Anthony Joshua entered the winners circle for the first time since 2020, as he claimed a crucial decision victory over the game American Jermaine Franklin at London's 02 Arena on Saturday night.
It was Joshua’s first fight back since unsuccessfully attempting to regain the WBA, WBO and IBF world heavyweight titles in a rematch against the brilliant Oleksandr Usyk last August in Saudi Arabia, and he even suggested he would walk away from boxing for good if he was to lose for a third successive time against Franklin. It was also the first time AJ has competed under the guidance of his new coach Derrick James out of Texas, and everyone was very curious to see the tactical changes that came about for Joshua under the tutelage of the man who also works the corner of the welterweight king Errol Spence Jr.
The stoppage that was widely expected of Joshua never came, but the Watford man controlled the large majority of the high stakes encounter to prevail with judges' scorecards that read 118-111 and 117-111 X2.
Now, we will take a look at five potential opponents that could be next in line to face Joshua as he continues his journey to join an illustrious group of fighters who have won the world heavyweight title three times.
If the plan is to continue to rebuild the career of Joshua at a steady pace before once again challenging to win back his old titles, then there are not many fights out there that would whet the appetite of fans more than a rematch against his old nemesis Dillian Whyte. The two British rivals first engaged in a heated battle for the Lord Lonsdale belt back in 2015, where Joshua came out on top by knockout.
In the years that have followed the pairs clash, it has been quite the ride. Both men have had to regroup from numerous defeats sandwiched in between very credible wins. Joshua has won, lost and regained the unified heavyweight championship of the world, while Whyte had to avenge a defeat to Alexander Povetkin and agonisingly wait for over 1,000 days for his first ever opportunity to challenge for a world title, where he wa stopped by WBC champion Tyson Fury in front of over 94,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.
If Joshua and Whyte were to lock horns again for an intriguing rematch in the summer, the stakes for both men could not be higher, as a victory would be crucial in reminding the champions of the division they are not to be forgotten, while a defeat will leave the loser with very few places to go if they have any ambitions of reaching a world title.
A potential Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder fight would be one of the very rare instances in the sport in which a bout with no major belts on the line could be labelled as a ‘Superfight’.
Going back a number of years ago, when Joshua held three major heavyweight titles and Wilder was in possession of WBC gold, this is a fight that was mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford in terms of mega-fights fans were desperate to watch.
Disaster struck for both men before we got a chance to watch them share the ring, with Joshua losing his pair of bouts to Usyk, and Wilder going down convincingly 2-0-1 in his trilogy with Tyson Fury.
It has since looked that the right time had well and truly passed for a Joshua vs Wilder collision, but with Joshua now returning with a confidence boosting victory against Franklin and Wilder proving he is still arguably the most dangerous fighter in the world by dispatching Robert Helenius in one round last October, fans would likely still turn out in their droves to see both men finally settle the score of who the greater fighter truly is.
Joe Joyce/Zhilei Zhang winner
A very compelling heavyweight fight coming up on the horizon is that of Joe Joyce vs Zhilei Zhang at London’s Copperbox Arena on April 15th.
The winner of the fight would be the mandatory challenger to the WBO heavyweight crown currently held by Oleksandr Usyk, however if an Undisputed showdown between Usyk and Tyson Fury finally comes to fruition, then there is no bigger fight outside of a world title fight than one with Anthony Joshua.
Should Joyce prevail in a fortnights time, then a Joyce vs Joshua fight would be one of the biggest domestic fights on UK soil in a long time. A battle between the most decorated amateur to ever come from the United Kingdom, and the former Olympic gold medalist would be one to get the pulses racing for British fight fans.
If Zhang is to upset the odds and hand Joyce the first defeat of his career, the physically imposing, 39 year old Chinese fighter would certainly provide a unique examination for Joshua in a potential tussle later on in the year. Zhang proved in his last encounter against Filip Hrgovic, even though he lost a quite contentious decision, that he has the ability, as well as the size, to hold his own against any fighter at the upper echelons of the heavyweight division.
Croatian fighter Hrgovic is someone who is still waiting for a stage to fulfil the promise many boxing fans expected of him following his amateur triumphs.
A European championship gold medalist and an Olympic Games bronze medalist, Hrgovic turned professional in 2017, and was touted as a heavyweight champion in waiting.
A highly underwhelming victory against Zhang last summer on the Usyk vs Joshua undercard in Saudi Arabia have left people doubting his true place in the heavyweight standings, however a fight against Joshua would provide the ideal pedestal to remind the other players in the division what he is capable of.
If Joshua was to fight, and decisively hand Hrgovic the first defeat of his professional career, it would most certainly be a victory that would command the respect of fans and fighters alike.
The biggest fight that could be made for Anthony Joshua next would undoubtedly be a world title opportunity against WBC heavyweight king Tyson Fury.
Similar to a potential Wilder clash a number of years ago, and Undisputed collision between Joshua when he was in possession of the belts, and Tyson Fury when he claimed the iconic WBC title in his second bout with Wilder, was the one that fans worldwide were clamouring to witness.
Even though Joshua has since lost consecutively to Usyk, Fury vs Joshua, with Joshua as the hungry challenger to the crown, would likely break all British boxing revenue and attendance records at Wembley Stadium.
With negotiations for an Undisputed fight between Fury and Usyk seemingly fracturing more by the day, Fury could potentially look to a major domestic clash against Joshua in what would be one of the biggest occasions in the history of British boxing.