Anthony Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn has warned the British boxer will have a "major problem" if he loses to Jermaine Franklin in his comeback fight, following back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk.
Joshua has not fought since losing the rematch to Usyk by split decision in August last year, but is set to return to the ring on April 1 at the O2 Arena to fight Franklin with terms reportedly agreed and an announcement expected later this week.
And while Hearn is confident Joshua remains a "top three heavyweight in the world capable of regaining his world heavyweight title", he admits a third straight loss could prove devastating to his career.
"There's a lot of pressure to come back," Hearn told the BBC 5 Live Boxing podcast. "Because if AJ don't win that fight, then we've got a major problem.
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"I'm telling you now this guy is still a top three heavyweight in the world capable of regaining his world heavyweight title. On April the 1st at the O2 Arena, probably against Jermaine Franklin, you will see the return of Anthony Joshua. Honestly, I believe you will see a statement from a guy who is very dangerous, very motivated to become a three-time heavyweight champion."
Hearn also hit back at critics who have questioned Joshua for agreeing to fight Franklin, who lost to Dillian Whyte by majority decision in his last bout in November, adding: "Tyson Fury has just beat Deontay Wilder, just beat Dillian Whyte and then fought Derek Chisora. Anthony Joshua's got defeat to Usyk, defeat to Usyk, and fighting Jermaine Franklin who many feel beat Dillian Whyte. I mean, it's a really tough fight."
Whyte is among those to have slammed the bout, having hoped to face Joshua himself in a rematch of their 2015 fight. He told The Sun : "Everyone was told, all the boxing fans, the winner of me and Franklin fights AJ, so this is a f***ed up thing. I would have been better off losing the Franklin fight and getting the AJ fight! It's protecting AJ because they all know if he loses again he will probably jack it in and a lot of people will be left with limp d***s in their hands."
However, Hearn has rejected Whyte's claims, telling ID Boxing : "We've always planned for that fight for the summer. Dillian Whyte was coming off a defeat, he boxed Jermaine Franklin. AJ's coming off two defeats, he's boxing Jermaine Franklin.
"I feel that Franklin gave Dillian Whyte a tremendous fight, and it was a very, very competitive close fight. So I don't see why it’s a bad fight for Anthony Joshua. Anthony Joshua has no problem fighting Dillian Whyte.
"I think it's a stadium fight, we can do that next. AJ's teamed up with a new trainer after losing two on the bounce against the pound-for-pound number one … Let's see how Anthony Joshua does against Jermaine Franklin, versus how Dillian Whyte did against Jermaine Franklin."
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