A frustrated Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told BoxingScene on Monday that he would not be surprised if plans for the all-British undisputed heavyweight championship fight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, in the works for late July or early August in Saudi Arabia, fall apart and that Fury next winds up facing former world titleholder Deontay Wilder for the third time.
“Maybe we’ll breathe some life into Wilder, and Fury will fight Wilder and Joshua will fight (WBO mandatory challenger Oleksandr) Usyk,” said Arum to BoxingScene.com.
Arum said that he had been bullish on Fury-Joshua being finalized because Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, Joshua's promoter, who has spearheaded the talks with a group from Saudi Arabia, promised that the site deal would be done last week.
But Arum said Hearn has gone “radio silent.”
“Eddie Hearn is busy trying to sell the London Bridge,” Arum said. “Let me tell you – last time I talked to Eddie was early last week and he said he was going to have a signed agreement from the Saudis in 24 hours. Well, he’s a little late. Wouldn’t you be pessimistic if you haven’t heard from him or anybody for a week? We’re the promoter with Frank (Warren) of Fury and we haven’t heard from Eddie in a week.”
Hearn has said he has secured a $150 million site fee from a group in Saudi Arabia that would pick one of three dates -- July 24, July 31 or Aug. 7 – to put the fight on at a site of their choice in the country. Arum said that he was told the likely site would be a new indoor stadium in Jeddah, although he is now not sure the deal will push through.
Arum has long been skeptical of offers from overseas, typically telling reporters when the topic is broached about a major fight that “I’m not packing my bags yet.” That is a reference to needing to make sure the offer and money are legitimate.
Asked about the offer to have Fury-Joshua in Saudi Arabia and if he was getting ready to pack his bags, last week he told BoxingScene firmly said, “Yes.”
Asked again on Monday, Arum was singing a different tune.
“They’re not packed,” Arum said.
Warren has also been skeptical of Hearn’s ability to deliver the site deal, telling TalkSport in the United Kingdom, “Look, every day I’m being told -- it’s like, ‘It’s in the post.’ It’s not arrived and that’s where we are. I’ll believe it when I see it. We’re being told it’ll be here. I know Tyson’s had enough of hanging around. He wants to fight in June or July and that’s what will happen if this thing doesn’t get resolved very quickly.”
Arum said that while Hearn had sent him and Warren a contract outlining the terms of the site deal it was not binding.
“We got a document and they said it wasn’t binding. We said it has to be binding and we haven’t heard back from them. It says in (the paperwork) it this is not a binding agreement,” Arum said.
“Eddie sent me the draft but it was not a binding agreement and it was supposed to be turned into a binding agreement in 24 hours and Frank and I haven’t spoken to Eddie since. He’s gone radio silent.”
A group in Saudi Arabia did come up with around $60 million and built a temporary outdoor stadium in Diriyah to host Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2019, when Joshua won a lopsided decision to reclaim the unified belts he had lost to Ruiz by upset seventh-round knockout in New York.
If there is no Fury-Joshua fight Wilder is the logical next opponent for Fury because Wilder and his team believe Fury still owes him a third fight stemming from their contract for their February 2020 rematch, which Fury won by seventh-round knockout to retain the lineal title and take Wilder’s WBC belt.
The deal for the rematch of their 2018 draw was a two-fight deal with the loser having the contractual right to a third fight. Wilder exercised his right but when the coronavirus pandemic shut down boxing for several months in 2020, the date by which the bout was supposed to take place expired.
Fury decided to move on to another fight but Wilder’s team believes Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), 32, still owes him the bout based injury and extension language, so he took Fury to mediation, which is what the rematch contract called for in the event of a dispute. The situation was not worked out in mediation and the next step, per the contract, was binding arbitration, which the sides are currently engaged in but with Fury’s team confident enough in their case that they have been making plans for the fight with Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs), 31, going so far as to sign a contract for the fight contingent on a satisfactory site agreement.
“The arbitration is going on but it’s just a waste of time and money,” Arum said.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.