Mandatories are the name of the game, but Eddie Hearn would be lying if he didn’t feel a bit knackered by the sanctioning bodies and their seemingly ceaseless demands.
The latest order for Joshua’s next fight comes from the WBO, involving the former undisputed cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk, a somewhat unproven commodity at heavyweight but whose unique skill set in the higher weight classes cannot be questioned.
“Usyk is a pound-for-pound top fighter, and he’s the undisputed cruiserweight champion, and AJ is continuously fighting these guys that he gets a letter about telling him 'You must do this,'” Hearn told The 3-Knockdown Rule podcast. “And at some point, with the way he’s feeling at the moment, and the way I’m feeling at the moment, you don’t want to be told what to do. We understand [the sanctioning body] responsibilities. [Joshua] wants to fight for the undisputed world championship, and that is unfortunately an obligation of being a champion.”
Still, Hearn feels as if Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) is not being given enough credit for abiding by the dictates of the sanctioning bodies by taking on all mandatory challengers. Hearn proceeded to fawn about Joshua’s old school mentality and what he views as Joshua’s sterling resume.
“To be honest, it feels like we’re always having to please somebody or something and that generally comes from the governing bodies,” Hearn said. “If you look at the run of fights that Joshua has had since Wladimir Klitschko. He was ordered to fight a mandatory straight after that, it was [Kubrat] Pulev. He accepted that fight and then Pulev pulled out with a week to go and he boxed [Carlos] Takam. That was his mandatory.
“In his next fight he fought Joseph Parker in a unification fight. In the fight after that he was told he had to face a WBO mandatory against Aleksandr Povetkin, a quite prime Povetkin, by the way, at the time. And after that he had a voluntary [defense]. Who did he have as a voluntary? Andy Ruiz. He loses to him. He fights Andy Ruiz again and then he’s told now you’ve got another mandatory. It’s Kubrat Pulev. OK. You fight Kubrat Pulev. Now you try to make the undisputed fight and now you’re told you have another mandatory, it’s Oleksandr Usyk.”
In an ideal world, Hearn would have preferred to face up to certain mandatory demands after Joshua had fought Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) in what would have been for the undisputed heavyweight title. But negotiations for that fight were nixed unexpectedly after an arbitration ruling ordered Fury to face Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) by Sept. 15. (Wilder-Fury III is scheduled for July 24 in Las Vegas.) That development has left Joshua the odd man out, staring down a risky matchup against perhaps the most skillful heavyweight outside of Fury. Lose to Usyk and the match with Fury (whose own fight with Wilder comes with its own set of risks) will likely not be as appealing – or lucrative.
No wonder it seems like Hearn is hedging his bets these days.
“AJ believes that he punishes Usyk. But you have to understand that Anthony Joshua is a throwback fighter. Look at that resume. Where’s the easy nights? The easy fight? ‘Let’s fight Trevor Bryant and make $10 million and have an easy night.’ No. He’s a throwback fighter. And if he fights Oleksandr Usyk, which he probably will, look at the resume of this young man," Hearn said.