Boxing politics look set to delay any fight between Anthony Joshua and either Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury until 2022, according to the 5 Live Boxing team.
Joshua won back three of the four world heavyweight titles by outpointing Andy Ruiz Jr in a rematch on 7 December.
Afterwards the Briton said he would no longer spend energy on calling out American Wilder – who holds the WBC title – or Fury.
As 5 Live Boxing’s Mike Costello and Steve Bunce explained, financial splits and mandatory obligations could keep fans waiting for a fight long in the making.
‘This is where the traffic jams start’
As early as June 2016 Joshua was mentioning Fury and Wilder as prospective opponents – the two are due to fight for a second time on 22 February after fighting to a thrilling draw in December last year.
Joshua has offered to help Fury with sparring for that contest, believing his compatriot will agree to fight him before Wilder would.
Negotiations between the Joshua and Wilder camps in 2018 proved fruitless, with no agreement on what split each fighter deserved.
But Costello believes the fact Wilder’s most recent win, over Luis Ortiz, was bought less than 300,000 times on pay-per-view television underlines Joshua’s strength at the negotiating table.
“We just have to understand the boxing politics here and I can see more of this being an issue down the line,” says BBC Sport boxing correspondent Costello.
“When you look at the figures we are hearing about from Sky Sports Box Office for Joshua-Ruiz – upwards of 1.5 million buys at £25 a throw – that’s nearly £40m into the pot before you consider what the Saudi Arabian hosts threw in, what you get for international TV rights and other sources of revenue.
“This is where the traffic jams start. Whatever you say on the outside about the sporting contest being 50-50, in terms of the business of the fight, Joshua brings more to the table.”
The mandatory juggling act
Joshua holds the WBO, IBF and WBA world titles.
He has been ordered to strike a deal by mid-January to face Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, the WBO’s mandatory challenger who could first face Britain’s Dereck Chisora early in 2020.
But Kubrat Pulev is also a mandatory challenger via the IBF.
“That creates a situation where people will criticise him for fighting Pulev and criticise him for facing Usyk or Chisora,” says 5 Live Boxing’s Steve Bunce.
“The WBO have given Usyk’s and Joshua’s people 30 days to agree a deal.”
Two mandatory defences in 2020 would probably mean no other bouts for Joshua, who has not fought three times in a calendar year since 2016.
That means the focus shifts to early 2021 but Dillian Whyte is currently expected to use his own mandatory status with the WBC to pursue a world title fight against Fury or Wilder around that time.
A further – and significant – challenge would be the deal that would need to be struck between the different broadcasters attached to each fighter.
Should Joshua give up one of his belts?
No fighter has ever held all four major world titles in the heavyweight division, which only adds to the appetite for a bout for undisputed status.
“If we do move on to 2021 and the winner of Wilder and Fury does face Joshua, we might be coming to that special era,” said Costello.
“[But] I think before the end of 2022 is more likely.
“We should also consider Wilder is 34. I accept you can judge a fighter’s age by hard rounds and not years but you will get to the point where he is not going to be improving – and then there is that danger that he gets beaten before Joshua gets to him.”
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For Bunce, the delay is already extraordinary, and he believes Joshua might even be tempted to give up a belt to make the fight happen.
“I can’t help but remember that until Joshua lost to Ruiz in June, he and Wilder had shared 37 months as world champions. No-one has corrected me when I have said I can’t think of two unbeaten world title holders – being champions at the same time – and not fighting for 37 months. That is unique.
“Now we are saying not 2020, maybe not 2021, possibly 2022. Something has to happen, even if it means Joshua has to give up one of his titles. That might save us a year.”
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