If there’s any shred of hope for the heavyweight division to fast forward to an all-British superfight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, it’s clear that Deontay Wilder continues to hold the key.
Such a matchup was teased earlier in the month as being in the preliminary discussion phase, though with several road blocks still firmly in place. Fury fights exclusively for ESPN in the United States while Joshua is aligned with Sky Sports in the United Kingdom and sports streaming service DAZN in the U.S. In the way of existing contenders, step aside money would have to be extended at least to Wilder (42-1-1, 41KOs) who exercised a contract clause calling for a third fight with Fury shortly after suffering a 7th round knockout in their rematch this past February.
The fight was one-sided enough to where it has been suggested that the 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist and now former heavyweight titlist would be best served to take an interim fight. That sentiment is shared by at least one industry insider.
“The smartest thing for Deontay Wilder to do is step aside,” Tim Bradley, a former two-division titlist and now expert analyst for ESPN suggested during the most recent installment of the State of Boxing series on ESPN+. “That’s the smartest thing he should do. Take the time, develop himself, get better, get in the gym and get with his team.
“I don’t know what’s going on with his team right now. Learn his craft and learn how to box. There’s no way he’s gonna bounce back, get in the ring expecting to beat a guy like Tyson Fury. It’s not gonna happen. Take the step aside money. Be smart about it, take the easy money and take a tune-up fight. Make a name for yourself once again, build yourself back up again. Then go after the winner of Joshua and Fury.”
Perhaps less problematic are the slew of heavyweight contenders promised a mandatory title shot offered by various sanctioning bodies.
Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) is awaiting a reassigned date for his contractually guaranteed crack at England’s Joshua (23-1, 21KOs), as he serves as the top-rated contender with the International Boxing Federation (IBF). The winner will then be due to next face Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13KOs), the former lineal cruiserweight champion who is owed a crack at the World Boxing Organization (WBO) heavyweight title.
Whomever prevails in the third fight between England’s Fury (30-0-1, 21KOs) and Alabama’s Wilder will then have a mandatory obligation of their own. Waiting in the wings is Dillian Whyte, the heavyweight contender from Brixton, England who has been the highest-rated World Boxing Council (WBC) challenger since 2017 yet still has to wait until 2021 for his title shot.
Side-stepping sanctioning body-ordered title fights could be as simple as vacating belts for the sake of moving forward with bigger fights. That luxury isn’t afforded to Fury, whose third fight with Wilder extends well beyond the belt around his waist. For the moment, Wilder isn’t at all interested in any opportunity beyond a third crack at the lone man to hand him the two blemishes on his record and ended his five-year title reign.
“Obviously, Team Wilder is going to have some say about that,” points out Andre Ward, the former super middleweight champion and light heavyweight titlist who serves alongside Bradley on the ESPN broadcast team. “If we’re going to follow any indication of what Wilder and his team have said from the end of their second fight until now, it’s that he’s not stepping aside. He’s been emphatic about that and let that be known.
“Most people have a number. So if it’s an astronomical figure (to step aside), he may think about rehabbing at home with $20 million in the bank without throwing a punch.”
Some things just aren’t only about money. Even if they are, there is also a point where it’s just not worth the financial investment to push forward with anything other than the plans already in place.
“I don’t [believe Fury-Joshua will happen next], because Kubrat Pulev, who we know well because he’s fought here on ESPN—he’s the other mandatory fighter who has a signed fight against Anthony Joshua,” points out Bernardo Osuna, the longtime color commentator. “He’s already said he’s not stepping aside. He’s waited around. He wants his opportunity. That’s the biggest challenge.
“Everyone has a price, that’s true. But both these guys want to step in the ring. In the heavyweight division, anybody can beat anybody. That’s why Wilder wants his crack at Tyson Fury next. That’s why Anthony Joshua wants a crack at Fury as well. He doesn’t want Wilder upsetting the apple cart like Andy Ruiz did against him.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox