The thought of becoming boxing’s undisputed heavyweight champion seemed far-fetched to Anthony Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, this time a year ago.
Joshua lost on points to Oleksandr Usyk for the second time and failed to regain his IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO belts in their 12-round rematch five months earlier. And even if an ever-elusive fight with Tyson Fury finally came to fruition, it would’ve afforded Joshua an opportunity to win only the WBC crown from his British rival.
Now, however, attaining undisputed status seems within reach for the 34-year-old Joshua, particularly if Fury defeats Usyk in their title unification fight February 17 at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh. Morecambe’s Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs) and Ukraine’s Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) reportedly have agreed to a two-fight deal, but Saudi Arabia’s Turki Alalshikh discussed the plan of his country’s General Entertainment Authority during a press conference Monday in London to match the Fury-Usyk and Joshua-Francis Ngannou winners against each other in another full championship unification clash later this year in Riyadh.
Watford’s Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs) opened as a 6-1 favorite to conquer Cameroon’s Ngannou (0-1) in their 10-round pay-per-view main event March 8 at Kingdom Arena.
“One of the big takeaways from [Monday’s] press conference was, again, [Turki Alalshikh’s] vision of the winner of this fight fights the winner of Fury-Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight world championship,” Hearn, Matchroom Boxing’s chairman, told TNT Sports’ Dev Sahni and Andy Clarke. “I mean, for Ngannou to fight for the undisputed championship in his third fight, it could be a rematch with Fury. You know, he could become undisputed heavyweight world champion. For us, and for AJ, we’ve dreamed about that for so many years.
“I just said to AJ before the face-to-face [with Ngannou], ‘Two wins, you’re undisputed heavyweight world champion.’ And I believe he’s gonna do it, I really do. I know I’m a fan boy, but I believe he’s gonna beat Ngannou, then I believe he’s gonna beat Tyson Fury.”
Hearn then playfully pleaded with Fury to make sure he beats Usyk in a 12-round fight that, short of it resulting in a draw or a no-contest, will crown the first fully unified heavyweight champion of boxing’s four-belt era.
“And, you know, I would just say February the 17th, Oleksandr Usyk, I love you,” Hearn said. “But Tyson Fury, you’ve gotta win this fight. Because AJ, once he goes for Ngannou, we’ve gotta make it happen. So, good luck to both, but it’s just what I see. And, you know, the vision [Alalshikh] has, how exciting is that for boxing, that we’ve got a path and we’ve got this plan for just brilliant fights in the division?”
Alalshikh has also stated that the Saudis would financially support a third Usyk-Joshua fight if Usyk, a former undisputed cruiserweight champion, becomes the first opponent to defeat Fury as a professional. Fury-Joshua would be more marketable, of course, because the popular rivals have never fought.
Handicappers have installed Fury as a slight favorite, -140/+110 according to DraftKings sportsbook, to beat Usyk.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.