By Cliff Rold
Showtime’s announcement this week that they would televise the Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker heavyweight unification March 31st gave them a clear inside track on what might be the key to boxing’s near term future.
Heavyweight is exciting right now.
Heavyweight has a monster draw at the top.
When those two things are happening, people get rich. People get rich at heavyweight regardless. Wladimir Klitschko fought most of his title reign outside the US and was one of the highest paid athletes on the planet. This might be an era where guys get really, really rich.
Mike Tyson money rich.
Much of that relies on who does what. Right now, excitement abounds for not only March 31st but also March 3rd. Assuming contender and former WBA interim titlist Luis Ortiz (28-0, 24 KO) doesn’t blow any more tests or forget to list any medications, he will challenge WBC titlist Deontay Wilder (39-0, 38 KO) on March 3rd.
It’s a heavyweight final four and, for the accountants and network executives, there is a clearly desirable finish line.
Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury.
Ok, maybe later.
No, for now the big payday, the one that might reignite the heavyweight pay-per-view business in the US the way it’s been fired up in the UK, is Joshua (20-0, 20 KO) versus Wilder. In a logical world, if those two both win their March fights, they would face off next.
In the boxing world, it should happen by at least March 2019.
All they have to do is keep winning.
Heading into March, one of the fun elements of this heavyweight logjam is a simple question: what happens if they don’t?
Smart betting types would probably see Wilder-Ortiz as the more likely source of an upset. Wilder, in part because of bad luck in the last couple years, hasn’t had the sort of test yet that really defines whether he’s the goods or not. Cuba’s Ortiz is seen as the most dangerous foe of his career. Ortiz can box, he can punch, and he’s built stout. Wilder is faster, and appears to have better single shot power, but sometimes he can be (no pun intended) wild in his approach.
If Ortiz can get between Wilder’s shots, there is real danger.
It’s a well-made fight.
An Ortiz upset might not tip the apple cart all that much. For Wilder cynics, it would be proof they were right. A Joshua-Ortiz unification in place of Joshua-Wilder would be appealing, exciting, and unpredictable.
There are less who see an upset possible for the WBO titlist Parker (24-0, 18 KO). At one time seen as just behind Joshua among heavyweight prospects, Parker was less than impressive against Andy Ruiz, couldn’t put away journeyman Razvan Cojanu, and his decision over Hughie Fury was open to debate.
Since escalating his level of opposition against Carlos Takam in May 2016, Parker has managed to both win a major belt and become more suspect along the way. Going from fighting in the 230s to the 240s over the last year doesn’t look like it helped. It is not unexpected that a Joshua-Parker showdown materialized after early comparisons between the two. It just didn’t develop into quite the showdown it looked like it might.
They’ll still play to some 70,000 fans and make multiple millions apiece. It developed enough. If Wilder takes care of business and Joshua were to be upset by Parker, it might not upset a Wilder-Joshua showdown as much as it appears. Joshua has a rematch clause and is clearly the rainmaker in the class. A Joshua-Parker rematch would suddenly be even bigger than the fight signed now and if Joshua were to win it might make a Wilder fight even bigger.
Wilder’s chances of winning would be seen as higher against a Joshua proven vulnerable.
If Parker were able to beat Joshua next month, and get through a likely rematch, Parker-Wilder could easily become a big fight in the US. It might not reach the monetary heights a Joshua fight with anyone can right now; those UK pay-per-view revenues and stadium crowds are about him more than opponents. He’s getting numbers with anyone right now.
Excellent promotion and an Olympic pedigree go a long way. The extra something intangible that makes a superstar is still a unique entity and Joshua has it.
All of these possibilities involve Joshua or Wilder on some level. Tyson Fury, noted jokingly above, becomes a big part of the picture if and when he gets back in shape and in a ring winning fights. He’s not there yet.
There is one outcome almost no one is chattering about.
What if we get a pair of upsets in March?
It doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario, but with four undefeated heavyweights throwing down anything is possible.
A unification finish line of Luis Ortiz vs. Joseph Parker is possible.
For the accountants, promoters, and network executives, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume it as the worst possible outcome.
It’s the one fight of those possible between the March foursome that would be a tough sell on pay-per-view. Regular fight fans would be intrigued, but mainstream interest would be minimal in the US. Considering both men would want to be accommodated for a unification fight, it might not even be all that makeable.
Part of the excitement of right now is the idea that we could be on the verge of an all out unification at heavyweight. Dual upsets in March could take us farther away instead of closer.
And yet that is part of the fun of what’s coming. Some people think they know what’s going to happen and a fair number will be right no matter the outcomes. Someone is going to be wrong, whether picking the favorites or underdogs in either match. No one will really know where we’re going until we get there.
First stop, Wilder-Ortiz. What’s really possible emerges when the final bell rings there.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]