Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said he was “relieved’ for Anthony Joshua to get the win this past Saturday over Jermaine Franklin, but admitted that like many he wasn’t entirely thrilled with the performance, and that he feels Joshua needs another fight of the sort to be ready for big fights with Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder.
Hearn spoke with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday about Joshua’s performance, his immediate future — which he says could be Fury or Wilder next, if an offer comes along — and his thoughts on the Fury vs Usyk negotiations falling apart for the time being.
On Joshua’s performance against Franklin
“The best way to describe it was ‘solid, not spectacular.’ There’s a lot of people that are criticizing the performance. One of them was Dillian Whyte, who had a very close fight with Franklin. AJ won the fight comfortably on Saturday night — comfortably.
“I felt like, at times, he should have been more aggressive. I feel like, if we’re gonna be honest, at times he looked like he lacked a bit of confidence and belief. But at the same time, he hadn’t won a fight since December 2020. He’s had three trainers in his last three fights. And if he lost on Saturday night, his career was over. So all in all, there was a lot of pressure.
On what’s next for AJ
“The general feeling is we need another fight. A step-up from Franklin, but in order to gel and continue improving with Derrick James, we need another fight in the summer of that nature. We also know that the Tyson Fury fight — whether that’s even possible, a summer fight might be the only chance (to face Fury).
“It’s a difficult decision. I think if we’re doing it with a view to keep improving, and to create longevity, and to get him to his best, then we should have another fight. Momentum is key for AJ. He’s boxed, like, twice a year, sometimes once a year through COVID, for the last three or four years. I want him to box in July, then again in December, and I think it’ll do him really good to have a couple weeks off now, and then go straight back to Texas with Derrick James.”
On whether AJ wants the Fury fight next
“He always, every fight, wants the biggest fights. It’s difficult, being honest, the fans — it’s hard to have a conversation with the fans, and the broadcaster even, to say, ‘I think he needs another fight like (Franklin).’ Every fan, every broadcaster is going to say, ‘Give us Fury, give us Wilder!’ I feel like he’s got to be a little bit selfish at this point in his career.
“At the end of the day, the money is going to be the money. If you don’t have a fight that’s a blockbuster, the money is going to be the money. But if you want to get yourself in a position to win the blockbusters, then this is the route you should be taking.
“I feel like another fight with Derrick James, reinforce that confidence, believe in what he’s doing, I believe he’s going to be in better shape in December — mentally and emotionally and physically — for the Furys and the Wilders. But it’s going to be very tempting in the meantime, if those fights can get made, to not jump straight in.”
On whether he was disappointed with AJ’s performance
“I was relieved to get the win, in all honestly. I felt he’d win, but it’s coming up to three years since he’s won a fight. There was a huge amount of pressure. Everyone starts talking on fight week, ‘Lose, and it’s retirement,’ and they were probably right.
“I was a bit disappointed. I said to him last night, ‘I want to see you manhandle people like that in the clinch, I want to see you brutalize him to the body, hit him around the side of the face and the head.’ And when he did that in the closing rounds, he looked really dangerous.
“But a lot’s happened. I think sometimes we can expect a little too much, and we expected AJ to go in and destroy. So in that respect, some were a little bit disappointed. But maybe in reality, looking at the emotions after the Usyk fight, looking at the new trainer, looking at the move — I’m sitting here happy knowing that we’re planning his next fight for July.”
On Francis Ngannou having a shot against Joshua
“You cannot, in a million years, with Francis Ngannou’s ability in boxing and pedigree in boxing, go in and compete technically, skill-wise — not just with AJ, but with any top 20 heavyweight in the world. But, in that division, the difference is what you can do, is you can knock someone out.
“So it doesn’t matter whether Francis fights Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury — who’s a horrible fight for Francis Ngannou, because he’d just poke him around — Deontay Wilder, Dillian Whyte, Derek Chisora, Jermaine Franklin. He has no chance against those guys other than to be aggressive, trade up, and catch someone clean and take him out.
