When Anthony Joshua made his long-awaited comeback with a comfortable points decision against American Jermaine Franklin in April, it’s fair to say that he received more pushback than praise.

Most of the criticism aimed at Joshua focused on his perceived reticence, with many suggesting that he had become gun-shy after his infamous knockout defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. and successive points losses against the far superior Oleksandr Usyk.

While there may be some truth to this, Joshua’s return to the ring was solid and saw him dominate Franklin at range, without ever really getting out of first gear. At the same time, he gained some precious rounds and shook off the ring rust accrued during more than 10 months out of the ring.

It has now been confirmed that Joshua will face off against his old nemesis Dillian Whyte at London’s O2 Arena on August 12th, in a rematch of their explosive 2015 bout. Make no mistake; this will offer a much better test of Joshua’s credentials, but will it represent another successful step towards a world title shot?

Entering the Last Chance Saloon

What makes this fight fascinating is that it arguably represents both fighters’ last chance to push themselves into world title contention, with Joshua and Whyte now featuring three losses on their records having endured a downward spiral in their careers.

Joshua’s two defeats to Usyk were certainly relatively decisive in nature, while Whyte followed an insipid knockout loss to Tyson Fury with an even less convincing points win over Franklin last November.

Joshua and Whyte are aged 33 and 35 respectively too, so neither has youth on their side as they once again look to plot a course back towards the sport’s top table.

Of course, one telling insight is that Joshua inflicted Whyte’s first professional loss in London eight years ago, securing a devastating seventh round knockout after a barrage of punches and simply stunning uppercut. Sure, that was a different and much more aggressive version of Joshua, but he seemed much more mobile than Whyte throughout and seemed to have the quicker hands.

If anything, Whyte has looked even slower and more ponderous in his last two outings, regularly losing his footing and failing to move into range during six fairly ineffective rounds against Fury. He also lacks the same ability to box at range that Joshua has, and notwithstanding his amateur win against his old rival, he would appear to be the heavy underdog ahead of the rematch.

Wilder Then Fury for Joshua?

Whether sports betting is your thing or you’re more likely to cash in on the best Jack Poker promotion, Joshua represents a sound bet to beat Whyte and close the chapter on this particular rivalry.

But what next for the former two-time champion of the world? Well, speculation remains rife that Joshua could meet fellow former champion Deontay Wilder in Saudi Arabia in December, potentially as part of a super card that may also feature a unification bout between Usyk and Fury.

Even if the latter fight appears unlikely, the mouthwatering prospect of a clash between Joshua and Wilder continues to inch ever closer. This is a fight that could have happened years ago when both fighters held all the heavyweight belts between them, of course, but a deal couldn’t be agreed despite Wilder allegedly being offered $20 million for the bout. 

Both Joshua and Wilder have much less to lose now, of course, having been humbled in their respective fights with Usyk and Fury respectively. However, a high-profile clash between the two would immediately propel the winner back into title contention, with Joshua most likely to challenge Fury for the WBC belt if he prevails.

The Last Word – Can Joshua Reclaim His Former Glory?

The fight against Wilder would be a genuine 50-50 clash, with the ‘Bronze Bomber’ renowned for his powerful right hand and one-punch knockout power.

For his part, Joshua’s punch resistance has been questioned since his loss to Ruiz Jr, although he’s a superior boxer with better movement and a solid jab. So, he’s likely to box and move and potentially wear Wilder out down the stretch, in search of a points win or late knockout of his own.

On balance, he undoubtedly has the tools to beat Wilder so long as he can deal with the American’s right hand and approach the fight in the right frame of mind. Fury would provide a completely different and more difficult level of threat should the two ever do battle, however, and this is the real obstacle to Joshua once again becoming a world champion.

The good news is that after a tough 18 months or so, Joshua now has a clear path back to title contention. The question that remains is whether he’s still good enough to seize on the opportunity in front of him and become a three-time heavyweight champion of the world.