LONDON -- Former heavyweight unified champion Anthony Joshua claimed his first win in over two years with a unanimous decision victory over American Jermaine Franklin at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday.
The judges scored the bout 118-111, 117-111 and 117-111.
Joshua (25-3, 22 KOs) had suffered defeats to Oleksandr Usyk in his two previous fights and had not won since he knocked out Kubrat Pulev in December 2020. Saturday's bout was billed as the start of a "new dawn" for the former heavyweight champion. It was Joshua's first non-world title fight since he defeated Charles Martin in 2016, ending a run of 13 consecutive world title fights.
The British heavyweight entered the fight as a heavy favorite at -1100, according to Caesars Sportsbook, but Franklin (21-2, 14 KOs) was no pushover and kept Joshua uncomfortable for much of the bout.
Joshua, who is No. 4 in ESPN's heavyweight rankings, made some significant changes ahead of Saturday's fight, including a switch to Texas-based trainer Derrick James, who is ESPN's reigning trainer of the year. He also weighed in the heaviest he has been in his professional career at 255.4 pounds (115.8 kilograms) -- 11 pounds (5 kg) heavier than in his previous fight.
Franklin, who has never been knocked out and whose only previous loss came against Dillian Whyte in a controversial majority decision in November, was taking a major step up in class against Joshua, although it did not always seem that way.
Joshua's promoter, Eddie Hearn, had spoken about wanting to send a message to the heavyweight division with this fight, but Joshua looked a mix of cautious and patient in the opening round, preferring to counter-punch and pick his shots.
The British fighter was effective with his jab, but he did not throw the devastating straight right he used to dominate the division for years. Franklin was quick to dodge many of Joshua's punches, and even looked to inflict damage himself with an aggressive flurry of punches at the end of Round 4.
However, Joshua remained the busier of the two, outlanding Franklin 117-58 in total punches en route to a unanimous decision victory.
"I would have liked a knockout, but it's important to get the win," Joshua told DAZN in the ring after the fight.
Joshua has been vocal recently of his desire to face Fury in what would be the biggest all-British heavyweight fight in history. Both boxers are without mandatory fight obligations, although previous talks over a proposed bout last December ended amid a flurry of deadlines and gibes.
Fury had been set for a long-awaited unification bout with Usyk but could not finalize a deal with the Ukrainian heavyweight, who is now ordered to fight his mandatory challenger Daniel Dubois.
"I know who the fans want. Who do the fans want?" Joshua asked in his ring interview, to which the crowded responded was a near-unanimous shout of "Fury!"
Joshua added: "The ball is in his court. I would be 100% be honored to fight for the WBC world heavyweight championship of the world. I stand here and I say it proudly.
"So wherever you are, if you're listening, you know my management, you know my promoter. We've had dialect before, so let's continue this and hopefully we can get this on sooner and later."
On Saturday's undercard, Campbell Hatton, son of British boxing icon Ricky Hatton, maintained his undefeated record with a first-round knockout victory over Louis Fielding.