Niyo: Saginaw's Franklin on mission to make name for himself in heavyweight division

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Jermaine Franklin got his start in boxing at age 13 at the suggestion of his stepfather, Darwin Lamar, after one too many fights in middle school.

Detroit — Jermaine Franklin figured it’d be no big deal when he made his television debut. A rising contender as a heavyweight boxer, the 25-year-old Saginaw native got his first taste of the spotlight in April fighting on the same Showtime card as Flint world champion Claressa Shields in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

And while Franklin easily won a unanimous decision over journeyman Rydell Booker that night, improving his mark to 18-0 with 13 knockouts, he learned a few lessons as well.

“I thought the lights and stuff wasn’t gonna get to me — and the crowd,” Franklin said. “And it didn’t bother me that much. But I could sense I was a little tight. I don’t want to say I was nervous, but I was a little tense and tight during the fight.”

Yet with that first step out of the way, Franklin is promising to let loose something different Friday night, when he’ll headline his first Showtime card, squaring off against Jerry Forrest (25-2, 19 KOs) in a 10-round bout at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington.

“It means a lot to me,” said Franklin, who won a national Golden Gloves title in 2014 and turned pro the following spring. “Because I feel like I finally have the chance to showcase myself, I finally have my shot to make my way to the next level. It’s a big deal for me.”

Made bigger by what lies ahead, as Franklin, who signed with promoter Dmitriy Salita last November, surveys a wide-open heavyweight division that’s in a bit of disarray.

Jermaine Franklin's Saginaw roots have kept him grounded since he turned pro four years ago.

Face time

Before he can focus on landing a title shot, though, Franklin knows he’ll have to take care of the business at hand.

In Forrest, a 31-year-old southpaw, he’ll face a more aggressive, straightforward fighter than Booker. But that suits Franklin just fine. And unlike in April, when he admittedly wasn’t in peak shape after a nine-month layoff, weighing in at 245 pounds and laboring some in the later rounds, Franklin says fitness won't be an issue.

Between flipping tires at a high school football stadium in Michigan and a sweltering training camp in Georgia, he says he’s ready physically. And mentally, he learned a valuable lesson in that last Showtime bout.

“I was rushing myself, anxious to land punches, leaving myself wide open,” he said. “So from that fight I just really learned to be patient.”

And to stay visible, which is what the plan is going forward. If all goes well Friday, Franklin may land another Showtime card this fall when Shields — another of Salita's fighters — returns to the ring. Shields had to postpone an Aug. 17 title defense scheduled for Flint's Dort Federal Event Center due to a dislocated kneecap she suffered in training this spring. But that fight against Croatia's Ivana Habazin could be back on in October.

“And I think that keeping Jermaine busy, keeping Jermaine fighting on TV and getting him the right exposure, building his brand here at home will all be important ingredients in building a star,” Salita said.

Franklin got his start in boxing at age 13 at the suggestion of his stepfather, Darwin Lamar, after one too many fights in middle school. His first competitive bouts at a tournament in Bay City didn’t go so well — “I got beat up real bad,” he laughs — but they did stoke the competitive fires. And by the time he’d finished high school, Franklin, who says he weighed nearly 300 pounds as a sophomore, was hooked.

“I knew I had a gift,” he said, “and then the first time I went to nationals (in 2013) that just sealed the deal.”

Heavyweight hodgepodge

His Saginaw roots have kept him grounded since turning pro four years ago. And just as Shields champions Flint every chance she gets, Franklin hopes to do the same for his hometown.

“I have to highlight the city because I owe it so much of my success,” he said.

As for the success that’s yet to come? Salita has big plans for the young fighter.

The heavyweight division was thrown for a loop last month when little-known Andy Ruiz stunned world champ Anthony Joshua as a fill-in replacement after Jarrell Miller — also represented by Salita — failed a drug test. But while Ruiz and others fight over the championship belts for now — WBC champ Deontay Wilder will face Tyson Fury in a much-anticipated rematch in February — a raft of contenders will be trying to position themselves as viable challengers.

“It’s important for the boxing fans to be able to build a relationship with him, through a fighter’s growth, through his challenging fights, through his exciting knockouts,” said Salita, who’s on a mission to revive championship-level boxing in Michigan, and specifically in Detroit. “Before his Showtime fight, Jermaine was an American heavyweight and he was 17-0 and only the hardcore boxing fans knew he was. So I feel that the next year or so is very important to get him the right fights, get him the right exposure, to develop him. …

“This is gonna be his second fight on TV in three months, and especially with the heavyweight division being shaken up now, I think in 18-24 months a title shot is definitely in his future.” JohnNiyo

Jermaine Franklin vs. Jerry Forrest

What: 10-round heavyweight fight

When: Friday, 10 p.m.

Where: Tacoma, Wash.

TV: Showtime

Records: Franklin 18-0 (13 knockouts), Forrest 25-2 (19 knockouts)