Eddie Hearn and the Sauerland brothers have already shouldered the blame for preventing a potential undisputed heavyweight championship.

In reality, the team behind Filip Hrgovic followed everyone else’s lead and ultimately played the hand dealt in securing a heavyweight title shot.

As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, unified WBA ‘Super’/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk was formally instructed to enter negotiations with Hrgovic, the current IBF mandatory challenger. According to a letter issued to both parties on Saturday—a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com—both sides were given 30 days, or until December 12, to work out terms to avoid a purse bid hearing.

Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing—who co-promotes Hrgovic along with Wasserman Boxing, headed by the Sauerland brothers—requested to forgo the negotiation period and head straight to a purse bid.

"The IBF ordered it. We’ve already said we’re not willing to negotiate,” Hearn reiterated in a recent interview with IFL TV shortly after the development. “This is the request of the team. I want to have an immediate purse bid. That’s within the rules of the IBF. That means that you cannot get an exception. The only way [Usyk] can get an exception is if Hrgovic says he can. And he doesn’t want to give him an exception because he wants to fight for the title.”

Any party in an ordered title fight or eliminator is permitted to do so, per Rule 10.A of the IBF by-laws covering purse bids which states “if the camps are unable to come to an agreement as to the promotion of a Title bout in the initial thirty (30) day negotiation period, or if one of the camps certifies in writing during the negotiation period that he is not willing to participate in negotiations, the President of the IBF shall notify each registered promoter that a purse offer will be held.

“The purse bid notice shall advise registered promoters of the minimum bid required under this Rule. The purses for each boxer include all expenses for the boxers and their trainers.”

The move by Hrgovic’s side now prevents Usyk (20-0, 13KOs) and his team, headed by Alex Krassyuk’s K2 Promotions-Ukraine, from entering talks for any other fight. The possibility was teased of a potential undisputed heavyweight championship clash between Ukraine’s Usyk and Manchester’s Tyson Fury (32-0-1, 23KOs), who holds the lineal/WBC heavyweight crown.

With the IBF order and the already executed call for an immediate purse bid, Usyk is no longer in position to file an exception which would normally allow for an optional title defense.

It is not uncommon for sanctioning bodies to permit a reigning titlist to enter a unification bout in lieu of a pending mandatory title defense. However, it is a common and industry-wide misconception that unifications trumping ordered title fights is the rule rather than an occasionally granted privilege.

Hrgovic became the mandatory challenger following a close and debatable twelve-round decision win over Zhang Zhilei in their final eliminator on August 20 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The bout served in supporting capacity to Usyk’s repeat win over England’s Anthony Joshua. With the victory, Usyk successfully defending the unified titles he wrested from Joshua (24-3, 22KOs) via twelve-round, unanimous decision last September 25 in North London.

Per the IBF, Usyk’s win over Joshua created a backlog in his mandatory title defense commitment which “was due on or before 26 September 2022.”

There was a window of opportunity for Usyk and Fury to work out terms for a heavyweight championship with all of the belts at stake. However, Fury insisted that he needed to be back in the ring by no later than year’s end, having only fought once in 2022—a sixth-round knockout of countryman Dillian Whyte on April 23 at Wembley Stadium. Usyk and his team revealed that the southpaw was not ready to return until the first quarter of 2023.

From there came an effort—albeit a failed one—for Fury to next face Joshua in a long-awaited all-British superfight. The two were on course to meet in what would have been an undisputed showdown last summer, only for a court order to prevent Fury from getting out of a contractually agreed-upon trilogy clash with Deontay Wilder. Fury went on to beat Wilder via eleventh-round knockout in the 2021 Fight of the Year last October 9 in Las Vegas—two weeks after Joshua lost his belts in a WBO-ordered mandatory title defense against Usyk.

Fury and Joshua attempted to find common ground for a clash in December, which put longtime rivals Hearn (Joshua) and Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions at the negotiating table. The two sides were amicable and with talks seemingly productive until eventually hitting a wall.

The two sides still managed to do business together, as Fury will next defend his championship on December 3 in a trilogy clash with Derek Chisora, who is promoted by Matchroom and managed by Joshua’s 258 MGT team.

Meanwhile, Queensberry was attempting to disrupt Usky’s plans with their own ideas of who was next in the mandatory rotation.

Joshua satisfied the IBF mandatory with a December 2020 ninth-round knockout of Kubrat Pulev, who had to go to court to enforce his status and receive his owed title shot. Usyk was the WBO mandatory heading into the first fight with Joshua last September.

The last WBA mandatory was made in September 2018, when Joshua scored a seventh-round knockout of Alexander Povetkin, and thus should have been next in the rotation.

However, Queensberry in part ruined those plans. An effort was made by the UK-based promotional outfit to have interim WBO heavyweight titlist Joe Joyce identified as the next mandatory challenger in late October during the annual WBO convention. Longtime sanctioning body president Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcarcel wouldn’t bite, instead pointing out that the IBF was next and that Joyce was actually last in line.

Queensberry Promotions also promotes secondary WBA heavyweight titlist Daniel Dubois (18-1, 17KOs). However, the WBA has yet to order the title consolidation bout, nor does Queensberry seem publicly interested in Dubois getting a shot at the crown before Joyce.

The admittance of trying to get Joyce to jump the line only bolstered the case for the IBF to act. To its credit, the New Jersey-based sanctioning body sat back long enough to see whether there was hope for an undisputed championship to take place before ordering its overdue mandatory.

From there, Hrgovic stood to repeat the benefits, to which his team acted accordingly.

“I've already spoken to people... who are obviously quite upset that it is gonna stop Fury vs Usyk for now,” acknowledged Hearn. “But at the same time, it has nothing to do with me. We represent Filip Hrgovic. We don't represent Tyson Fury or Usyk at the moment. We’ve got a job to do for Filip Hrgovic. He won the final eliminator. He’s the mandatory.”

If neither side withdraws and the fight goes to a purse bid, IBF rules stipulate that Usyk is entitled to the favorable end of a 65/35 split as the defending champion.

IBF Rules 5.D.(b) stipulates that “a Champion’s failure to comply with this obligation will be sufficient cause to have the Championships Committee and Board of Directors consider withdrawing recognition of the title.” 

Rule 5.D.(c) covering the challenger’s role notes that the “Challenger’s failure to comply with this rule will result in the Championships Committee recognizing the next leading available contender as the mandatory challenger and moving the challenger to a position below #10 in the rankings for at least 6 months.”

Any decision by Usyk to next face anyone other than Hrgovic will result in his being stripped of the IBF title. The IBF would then order a vacant title fight between Hrgovic and the next highest-ranked challenger.

The number-two spot is empty, common practice for the IBF in the absence of a fighter winning a semi-final eliminator. Former unified titlist Andy Ruiz (35-2, 22KOs) is currently ranked number-three, but who was also recently ordered to next face former WBC titlist Deontay Wilder (43-2-1, 42KOs) in a WBC final eliminator to determine the next mandatory challenger for Fury.

Joshua is ranked number four and presently without an opponent or fight date for his next bout. Wilder is ranked number five, while streaking contender Martin Bakole (18-1, 13KOs) is number six.  

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox