With the belts now back in Anthony Joshua’s possession following his win in the ring, comes the fights beyond the ropes to get next in line for the two-time heavyweight titlist.
England’s Joshua (23-1, 21KOs) was able to avenge the lone loss of his pro career in style, cleanly outboxing California’s Andy Ruiz (33-2, 22KOs) over 12 rounds last weekend in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and box office giant joins former World champions Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis as the only heavyweights ever to reclaim their prize in a straightaway rematch after losing the crown.
Now comes the challenge of retaining four major heavyweight titles, with at least two will become the subject of spirited debate as the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) will both order mandatory title defenses for the first half of 2020.
On the WBO side, the wheels were already set in motion days before Joshua and Ruiz entered the ring as handlers for unbeaten former World cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13KOs) were already jockeying for position.
“[T]he WBO has designated the mandatory challenger for the winner,” Alex Krassyuk, Usyk’s longtime promoter pleaded on behalf of his client. “[A]ll we want is for the WBO to send the letter for the winner to fight (Usyk).”
Usyk is now also co-promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, who signed the Ukrainian southpaw last fall and who has also served as the career-long promoter for Joshua.
To his credit, Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcárcel, president of the WBO planted his company’s flag firmly in the ground in hopes of securing first position in the Joshua sweepstakes. A social media tweet playing on the event’s “Clash of the Dunes” titles drew attention to the dueling mandatory challengers. Usyk was named the WBO mandatory, as his right as a “Super” champion—which he earned at cruiserweight—opting to challenge for a title in another weight division.
The Ukrainian southpaw made his official heavyweight debut this past October, scoring a one-sided stoppage of Chazz Witherspoon after having already been named the challenger in waiting.
A developing issue, however, is whether the WBO can get its contender a shot by the imposed 180-day deadline. A slightly shorter window exists for the IBF, who conditionally permitted Joshua-Ruiz II to take place with the assurance that the winner faces Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (27-1, 14KOs) by no later than May 31, 2020.
“They have two commitments,” acknowledges Valcárcel. “On one side they have IBF pushing for his mandatory. On this side we have Usyk pushing for his mandatory. We have to decide because the champion cannot fight two people at the same time.
“We have to talk to IBF… after (the fight), we have to decide.”
The new-age version of the IBF is known for its stance on strictly enforcing its rules. With that comes the strong possibility that Pulev could be next in line for Joshua. Given his fighting pride, it would stand to reason that Usyk would rather face a sitting champion in Joshua than to settle for a vacant title. To that dilemma, comes an offered solution.
“We have sent that letter already, we sanctioned the fight on that condition,” noted Valcárcel in reminding Team Usyk and all involved parties of what awaited the winner. “However, we cannot force the mandatory (next) because he has two mandatories.
“You know what I recommend to you guys. Everyone agreed to the rematch. You have the right to fight because the WBO mandatory is next. So why don’t you fight in court? Or the other guy can also fight in court and they will send it to the arbiter. You agree on the rematch with the condition. The other guy agreed to the rematch as well. We got an excellent relationship with the IBF. In the interim, consider fighting it in court.”
One way or another, Joshua and his team will see plenty of fight action long before he next steps into a ring.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox