By Cliff Rold
The sport and business of boxing needs a showdown between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder as soon as possible.
That’s become very true in the last couple days and didn’t appear to be quite as urgent before then.
Everything was going pretty well.
After a bounce back year for the sport in 2017, 2018 has been holding the momentum. Every fight hasn’t been great. ‘Every fight’ never is. That there has been significant, fan friendly action across the divide of boxing’s seventeen weight classes was more than enough.
And the latest superfight was coming.
We were supposed to get a sequel to last year’s richest boxing match that didn’t feature a UFC fighter in his debut. Saul Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin ended in a highly disputed draw. It was going to be settled once and for all for the middleweight crown on Cinco de Mayo.
Or, at least, settled until they got to chapter three.
Now it’s not.
The biggest boxing news of the week is the cancellation of the rematch after Alvarez tested positive for Clenbuterol on the verge of likely sanctions from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. It wasn’t the only pay-per-view fight on the boxing horizon.
It was the lone, real superfight signed and ready to go.
The cynical side of boxing press and fandom, the side that assumes money almost always wins (and it does), figured they’d work something out in time to save the fight. It didn’t happen.
Some of that same cynical, or perhaps just realistic, thinking will probably lead most to believe the rematch will still happen later in the year. After all, there is another traditional Mexican holiday date in September and the rematch might be even more lucrative now.
Maybe that will turn out to be the case but this whole incident could have left some real bad blood. Alvarez may well be telling the truth about this just being an issue of meat contamination. It’s a real problem in some countries, Mexico being one of them. He may demand to get Golovkin in the ring the first chance he gets to validate himself.
As the sport’s biggest current cash cow, he could also opt to take Golovkin’s biggest purse option away for good out of spite. This story has yet to play out.
For now, all we know for sure is we have no superfight.
In a good year, that’s a real shame because boxing always…
…needs its next superfight.
In an event driven sport, there has to be the next fight that promises riches beyond compare. It’s part of the allure. The ‘first million dollar gate,’ or Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield splitting some $65 million in purses are all easy headlines to remember. It’s a sign, often accurate, that the whole world is getting the fight they really want to see.
Without events like that, even a really good year for boxing threatens to be lost below the fold. The wider attention wanes. For hardcore fans and followers, that isn’t such a big deal. They’ll watch regardless. It doesn’t mean even they won’t notice.
It’s fun to have that one or two nights a year when people single out the ‘fight guy’ they know to ask about the ‘big one’ coming up. It’s the chance for fight fans to fill homes with the curious, barbecue, drink, and maybe even make a fan who sticks around longer than the latest event.
With the type of media coverage Alvarez-Golovkin II would have received leading up the fight, that’s the kind of night that was in store. It wouldn’t have been Mayweather-Pacquiao big but it would have been big enough.
In the wake of the cancellation, big is probably the answer if boxing is going to have a real superfight in 2018.
More now than even a week ago, we need the showdown of boxing’s two premiere active big men to happen. A week ago, one could have still qualified that as a want instead of a need, a showdown that could stretch into 2019 with little more than social media outcry. Despite Joshua’s largely uneventful unification win over Joseph Parker last weekend, anticipation was still hot for a Wilder showdown but there was reason to believe it could get bigger.
With a void in the US market now, this is a golden opportunity to cash in. Joshua said last weekend he wants Wilder to come to him and if the UK is where they fight, so be it. For the vast majority of fans watching in their homes, where the fight happens is less important than when (i.e. start time). UK fans have often had to stay up all night to see live US fights.
This would be a case where fans on both sides of the Atlantic would need accommodation.
Don’t assume Joshua’s pronouncements mean it can’t be lured away.
Boxing fans aren’t the only one’s who lost a fight this week. Las Vegas did too. It stands to reason they might want to take a bid at bringing some of those stadiums full of Joshua fans to the US now that they have some extra capital to burn.
It’s a legitimate pay-per-view event no matter which side of the pond houses it.
For Joshua, who is already one of the highest paid fighters in the world and a genuine gate phenom, to get to the biggest purses possible he has to find a way into the US pay-per-view market. It is still, by far, the deepest pool of dollars to fish in. Right now, there is only one fighter in the heavyweight division who could realistically open an immediate gateway to those dollars.
That’s Deontay Wilder.
Wilder isn’t a bigger attraction or business entity than Joshua overall, but he has been pulling more viewers on US outlet Showtime when he fights. Wilder of course needs Joshua as well. He’s making reported fractions of what Joshua is right now and, while that is still really good money, it’s not what heavyweight dreams are made of.
Maybe the rematch can be salvaged for later this year but right now it’s nothing to bet on. If boxing is going to have its superfight in 2018, it’s going to have to come in the class that has done superfights bigger, better, and longer than any other.
We need Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder to happen this year.
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]