It could be this year or never for the top names in the heavyweight division. Deadlines come and go at the highest level of boxing, but if the big three don’t get it together in the next 12-18 months, it must be doubted that they ever will.
On the face of it, Deontay Wilder, the WBC champion, Anthony Joshua, the WBA, WBO, IBO and IBF champion, and Tyson Fury are in the prime of their careers. At 34, young for a heavyweight, Wilder is the oldest, but look ahead 24 months and it is not difficult to see how the top of the division could be very different.
Joshua has continuously talked of boxing for at least another five years, but whether Wilder and Fury see their careers in such terms is another matter. Wilder’s five-year reign has been dogged at times by injury lay-offs, while Fury himself has often questioned how long her wants to continue.
At least those two are meeting on February 22, but with the pair assured of such riches in a potential two-fight deal, neither would really have need to work again.
Wilder and Fury are believed to both be on guarantees of $30 million, although expectations are that they could earn much more. They would expect to get similar amounts from a contracted rematch, which a realistic timescale (considering February 22 is a mere 12 weeks after Wilder’s win over Luis Ortiz) would suggest could take place around September.
Joshua’s direct future is taken up by mandatory defences. First up looks to be Kubrat Pulev, probably in May in London. Despite the cold claims of Bob Arum, who will happily tell anyone that he expects the Bulgarian to knock Joshua out, Pulev looks little more of a threat that he was when they were first due to box in October 2017, until a bicep injury forced a change of opponent.
Pulev was a 25-1 shot then, and while Joshua has shown plenty of vulnerability since then, stylewise Pulev looks made for him and at 38 going on 39, he is unlikely to be getting any better.
Whether he faces Oleksandr Usyk after could depend on whether the Ukrainian is willing to step aside for Pulev or if he forces the issue with the WBO, who said the fight had to happen by June 4.
Either way, a Wilder/Fury v Joshua fight would be unlikely until the first half of 2021. In the meantime, a new generation of heavyweights is likely to emerge in order to sweep up any belts they leave behind.
While Dillian Whyte would be keen to get a title shot against anyone who will get in the ring with him, most of the other would-be contenders seem more interested in calling out Dereck Chisora right now than any of the big three.
Whyte, Chisora, Usyk, Joseph Parker, Michael Hunter, Andy Ruiz Jr and Ortiz are all likely to be in the mix for a title shot in the next two years, but a string of unbeaten prospects will soon be beating down the door for a chance, making the division as exciting as it has been in years.
Adam Kownacki is probably front of the line right now, while the four boxers who filled the podium in the super-heavyweight division at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – Tony Yoka, Joe Joyce, Filip Hrgovic and Ivan Dychko – as well as three-time world amateur champion (as well as Joshua conqueror) Magomedrasul Majidov, are climbing the rankings.
Daniel Dubois is the youngest of the group at 22, while Nigerian Efe Ajagba, who lost to Joyce as an amateur, and big-punching Russian Arslanbek Makhmudov, who beat Majidov as an amateur and had a great record in the World Series of Boxing, have the potential to play a leading role.