By Tris Dixon
There was a time when fighting men were fighting men, and they did what they were both supposed to do and what they were paid to do. Fight.
It seems as though it should be so simple. Yet when the demand is high, the suppliers – or fighters in our case – do not focus on the fight any longer.
It becomes who is the A-side and who is the B? Who gets the left hand-side of the poster? Whose name goes first? Who makes the first ringwalk? Who selects the gloves? Who gets the bigger locker-room?
Of course, it usually boils down to money. Is fighter A being paid what he thinks he is worth and is fighter B being compensated enough to swallow being fighter B, on the right hand side of the poster and having his name second.
As negotiations initiate to pair big-punching heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua (WBA, IBO and IBF) and WBC ruler Deontay Wilder next year, claims from each camp and both sides of the Atlantic have surfaced with the respective teams claiming their man is the star of any potential show.
Wilder and his supporters allege Deontay is better known in the US while Joshua’s team not only contend that their man is bigger in the UK, but is also better-known in the America.
Former Boxing Writers’ Association of America president Jack Hirsch recently posted a picture of himself on social media next to a cardboard cutout of Joshua at Macy’s department store in Brooklyn.
He believed that non-boxing fans do not have any idea who Joshua is in the USA and that he is “not the global star his promoter Eddie Hearn wants to lead us to believe he is.”
Yet surely his appearance advertising sporting products in the USA indicates a level of fame and celebrity not replicated by Wilder, be it in the USA and certainly not in the UK or Europe.
Hirsch contended that Joshua needed to face Wilder next “or he would lose a great amount of credibility.”
He might not be alone. But if Wilder does not face Joshua next, will he not lose credibility in equal if not greater amounts?
He was hardly allowed to cover himself in glory a couple of weeks ago when he beheaded an overweight and inactive Bermane Stiverne in one of heavyweight boxing’s least eagerly anticipated returns of all time.
The claim that Joshua, just one fight removed from that heady Wembley night when he thrilled fans against an aging Wladimir Klitschko, will lose credibility for not fighting Wilder next is crazy if you do not think the same applies in reverse.
Boxing is, of course, a sport of opinions. Who is the draw? Who is worth more money? Who is the better fighter? Just about everything is open to interpretation.
But Joshua is doing in and around a million pay-per-view buys in the UK. He has sold out two huge outdoor stadiums in consecutive fights. He holds a win over a far more recognisable name in Klitschko than anyone Wilder has fought. US TV wants to showcase his fights and they pay big money to do it. Joshua won Olympic gold in 2012; Wilder won Olympic bronze in 2008. Yet regardless of any of that, the potent combination of wild gunslinger Wilder and novice world champion Joshua is enthralling.
And the fact remains that they are worth far more together than they are against other fighters. It was the same with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Sure, they made incredible money against other fighters in the many interim years they spun out before their paths finally did cross, but when they were eventually paired together the money was obscene.
Wilder and Joshua will make plenty of cash dispatching mandatories and lesser rivals. But the money they stand to make for facing one another would likely equate to the amount they would earn from three or four different contests.
And there is nothing wrong with them fighting more than once.
When was the last great heavyweight rivalry, or the last great heavyweight trilogy?
The landscape at boxing’s long-recognised top table is comparatively bleak and there is no problem with these two uniting their respective titles and fighting again. And again.
It is still far from ideal that the biggest fight that can be made in the division – and one of the biggest in the sport – is between two unbeaten punchers with only one meaningful victory between them. The governing bodies have left a permanent stain on the era by allowing Wilder and Joshua such padded rides to the top, something they are not helping by shuffling a slew of undeserving mandatories to the front of their respective queues.
Of course, both Joshua and Wilder will have the opponents to prove themselves against in time.
Until then, this modern game of who has more social media followers, who is more recognisable, who can act like the biggest diva, whose team can drive the harder bargain and who is the draw will rumble on for a few months before what, ultimately, is best for boxing finally happens.