Anthony Joshua wanted the knockout when he beat Jermaine Franklin on Saturday.
He admitted as much after taking a clear unanimous-decision victory in a fight that Franklin did manage to punctuate with occasional moments of difficulty.
The win, however, leaves him well-placed for an assault on the top of the heavyweight division.
Tyson Fury, the WBC heavyweight champion, is Joshua’s ultimate goal. It would be an all-British showdown between two great rivals.
But, while Joshua suffered two difficult consecutive defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, now the unified WBO, WBA and IBF champion, Fury has looked imperious. He completed his trilogy with Deontay Wilder with a spectacular win in their third fight and then outclassed and halted both Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora.
In his patchy performance against Franklin, Joshua was having his first fight with new coach Derrick James, his third different trainer in his last three fights.
He might well profit from more time and another rebuilding fight with James. But given Fury’s negotiations for the undisputed title fight with Usyk have collapsed, the opportunity to fight him might become available to Joshua sooner than expected.
But Joshua maintained he is “fired up” for that potential fight with Fury.
“I’m hungry,” Joshua said. “I know where I need to get to.”
He also saw the benefits of going the distance with Franklin in this latest fight.
“I had 10 weeks with Derrick, between that we came to London to do the presser, probably about eight weeks of training. In terms of Tyson Fury, do I need more time? Not necessarily because I have the time now, coming off a 12-round fight with that training behind me,” Joshua said.
“The only way is to continue building. It’s a great place to be. Twelve rounds isn’t a bad thing if you have a big task at hand, like someone like Fury, who’s also a 12-round fight.
“The confidence remains the same. But one thing that I am more confident about is my conditioning. I’ll be able to concentrate.”
Joshua believes he has now proven he has the endurance to perform through the whole course of a championship distance fight.
“I feel like one of the big issues with me personally was stamina,” he admitted. “How did I manage to lose the [second] fight with Usyk? [Rounds] nine, 10, 11, 12. The last stretch you can lose a fight. I don’t want to make that mistake again.
“If I have to go the 12 rounds, I can get through them so much better.”
Joshua is 33 years old but does not believe he has peaked as a fighter.
“I had to look at myself and see ways I can improve,” he said. “After George Foreman lost to [Muhammad] Ali, he took X amount of time out of the ring, came back and became champion. It’s happened so many times with fighters, look at Wladimir Klitschko, he went on and reigned for how many years, retired at the age of 40, 41. You never stop learning.
“In terms of peak? As I said who knows? Who knows where that peak is because getting the win leads us onto bigger heights for the next one.
“I’m going to have to raise the bar again. That means I’m going to have to peak again for the next fight. So honestly who knows where I’m going to be at?
“Everyone pushes on. The longer you stay in the game, the more you do. I think I’m definitely going to add more to my game.”
Joshua has been involved with failed negotiations with Fury before. But returning with that essential win over Franklin will also give him options outside of a Fury fight.
His London rival Whyte would be an obvious opponent to take on next.
Wilder is a real threat. Although he is no longer a world champion, he remains probably the hardest puncher in the sport. The big-name American would be a high-profile contest for Joshua.
Alternatively Joshua could try to fight his way to a mandatory shot at one of the major titles.
The WBC will review the mandatory status for the belt Fury holds, with Wilder and Andy Ruiz well placed to box one another in a final eliminator.
Daniel Dubois is the WBA mandatory challenger and now that Usyk’s fight with Fury is off the Ukrainian’s team is in negotiations with Dubois.
Another Londoner, Joe Joyce will be the mandatory for the WBO belt. Joyce fights Zhilei Zhang on April 15 to maintain his position.
He is also someone Fury has earmarked as a possible opponent for a future voluntary defence of the WBC title.
Notably Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic, with no fight date booked in the near term, is the No 1-ranked challenger for the IBF belt.
Joshua is now in a position to survey the heavyweight landscape and plot a course he hopes will lead him back to the top.
“There’s other fighters like Wilder out there that’s of massive interest,” Joshua said.
“Dillian of course, that’s of massive interest. Fury’s obviously the main one, the champ.
“Would I do Usyk again? 100 per cent. But I think he’s going down a different route. Now he’s caught up with what I was caught up with, mandatories.
“But there’s other options out there. We’ll see.”
AJ needs Whyte next
Top trainer and expert pundit Dave Coldwell was ringside to see Joshua’s return against Franklin.
He saw worrying signs in Joshua’s performance.
“As a massive AJ fan, I’m gutted. I was excited about the whole AJ comeback. We walked into the arena, the whole arena’s packed. It’s so good to be back inside a full arena again. I expected a job inside five rounds. I expected him to come out and use his size, his ability, his fast hands, combination punching. But we never got that,” Coldwell told Sky Sports.
“I felt as though we got a fighter that lacked total belief in his own abilities. A fighter that was unsure. Because Franklin was firing on the end of every single shot that AJ was throwing.
“It always put AJ back in that defensive mode. He never got into that rhythm where he could go, go again and get confidence in letting his hands go.
“AJ was just backing up in a straight line, going up high, taking one step back and he’s in a straight line all the time so Franklin could just let his hands go.
“AJ was allowing him to do that. But because he was doing that I felt AJ’s confidence never built.
“Funnily enough, the last three rounds I thought he was his most aggressive. He started letting his hands go a little bit.”
But the contest ended with a strange fracas when the two boxers had to be separated with Franklin’s corner going for Joshua as a brawl nearly erupted.
“That’s two fights on the bounce now where at the end of the fight he’s done something you’re looking at [and thinking,] ‘Woah, where’s that come from?’ The Usyk fight you could say that’s because he wanted to win so bad, the pressure, he knows what that means that loss,” Coldwell said.
“Is it because he wanted to come back with a real good finish, a real bang and make a big statement and he knew that as the final bell’s gone it’s not happened?
“Maybe that’s why he’s reacted like that again. He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s under a lot of scrutiny. People talking about: ‘He’s gone from a stadium to an arena. Is it going to sell out? Tickets are slow’. All this sort of stuff.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the guy and he’s only human. So maybe that’s part of it as well. Maybe that’s part of why he’s within himself rather than being confident.”
Coldwell believes renewing his rivalry with Whyte is the clear best option for Joshua next.
“He wasn’t confident enough to express himself in there,” Coldwell said of Joshua’s latest performance.
“So he’s got this new coach, showing him new things because he doesn’t feel trust in himself or what he’s doing enough to express himself.
“I think the fight for him is probably Dillian Whyte. Because if ever there’s going to be a fight that’s out there for him to pull that bully, that inner dog, that fighting mentality out of him, if ever there’s a fight that’s going to pull that out, that’s the one.
“If it’s not there for that fight, then it’s never coming back.”