Deontay Wilder is the flag bearer for American heavyweight boxing, but who is the next young prospect to emerge from the sizeable shadow of the ‘Bronze Bomber’?
As the reigning WBC champion, Wilder is recognised as one of the kingpins of the top division, although he endured a painstaking career path before finally taking the title in his 32nd fight.
Jermaine Franklin, a 24-year-old with a 15-fight unbeaten record, believes the US heavyweights are in transition with young contenders queuing up patiently to replace the older title challengers.
The Californian duo of Dominic Breazeale and Gerald Washington are prime examples of the current ageing crop as they only began boxing after failing to find a fortune in American football.
Both men are physically impressive, standing over six-and-a-half feet tall, but are the wrong side of 30 and have already tasted defeat at world title level with Breazeale being halted by Anthony Joshua in 2016, while Washington was stopped by Wilder last February.
“We’re still a little unbalanced as American heavyweights, but we’re coming along great,” said Franklin, a citizen of Michigan which also produced ring greats such as Floyd Mayweather and James Toney.
“Me personally, I think a lot of it is ability and age, because a lot of our American heavyweights started later in the game, so they didn’t have that full development like a lot of amateurs. They are still learning while they are progressing, but their age is going to hurt them.
“I think a lot of people – I don’t want to say failed at other sports – but a lot of people have problems or complications due to other sports, and they see that they can make a profit from boxing, so I think that’s why a lot of people start late.
“A lot of boxers used to be football players and basketball players. Like Dominic Breazeale for instance, Gerald Washington, even Wilder. Wilder played basketball or something like that. He played another sport at first.”
Franklin still questions his decision to turn professional in 2015, rather than pursue a place at the Rio 2016 Games, and is yet to receive the backing of a major promoter despite taking the 2014 National Golden Gloves title with a win over Team USA amateur captain Cam Awesome.
Plotting his own path in the paid ranks, Franklin racked up six straight victories last year without the media adoration for his efforts at such venues as the ‘Rivers Casino’, or the ‘Mayflower Hotel’.
In the boxing field, it’s a little hard to get your shot, because of the people that you need to get your shot with.
“We’ve been trying to get a couple of bigger fights. I don’t want to say people are protected, but it’s all business at the end of the day,” said Franklin.
“In the boxing field, it’s a little hard to get your shot, because of the people that you need to get your shot with. They just don’t want to take the risk right now.
“I have a decent manager so I think we can make the transition. It will be easier with a promoter, but my manager pays for everything, pays for my fights, and I get good level opponents. It’s just the big opponents, the above average opponents that have got decent rankings.”
The 21-year-old Darmani Rock is another rising prospect, albeit with the financial muscle of Roc Nation – the multi-million pound company founded by rapper Jay Z – to assist his progress.
New Yorker Trevor Bryan holds a lofty placing in the WBA rankings along with a 19-fight unbeaten record, but the 28-year-old has been moved at a sedate pace by promoter Don King, who used to dictate the division with a vice-like grip.
Asked about his nearest rivals, Franklin said: “I would say Darmani Rock. We tried to fight the Trevor guy, he turned us down. He’s ranked like six by the WBA or something.”
Wilder remains on top, for now, and will make the next defence of his WBC heavyweight crown against Luis Ortiz in Brooklyn on March 3.
Britain’s Anthony Joshua can capture a third world heavyweight title when he faces fellow unbeaten champion Joseph Parker a few weeks later on March 31, live on Sky Sports Box Office, and an American audience will be watching with interest.
“The greatest heavyweight I’ve got to say right now is probably Joshua or Parker,” said Franklin. “Wilder has nice strength, but not a lot of control. I think he’s winning off a little bit of skill and mostly strength.
“He had a couple of questionable fights where if the guys went longer or had more skills, I think they could have beat him or at least give him a real hard chance to win.
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“When you fight someone like Joshua, I think it’s going to be a tougher fight, because Joshua has more skills to me, he’s more diverse.”
Franklin might have to bide his time, building his reputation and record in the harsh, unforgiving heavyweight domain of his home country before he receives the opportunity to emulate Wilder.
But at just over 6’2″ tall, he is used to toppling the bigger men that stand in his way, and confidently predicts a successful future.
“I am going to become America’s next heavyweight hope,” he said. “I’ve got the heart, the determination of a fighter.
I’m not giving up, I’m not letting anybody take my shot.
“I love this. I think a lot of guys do it for the money. Don’t get me wrong, I do it for the money too, but I actually love the sport and I’ve got the heart, the determination and the will to overcome anything.
“I’m not giving up, I’m not letting anybody take my shot.”