LAS VEGAS – Anthony Joshua still doesn’t want to give up his WBO heavyweight title.
Joshua’s promoter doesn’t think the British superstar would even consider vacating one of his four championships unless negotiations for his mandated matchup with Oleksandr Usyk take a sudden turn for the worse. Thus far, talks between Eddie Hearn, whose company promotes Joshua and co-promoted Usyk’s last three fights, and Alex Krassyuk, Usyk’s other promotional representative, have advanced to the point Hearn is confident that they’ll come to an agreement soon.
“I feel like as long as the deal goes smoothly … and no one tries to be clever, then I think that fight is quite automatic,” Hearn told a group of reporters Saturday night following Devin Haney’s victory over Jorge Linares at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob Ultra Arena. “And the way that the conversations have been going with Alex Krassyuk, who I’ve worked with for the last three [Usyk] fights anyway, [have] been sensible. So, as long as everyone’s sensible, that’s the fight. And I think it’s a very good fight. It’s not the Fury fight, which is the one we wanted, but it’s still a very good fight.”
Assuming they make a deal, Hearn expects to schedule the bout between England’s Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) and Ukraine’s Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) for either late in August or early in September, somewhere in the United Kingdom. Once the Joshua-Tyson Fury fight fell apart two weeks ago, the WBO gave representatives for Joshua and Usyk 10 days from May 22 to reach an agreement.
Hearn still doesn’t view Tuesday as a hard deadline for wrapping up a Joshua-Usyk agreement.
“I do think where we are with negotiations,” Hearn said, “we would probably say to the WBO, if there’s no deal by Monday or Tuesday, could we have another week, please? Like if both teams say that, then they’ll give you more time, you know?”
Joshua would give up the WBO belt, however, if the two sides can’t come to an agreement and the WBO orders a purse bid. According to the WBO’s rules, an 80-20 purse split would favor Joshua if his fight with Usyk went to a purse bid.
The 31-year-old Joshua also owns the IBF, IBO and WBA titles and wants to keep each of his four belts as he pursues becoming boxing’s fully unified heavyweight champion.
“We’ll either make a deal or we’ll vacate,” Hearn said. “I mean, we won’t be going to purse bids or anything like that, and mucking around. By the way, I don’t blame the WBO. They were actually quite generous to us with our time. I mean, let’s be honest – it dragged on a lot, didn’t it? So, I have to take my hat off to [WBO president] Paco Valcarcel, because he did put himself, his neck on the line, to allow that fight, when Usyk had a strong case for it not to be allowed.
“But when the time come, [Valcarcel] had to do what he had to do. So, I’m not annoyed with the WBO. I’m just annoyed that it seems that basically AJ is told who he’s gotta fight every single time. But that's the problem of having three or four belts. That’s just how it is.”
The undefeated Usyk has been the mandatory challenger for the WBO title since June 2019. If Joshua relinquishes the WBO belt, the number one-ranked Usyk would be ordered to battle another Brit, second-ranked Joe Joyce (12-0, 11 KOs), for its unclaimed heavyweight championship.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.