MIAMI—It was a very productive fight week for Eddie Hearn, well beyond the event for which he was in town to promote.
Among the many topics tackled by the British promoter was securing a firm direction for Matchroom Boxing’s star client, Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21KOs). The two-time unified heavyweight titlist is pressed with a pair of sanctioning body-ordered mandatory title defenses, with the International Boxing Federation (IBF) appointing Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) as next line, while World Boxing Organization (WBO) has called for Joshua to next face former World cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13KOs).
With the WBO in town for several bouts on Thursday’s DAZN fight card live from Meridian at Island Gardens–including its middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade (29-0, 18KOs) turning away Ireland’s Luke Keeler (17-3-1, 5KOs) in the 9th round of their main event—came the opportunity to talk heavyweight business. In turn, it helped clear the chosen path for Joshua’s next order of business.
“It’s pretty much established now, chronologically, that Pulev is first,” Hearn confirmed to BoxingScene.com of the order in which Joshua’s mandatories will come. “But of course, the WBO wants to know what’s happening with Usyk as their mandatory challenger.
“So what’s happening is, Joshua will fight Pulev and then he—or really, the winner, which of course we believe will be AJ—must fight Usyk as the mandatory.”
Joshua’s forthcoming bout with Pulev will mark the first defense of his second reign as a unified heavyweight titlist. The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and massive box office attraction from Watford, England reclaimed his belts in a 12-round win over Andy Ruiz last December, six months after the Imperial, California-bred heavyweight pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the division’s storied championship history with a 7th round stoppage at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden.
Had Joshua won that bout, his next one very likely would have come versus Pulev, who has been mandatory challenger in waiting since an October 2018 points win over Hughie Fury. Pulev and his team sought to block the rematch, with the IBF conditionally approved complete with a written order calling for the 2008 Olympian and current heavyweight contender to face the winner by no later than May 31, 2020.
Ukraine’s Usyk is armed with a similar guarantee from the WBO, which ordered his mandatory title shot to come on or before June 4, 2020.
For now, it appears that there exists cooperation amongst the governing bodies. It will also mean that Joshua will have to either go the year without pursuing another title—meaning, the winner of the February 22 rematch between World Boxing Council (WBC) titlist Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41KOs) of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and England’s Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20KO)—or go into such a fight with one less belt.
“So for now, we’re moving forward with what looks like Joshua-Pulev,” notes Hearn. “We are looking at late May, early June, likely in London. From there, the winner would fight Usyk. The only way that Joshua wouldn’t fight Usyk is if he got the Wilder-Fury winner. That wouldn’t be undisputed, though, because the WBO will of course have to protect Usyk and order that fight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox