Five months ago, Jermaine Franklin wondered whether a high-profile opportunity like his fight Saturday night against Dillian Whyte would ever materialize.
Franklin had fought only once since October 2019. Boxing wasn’t making ends meet for this father of three, therefore Franklin took a full-time job at a plant that manufactures custom-fabricated roofing systems in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan.
With a newborn son and two young daughters for whom he had to provide, Franklin found himself working 12-hour shifts, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The undefeated fighter his promoter has long touted as the best young, American heavyweight in boxing suddenly had no time to train and little confidence that he would land the career-changing chance he always wanted.
The 29-year-old Franklin spent Thanksgiving Day in London, where he’ll fight Whyte at OVO Arena Wembley, but the events of the past six months made him extremely thankful for an opportunity to face a popular contender who challenged unbeaten WBC champion Tyson Fury in his previous fight.
“It was real difficult at times, but I’ve got a family, so I had to do what I had to do to provide for my family,” Franklin told BoxingScene.com. “I can’t really dwell on it too much. I’m a man first. I just had to do what I had to do to provide. So, you know, it was always playing in the back of my head, though. I’m not gonna say that I didn’t think about it or I wasn’t worried about it, or I didn’t wish the opportunity hadn’t came.
“I had some money issues, had to file bankruptcy, was going to court with an ex-manager who didn’t have my best interests at heart. So, I was going through a lot of sh*t at that time. I wasn’t really making no money from the sport, so I had to get me a job. I had to provide for my kids, and I’m just glad that it picked back up. I felt like God’s given me another opportunity to do what I love to do.”
The heavy-handed Whyte (28-3, 19 KOs) is 35 years old and lost by sixth-round knockout to Fury on April 23 at Wembley Stadium in London, to which they drew a record crowd of approximately 94,000. Oddsmakers still heavily favor Whyte, mostly by a 12-1 margin entering a 12-round bout that’ll headline a card DAZN will stream worldwide (7 p.m. GMT; 2 p.m. ET).
Franklin’s inactivity, coupled with Whyte’s extensive experience against high-level heavyweights, have rendered Franklin an undeniable underdog.
His only activity since he out-boxed the Czech Republic’s Pavel Sour (then 11-1) and won a 10-round unanimous decision in October 2019 at Dort Financial Center in Flint, Michigan, came May 7, in a non-televised fight against an opponent with a losing record. Franklin defeated journeyman Rodney Moore (20-22-2, 9 KOs) by fifth-round technical knockout, but Whyte is much more dangerous.
The wide odds on their fight have provided more motivation for Franklin (21-0, 14 KOs) to prove what his promoter, Dmitriy Salita, has been saying all along about a skillful heavyweight who first drew attention when he won a National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions crown in 2014.
“I think I owe people a lot,” Franklin said. “I’m really trying to fulfill that promise of being America’s top heavyweight. I think I owe it to the people and I owe it to myself. You know, it’s a lot of ups and downs with boxing. A lot of boxers don’t speak of it, but that sh*t is depressing, when you work your whole life, you work hard, and then your opportunities never come. You start to doubt yourself. You start to think, well, am I really this good? Or am I this? Or am I that? So, it’s been a long, hard road for me, and I think I owe this to my fans and to myself.”
With Whyte, Franklin feels he’ll have to be especially mindful of the Jamaican-born puncher’s power in the early rounds. Franklin is well aware, though, that Whyte decimated Dereck Chisora with one of his trademark left hooks in the 11th round of their thoroughly competitive rematch in December 2018 at O2 Arena in London.
“I just need to stay calm, to stay busy,” Franklin said. “From what I’ve watched, he gets aggressive at times. He’s real aggressive, tries to land hard punches. From the stuff we was seeing, we just need to stay tight, keep the punches sharp and wait for opportunities to present themselves.”
Franklin clearly knows how to remain patient, both in and out of the ring. Otherwise, he would’ve walked away from boxing before the call came for a fight Franklin initially thought would happen late last October.
Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin replaced Franklin as Whyte’s opponent for a main event that was supposed to headline a card at O2 Arena a year ago. Whyte withdrew from his fight with Wallin, reportedly due to a shoulder injury, and went on to face Fury without rescheduling it.
Regardless, a confident Franklin feels ready to prove that Whyte and promoter Eddie Hearn made a matchmaking mistake in choosing him for Whyte’s comeback bout.
“I’m just ready to fight,” said Franklin, who sparred nearly 30 rounds with Fury in preparation for this fight. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Beating Dillian can change my life, can change my family’s life. So, you know, I’m ready to make it happen.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.