Another layer has been added to the continued fallout in efforts to produce an undisputed heavyweight champion.
The World Boxing Organization has issued a “Show Cause” to promoted Eddie Hearn, who must provide in the next 48 hours verifiable proof of a forthcoming showdown between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury. Failure to do so will leave the WBO to order a mandatory title fight between Joshua and number-one contender Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13KOs).
“It is hereby ordered to “Show Cause” within the next 48 hours upon issuance of this order as to why the WBO World Championship Committee shall not order the commencement of negotiations between Mandatory Challenger Oleksandr Usyk and WBO Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua immediately,” Luis Batista-Salas, chairman of the WBO Championship committee stated in a letter to Hearn, a copy of which has been obtained by BoxingScene.com. “Be advised that failure to comply with this order will constitute a waiver of all rights hereunder and with the Committee proceeding accordingly without a further summons and/or hearing.”
Hearn has been working for months to put together an all-British heavyweight superfight between unified WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight titlist Joshua (24-1, 22KOs) and lineal/WBC champ Fury (30-0-1, 21KOs). Those plans were compromised on Monday, when an arbitration judge ruled in favor of honoring an existing contract calling for a third fight between Fury and Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41KOs) to take place no later than September 15. The development forced the WBO’s hand, as the sanctioning body previously called for an interim title fight between Usyk and Joe Joyce in its effort to allow Joshua and Fury to proceed with crowning the first undisputed heavyweight champion in this century.
The next 48 hours will determine if that remains on the table.
“Please be advised that on Monday, 17, 2021, the World Boxing Organization (WBO) was advised that the arbitrator presiding over Tyson Fury/Deontay Wilder rematch clause dispute rendered an “Award” granting Deontay Wilder injunctive relief and ordering Tyson Fury to participate in a rematch… on or before September 15, 2021,” “The award issued by the arbitrator is binding and enforceable between the relevant parties.
“Conversely, as you are aware, on January 29, 2021, the WBO World Championship Committee ordered the commencement of the negotiations for the Interim Heavyweight Championship Contest between Usyk/[Joe] Joyce to keep the division active and to seek the protection and safeguard the rights and interests of Usyk and the remaining WBO Heavyweight Contenders considering the potential Undisputed Heavyweight Championship bout between Joshua/Fury. Such ruling was subject to very specific conditions, including but not limited to the WBO Championship
Committee’s right to issue any further ruling or determination deemed necessary, helpful, and convenient to establish the purposes, policies, and intent of the WBO Rules and Regulations.”
Ukraine’s Usyk has continued to press for a mandatory title fight with Joshua. Wilder is refusing to step aside, as he much rather prefers to avenge his lone career defeat following a 7th round knockout at the hands of Fury last February.
The rematch between Wilder and Fury came with a contractual clause allowing for the losing fighter to call for a third fight. Wilder enforced that clause one week after their Pay-Per-View headliner at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, with the venue due to host such a fight last July 18. The fight was postponed to October 3 and then again to December as event handlers were hesitant to proceed with such a show taking place without fans in attendance due to social distancing restrictions.
A dispute over an available date last December prompted the matter to be heard before an arbitration judge. Wilder insisted the contract was still valid. Fury and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum insisted to anyone who would listen that such a clause had expired and that the unbeaten lineal champion was moving forward with a mouthwatering showdown versus Joshua.
Hearn went on record earlier this week as having been assured by Team Fury that the matter would not stand in the way of such a fight. The ruling handed down on Monday clearly contradicted that claim, with Hearn himself issuing a deadline to Fury’s side to resolve the matter.
The call from the WBO goes a long way in explaining that sense of urgency, although there is, of course, the part where Joshua needs to move forward with his career. The massively popular heavyweight—who captured a Gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics—has fought just once since regaining his unified titles, coming in a 9th round knockout of IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev last December.
The fight took place at the reluctance of Usyk, who believed he was next due a title shot. The former World cruiserweight champion—who also captured an Olympic Gold medal in 2012—was then asked to accept an interim title fight with Joyce. The offer came with the assurance of—with a win—a straight path to the title, be it versus the winner of Fury-Joshua or by default in the event said winner refused to face him.
It also came with the guarantee of next fighting for the title in the event that Fury-Joshua did not take place within the deadline imposed by the WBO. The purpose of the Show Cause letter is to confirm if this is where all parties are presently at or if hope remains of the desired all-British heavyweight superfight.
Fury has since alleged in the aftermath of the ruling that Wilder’s side has demanded a $20 million step aside fee. Team Wilder has vehemently denied that claim, with the Alabama-bred heavyweight long desiring a third fight sans any compensation to move in any other direction.
Arum has since told all involved parties that he plans to move forward with Fury-Wilder 3, with a suggested date of July 24. The promoter claims to have placed a hold for the date with Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
Whether or not that is the next step is less crucial to the WBO than honoring the rights of Usyk, who—through high-powered attorneys Patrick English and John Hornewer—has threatened legal action regarding the overdue status of his mandatory title shot. The southpaw was named as the mandatory challenger in 2019, having been forced to wait out Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz—regaining his titles in Dec. 2019—and the aforementioned IBF mandatory title defense versus Pulev.
Usyk and his team have always been resistant to the idea of fighting for the interim fight, as the greater desire is to challenge for the real thing. By week’s end, he will at least be provided with clarity, if not a direct path to commence negotiations with Joshua.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox