By Lyle Fitzsimmons (photo by Bob Ryder)
A fighter from Michigan is aiming for a big night in Atlantic City.
But it’s not the one you think.
Though the April 13 card at Boardwalk Hall is headlined by two-time Olympic champ Claressa Shields and her quest to unify the women’s middleweight division, it’s unbeaten Saginaw resident Jermaine Franklin who’s planning to leave a lasting imprint on the heavyweight ranks.
The 25-year-old will take on once-beaten former amateur star Rydell Booker in a 10-round co-feature that’ll serve as the middle piece of a three-bout show to be broadcast by Showtime at 9:10 p.m.
Booker, for those unaware, was himself an unbeaten prospect before dropping a 12-round decision to James Toney in a heavyweight title eliminator way back in 2004, then subsequently spent 12 years in prison after a jury convicted him on a drug charge in 2005.
He’s won three straight fights, all six-round decisions, in a comeback after returning to society.
Still, Franklin, who’s 17-0 with 13 KOs himself, has no intention of prolonging Booker’s streak.
Instead, he views his 2019 debut – amid the premium cable hubbub – as a career-making opportunity, though he’s doing his best to downplay its significance.
“I view Booker as another boxer in the way of me getting to the prize, which is becoming heavyweight champion. He has had his day. It's time for the next generation to step up,” Franklin told Boxing Scene. “I'm a pretty level-headed person so to me this is just another fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great opportunity for me to showcase my skills to the world, but I'm cool.”
He’ll enter the ring as the No. 56 heavyweight in the world, according to the Independent World Boxing Rankings, which position all fighters in a given weight class regardless of titles or sanctioning body listing. That’s two ticks ahead of former WBC champ Bermane Stiverne and another four up on recently beaten challenger Gerald Washington.
Booker, incidentally, is a spot ahead of Washington at No. 61.
“2019 is my coming out party to the boxing world. It is a step-up year,” Franklin said.
“By the end of the year, I want to be considered as a major force in the heavyweight division. I am going to show that I am the best new heavyweight in the world. America needs a new face in heavyweight boxing, and that’s me, born and bred in Michigan.
“My strength is my ability to adapt, find my opponent’s weakness and expose it. I find a way to win and I love to score spectacular knockouts. My goals are to improve with each fight, keep learning and mastering the sweet science. Once you think you have nothing to improve on, you lose.”
His mettle has been tested out of the ring as well.
He last fought in July – defeating Craig Lewis by wide decision in Detroit – but the eight months since have been challenging after a spate of tragedies cost him several close friends and confidants.
“Death is not easy for those of us that are left living,” he said. “I had to take some time and clear my head and re-focus. Those that have died were also some of the ones that had the biggest and most positive influence on me and my boxing career. They would want me to continue my dream toward becoming a champion and appreciate that every day is not promised, so cherish each day.”
Franklin’s most substantive victory came in July 2017 when he outpointed rugged Uzbekistan export Akhror Muralimov, then rated No. 64 by the IWBR, over eight rounds. Muralimov was coming off a bout with imminent title challenger Jarrell Miller and followed up with a match against Bryant Jennings.
Franklin has since rattled off victories against Daniel Pasciolla, Tyrell Wright, Cory Phelps, Ed Fountain and the aforementioned Lewis – who’d arrived with a combined record of 60-16-7.
They’ve since combined to go 0-5.
“I want to fight the best,” he said. “I beat all the top guys in the amateurs, and as a professional from the beginning of my career I wanted to fight the best. That’s why you see several undefeated fighters on my resume and so-called gatekeepers that other prospects didn’t want to touch. I'm coming for everyone.
“The boxing world will see that on April 13.”
He considers Anthony Joshua the top man in the division for the time being, even labeling him “the total package,” but considers Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury as Nos. 1A and 1B.
Not to mention himself.
Franklin inked a deal with Salita Promotions toward the end of 2018 and expects the alliance to pay household name dividends before too much longer.
“In my mind I am the best heavyweight in the world,” he said. “I may be 6-foot-2, but my heart and skills are 8 feet tall. Not too many fighters are going to measure up to that. Boxing is about balance. I am a balanced athlete who's also strong, fast, athletic and getting fitter and better with each fight.
"I expect (recognition) to happen very shortly. Salita Promotions is doing everything to make that happen. That is why I'm happy that I signed with Dmitriy and his company. They have made me feel like my dream will come true and let the world know who I am.”
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBC light heavyweight title – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Doudou Ngumbu (No. 8 WBC/No. 17 IWBR)
Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KO): First title defense; One win by stoppage win in two 12-rounders (2-0, 1 KO)
Ngumbu (38-8, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Eleventh career fight outside of France (5-5, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: There’s levels to this. So when you match a guy who’s clearly elite in the weight class with a guy who’s never gotten beyond a regional fiefdom, it’s a clear-cut forecast. Gvozdyk in 8 (99/1)
WBO junior flyweight title – Indio, California
Angel Acosta (champion/No. 9 IWBR) vs. Ganigan Lopez (No. 7 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Acosta (19-1, 19 KO): Third title defense; Averages 8.5 rounds in four scheduled 12-round wins
Lopez (35-8, 19 KO): Sixth title fight (2-3); Held WBC title at 108 pounds (2016-17, one title defense)
Fitzbitz says: Lopez has been a credible commodity on the world scene for years, but he’s fighting an accomplished guy who’s a decade younger and on a big roll. That’ll show. Acosta by decision (75/25)
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Rakhimov, Edwards)
2019 picks record: 24-3 (88.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,036-346 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.