Who should Anthony Joshua fight next?
Promoter Eddie Hearn has put together a three-fight plan to rebuild former heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua’s stuttering career.
The 33-year-old Joshua from Watford has not won a fight since he knocked out Kubrat Pulev in 2020, having since suffered back to back losses against outstanding Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk.
From Watford, AJ will fight three times in 2023, according to his Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who has put together a plan to reinstate Joshua back to the top of the heavyweight division in 2023.
“The plan now is to rebuild him to become a three-time heavyweight world champion,” Hearn said on the DAZN boxing show. “He is ready to start camp and will likely start that camp this week. To me, the key here is to see him box three times this year.”
BBN have explored what those three fights could be:
Top 15 world ranked heavyweight
Hearn: “We are down to three or four opponents. A smart plan is he wants to return against a top 15 guy in a credible fight.”
These are all the top 15 world ranked heavyweights that could likely be in Hearn's plans: Frank Sanchez; Martin Bakole; Otto Wallin; Filip Hrgovic; Jared Anderson; Lenier Pero; Jarrell Miller; Kevin Lerena; Jonathan Guidry; Agit Kabayel; Tony Yoka; Charles Martin; Demsey McKean; Zhilei Zhang; Jermaine Franklin.
These are the rest of the world's top 15 that probably won't be on the list: Andy Ruiz Jr.; Arslanbek Makhmudov; Joseph Parker; Luis Ortiz; Michael Hunter; Derek Chisora; Lucas Browne; Trevor Bryan; Zhan Kossobutskiy; Ivan Dycho; Ali Eren Demirezen; Valdyslaw; Justis Huni; Murat Gassiev.
BBN have listed five potential opponents AJ could fight next:
5. Jarrell Miller WBA #14 / IBO #36
This may seem like an unlikely, controversial, undeserving choice of opponent, but these two have unfinished business to settle.
Drug cheat Miller was the catalyst for AJ's downfall, when he was caught doping ahead of their June 2021 fight. A last-minute replacement was found, who then unexpectedly derailed the Anthony Joshua train. Andy Ruiz Jr. stepped in within weeks to go and shocked Joshua, his corner, his promoter, and the entire world with a seventh-round knockout at Madison Square Garden. Joshua has never been the same since.
The New Yorker is still unbeaten and won both his fights in 2022, after his lengthy ban, to reach 2023 as a 25-0-1 serious contender. It's not clear whether Eddie Hearn would work with the disgraced unprofessional again after what happened before. But every fan in the would want to see Joshua batter this man once and for all.
4. Filip Hrgovic WBC #14 / IBF #1 / WBO #4 / IBO #18
The Croatian was long respected as an up-and-coming force in the heavyweight scene, but his recent laboured win over China's Zhilei Zhang has displayed many faults with his game and now the rest of the pack are keen to tear into this highly-ranked heavyweight, who was previously quite avoided. Plus, he is the IBF No.1 contender, so the prospect of taking his spot should appeal to AJ.
3. Martin Bakole WBC #7 / WBA #2 / IBF #6 / WBO #13 / IBO #10
There's also a number of reasons why this would make for a great fight. Firstly, Bakole's trainer Billy Nelson has been calling for this fight for some time; the Scottish boxing coach is always campaigning for his heavyweight charge to get a shot at one of the big names above him, and he has just come off a career-best win from the away corner in Paris against Olympic and World amateur champion Tony Yoka.
Both boxers have African roots, so that's another promotional tool that could be used effectively when building the fight, plus the Congolese combatant has fought 11 times in the UK, so is well known by fans here. His lofty world rankings with all five governing bodies, recent top scalp against Yoka, and impressive seven-fight win streak makes this adopted Scot a top contender for an AJ showdown.
2. Jermaine Franklin
If Dillian Whyte is being set up for AJ's second fight of the year, then a warm-up fight against his last opponent would make perfect sense.
The unbeaten American was edged by Londoner Whyte in a mixed decision reversed against him in his first fight outside of America, which resulted in his first loss.
Joshua's performance against the same opponent would make fight fans sit up and pay particular attention to how a rematch with Whyte could pan out in the summer.
1. Otto Wallin WBC #9 / IBF #11 / WBO #3 / IBO #21
Ranked highly in four of the five world rankings, Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin would make for a great comeback opponent for AJ for a number of reasons. The pair have sparred many rounds together so that should create a bit more of a level playing field. Sparring is clearly different from fighting, however, and you've only got to look at the frightening first-round knockout of Robert Helenius at the hands of Deontay Wilder last October, who have sparred hundreds of rounds together, to see proof of that. But it should instill confidence in each fighter when they know their opponent first-hand having shared the ring together, as well as add intruige for the fans.
Another reason, from the many on the list, is that this would make for a trilogy fight which could help the promotion of the event. Wallin will be extra motivated to get revenge on AJ, who got the better of him twice in the amateurs.
The final reason, and possibly the most important, is that Wallin gave Fury a fright in their 2019 fight. Fury was cut from a punch early on in round three, which later required 47 stitches and a further operation, and was very fortunate to not be stopped. If Joshua could defeat Wallin more impressively than Fury, namely via KO, then the victory would be far more respected than just a bounceback win. It could reignite the somewhat dampened Fury-Joshua rivalry.
Dillian Whyte summer fight
Hearn: “…and return in the summer against probably Dillian Whyte.”
Hearn was quite clear in his interview with TalkSport today that Dillian Whyte was their intended target for this summer.
The pair fought in December 2015, seven years ago, in a grudge match that Whyte brought on with his constant hounding of boxing's poster boy, lauding an amateur win over him from many years before. Despite the main man getting hurt in the bout, avid AJ fans saw their beloved, invincible boxing superstar's legs wobble from underneath him for the first (but not the last) time ever. However, AJ dominated the bout overflowing with bad blood, via seventh-round knockout.
Both boxers have been on quite a journey during their shared 27 bouts since. AJ ruled the world as a unified champ twice and Whyte was the No.1 contender to the WBC crown for over 1,000 days finally getting his shot last April in front of a record 94,000 fans at Wembley.
When they first met, they were unbeaten in 30 fights between them, but if they fought in a rematch, they would have an equal amount of defeats each on their ledgers, making it a level playing field once again.
Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury mega-fight
“And then move forward against Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury in a mega-fight.”
This may be the plan, but a lot can happen in boxing, especially with the politics that come with five seperate governing bodies each with their own mandatory champions and timings.
Wilder is back on his destructive path again, Fury is still unbeaten and heading towards an undisputed showdown with Oleksandr Usyk, and AJ will have two very risky opponents to get through first.