottenham two years ago.
While it was far from vintage from Joshua at his old stomping ground, the judges scored 118-111, 117-111 and 117-111 in favour of the home boxer, who regularly landed his left jab and connected with several thunderous right punches without pushing Franklin to the point of no return.
It means the two-time world heavyweight champion lives to fight another day and he knows all roads lead back to rival Fury.
“Dillian Whyte or Tyson Fury? Well, 100 per cent Tyson Fury,” said Joshua, who took his record to 25-3, with 22 knockouts.
“That is the pot of gold. That is the WBC heavyweight champion of the world. That’s what it is all about, so definitely Tyson Fury.
“Yeah (another warm-up fight) would be ideal, after that long lay-off, to get active. But sometimes an opportunity presents itself and you have to grab it with both hands.
“In that sense, if the opportunity presented itself and coach and team agree it is a good opportunity, I would take it and grab it with both hands, 100 per cent. The boxing world needs it.”
Given Joshua had lost three of his previous five fights, a big question for the Watford-born boxer was if he still had the motivation, but a dedicated training camp in Dallas with new trainer Derrick James showed that over the winter.
The early rounds of his eighth showing at the O2 were dominated by his left jab and the occasional right hook, which Franklin was able to take impressively.
Franklin had lost to Whyte at Wembley Arena in November, but was in much better shape and blooded the nose of Joshua in the second before his holding tested the frustration of his opponent.
Referee Marcus McDonell warned the pair on countless occasions and yet the scrappy nature of the heavyweight clash remained despite explosive finishes to the latter rounds.
A bizarre conclusion saw the 12th round ended early and Joshua pressed his head into Franklin after the bell, which resulted in the American’s strength and fitness coach Lorenzo Reynolds shoving the Finchley fighter.
Joshua said: “Deep down I am not happy because the ultimate goal is a knockout. Nothing can top a knockout. But it is what it is.
“There were opportunities for sure where I pushed, but I was fighting someone and you come in with a plan to win. He had a good camp and you could see he came off a good 12 rounds with Dillian.
“He said he was fit and fresher, so he did well to stay in. I wish I could have taken him.
“He wanted to win and round by round we are talking to each other, I am pushing his head and s***, so there is a bit of ego and pride that happens in the ring. It just spills over into the final bell. That’s all it is but it is all respect.”
Even though this was the first time in 13 fights where no world titles were on the line for Joshua, he insisted his passion for the sport remained high, with Fury top of his list for future opponents, especially after the WBC belt holder saw talks with Usyk over a unification clash collapse.
“Do or die? That’s a great experience to compete in front of 20,000 people. There’s no pressure. Honestly, it is a blessing. When I look out of that ring after a fight, I am like, ‘S*** that is nuts. Look at all them people’. It is humbling,” the 33-year-old added.
“I am definitely passionate about the game, 100 per cent, for so many reasons. The list is long and I am committed until it’s done.
“The reality I am living is we are still chasing something. Yeah, I’m still chasing the dream.”