Matt Davies looks at the unfolding Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury situation and lists the three remaining obstacles to their superfight
As boxing fans were finally welcomed back to their beloved sport earlier this month, Anthony Joshua delivered a devastating straight right hand that not only sent a stubborn Kubrat Pulev crashing to the canvas, but also brought an all-British undisputed showdown against Tyson Fury within touching distance.
Eddie Hearn revealed in June that the heavyweight giants had agreed in principle a deal to fight twice in 2021, with a caveat that Joshua would first have to see off IBF mandatory challenger Pulev, while Fury had a third encounter with Deontay Wilder to negotiate. Joshua has now completed his side of the bargain; and although Wilder is reportedly appealing to the US courts, Bob Arum insists Fury is contractually free to lock horns with his domestic rival.
Thankfully, an arduous journey is finally reaching its crescendo. The antics have, of course, already begun, with Fury flouting a T-shirt branding Joshua and Hearn ‘dossers’ across social media. However, soon the talk will become redundant – and for the first time since Lenox Lewis in 1999, one heavyweight will hold all the belts that matter. At least, we hope. Indeed, while the fight feels closer than it ever has done before, there remain three significant hurdles to overcome.
1. The WBO belt
The most disruptive factor to the undisputed element of the fight is undoubtedly Joshua’s WBO belt, which he acquired by defeating Joseph Parker. Joshua may have ticked off his IBF mandatory duties, but in Oleksandr Usyk - who secured an impressive win over Derek Chisora in October - there is a dangerous fighter who has now been the obligatory challenger to his WBO belt for over a year.
WBO president Paco Valcarel has already indicated his intention to enforce the defence, which is problematic for Joshua, particularly as Usyk – a smaller, slick boxer with an outstanding amateur pedigree – could pose the Brit real problems stylistically. Meanwhile, the public - particularly the casual market - are not interested in another mandatory defence further delaying the Fury showdown.
So, what’s the answer? Well, Hearn has already confirmed that Joshua is determined to fight Fury next and will not shy away from vacating his belt if need be. He has, however, urged the WBO to be a part of history and push back the mandatory defence, which would then see Usyk take on another challenger, perhaps an enticing rematch with the sanctioning body’s No. 2, his old amateur rival Joe Joyce.
Usyk could yet agree to step aside and allow the undisputed fight to go ahead, a prospect perhaps more likely given his ties to Hearn and Matchroom.
The fans, or lack thereof, will have less of an impact on whether the fight happens, but more where and when it will take place. Yes, Joshua fought in front of just 1,000 fans against Pulev, but that was a mandatory fight he needed to quickly overcome and move past. This is no mandatory - this is the biggest fight in British history. A reduced capacity event is simply not an option, certainly not in the UK anyway.
While the emergence of an approved vaccine in the UK has raised hope of a return to normality, the speed of its rollout and the immediate impact on the current restrictions remain uncertain. Though it may aggrieve UK fans, it would therefore not be overly surprising to see at least one of the two fights take place abroad, particularly as Fury hasn’t fought in the UK for over two years, while neither of Joshua’s encounters with Andy Ruiz Jr were on British soil. Sky Sports Head of Boxing Development, Adam Smith, indicated the first fight may well head to the Middle East, when he spoke to us recently.
It would perhaps make monetary sense for both parties to stage the first fight abroad with the rematch held in a full capacity stadium within the UK towards the back end of 2021.
Another hurdle to overcome is the requirement to bring the four relevant broadcasters together. Joshua is signed to Sky Sports within the UK, while DAZN has recently broadcast his fights elsewhere. Fury, on the other hand, has fought on BT in each of his last six bouts and has two fights remaining on his £80m, five-fight ESPN deal Stateside.
With the pay-per-view buys likely to be record-breaking, no party will entertain the thought of missing out and a deal will have to be agreed. However, you’d think this should be the least of the fighters’ concerns. We have seen major broadcast collaborations previously and we will see them again in the future.
Hearn has revealed talks between the camps has already begun, insisting their motivations are aligned: to get the fight sealed, and quickly. Importantly, Hearn has also promised the aim is for the first meeting to happen in 2021 – hopefully in May – regardless of the belts involved, though asserting they will do everything possible to ensure all of them are on the line.
For now, we must await the outcome of Wilder’s reported court appeal and Joshua’s predicament with his WBO belt. However, despite the remaining hurdles, it does appear as if negotiations are heading in the right direction.