“Yes, I think that people would give fighters a much better chance against AJ, having watched that performance. In (the MMA) world, that translates to Francis Ngannou, and why not? I don’t think it’s a fight that’s going to continue the development of Anthony Joshua under his new trainer, but, you know.”
On AJ’s potential July opponents
“Dillian Whyte, Otto Wallin. Joe Joyce is another big fight, it’s a tough fight. But who knows? I just feel that, if we’re going to go into a Fury or a Wilder, which is inevitable, I just want him to go in with the best chance he can have. I just feel that right now, he’s not at the optimum level he can be to go into that fight. He would still go into them, and I’d still give him a chance in those fights, I believe he could win those fights. But I would just like to see him firing going into those fights, and what I saw on Saturday wasn’t AJ firing on all cylinders.”
On Fury vs Usyk being dead or not
“Yes, for now. ... I feel like they’re gonna try — this is one of the problems AJ had with the mandatories. So now, Oleksandr Usyk has Daniel Dubois; Filip Hrgovic, who’s with us; and Joe Joyce. They’re his next three mandatories. Ultimately, he has to make those fights the next three fights. But there will be a push for the undisputed fight again in the back half of the year.
“So as far as AJ’s concerned, June, July could be a period where that fight with Fury could rear its head. Fury is going to fight this summer. He has to. He’s not going to wait until November or December to fight Oleksandr Usyk. There’s a lot of talk behind the scenes about who’s going to do what. Fury vs Usyk in my opinion is dead, for certainly the summer, but I think there’s a lot of people out there who have a lot of money, that have undisputed business for the undisputed championship. So I feel that there will be another push to make that fight for later in the year.”
On who’s to blame for the Fury vs Usyk fight falling through
“Some of what Tyson Fury says has merit to it, in terms of the commercial value of the two fighters. It was a bit of a giveaway, Frank Warren went on talkSPORT about a month ago and said, ‘Look, hopefully we get this fight over the line, easy fight to make, 50/50, blah blah blah’ — and nobody expected Fury to push for anything else other than 50/50.
“It was just generally accepted in boxing that Tyson Fury is the bigger name, Usyk has the two (wins over) Anthony Joshua and has the majority of the belts. Let’s not mess around, chance of a lifetime, chance of a forever legacy in boxing. 50/50, loads of money for both of you, good luck.
“Fury had other ideas. Fury likes to create a deal structure that ultimately, you have to say no to. And he knows — Fury’s very smart, especially in a boxing sense — he knows how difficult that fight is. And when the Saudi deal fell through and the pot of money diminished, Tyson Fury turned around and said, ‘I want 70/30’ — of a small pot, right?
“Usyk calls his bluff and says, ‘OK,’ but when we say call his bluff, he did, but he did it with a reverse split on the rematch. So Oleksandr Usyk said, ‘It’s 70/30 to you in the first fight, but when I win, I get 70/30 in the second fight’ — which is fair, but unusual in a structure like that of a 70/30, nearly always.
“Don’t forget, Anthony Joshua gave Oleksandr Usyk 25 percent when he was a voluntary challenger to fight him. Now Fury, after Usyk has beaten AJ twice, and has become the unified world heavyweight champion with (three) belts ... gets five percent more to fight Fury. So it’s ridiculous.
“And then Fury said no, and Usyk said, what we’ll do is one fight, 50/50. And Fury said no. What they should have done was, one fight at 60/40 to Fury, or 70/30 to Fury in the first fight, and if Usyk wins, the rematch is 60/40 to him in the second. But no one was prepared to move.
“Then Usyk’s team comes out, doing interviews every day, ‘Fury’s this, Fury’s a coward,’ and then I just know Tyson. Tyson looks at it and goes, ‘Bye. Bye. Go and fight Daniel Dubois and make $5 million. Go on. Go.’
“But ultimately, if Tyson Fury wanted to become undisputed, and if he really, truly believed it was an easy fight, he would have accepted that fight. No doubt. But he knows. He knows how good Oleksandr Usyk is, and he was only prepared to do it on his terms.”
The full interview: