Yet another hurdle has been placed on the road to crowning an undisputed heavyweight champion.
Lineal and WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury will have to honor a contractual clause which calls for a third fight with Deontay Wilder, arbitration judge Daniel Weinstein ruled on Monday. The case was the subject of a months-long legal battle, serving as among the contributing factors in delaying a desired undisputed heavyweight championship showdown between Fury and WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22KOs).
It could now prove the determinant in the fight not happening next, if at all.
The Daily Star’s Chris McKenna was the first to report the official ruling.
The case was sent to arbitration in late 2020, upon the collapse of a planned third fight between England’s Fury (30-0-1, 21KOs) and Alabama’s Wilder (42-1-1, 41KOs). The two met last February 22 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, with Fury scoring a 7th round stoppage to win the WBC heavyweight title and restore the heavyweight championship lineage that was broken upon his departure from the sport months after a 12-round win over Wladimir Klitschko in Nov. 2015.
Terms of the rematch—which came nearly 15 months after Wilder and Fury fought to a 12-round draw in their December 1, 2018 clash at Staples Center in Los Angeles—came with a bilateral clause which allowed for the losing party to call for the third fight.
Wilder exercised that clause roughly a week after their joint ESPN/Fox Sports Pay-Per-View event, which set the Vegas record for the highest live gate produced for a heavyweight championship fight. The event generated $16,916,440 in ticket sales, surpassing the state’s previous best set by the November 1999 rematch between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Lewis prevailed by 12-round decision in that fight to become undisputed champion, the last heavyweight to hold that honor. It only lasted for five months, as Lewis was stripped of the WBA title just days prior to his 2nd round knockout win over then-unbeaten Michael Grant. Lewis was previously ordered to next face John Ruiz, a contractual condition that became the subject of a lawsuit filed by Ruiz and Hall of Fame promoter Don King and upheld by a federal judge.
Fury is now in a similar position, as several reports indicated that he and Joshua were at the finish line after nearly a full year of hammering out details for a showdown between the British heavyweights. Talks first began even as Fury was already due to face Wilder for a third time, with a July 18 date postponed due to Wilder having to undergo surgery and several future dates falling through in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic which hindered the ability to stage such an event with fans in attendance.
Wilder was prepared to go through with the fight last December, only for Fury and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum to insist that the contractual clause expired last October. Fury then teased the possibility of taking a stay busy fight last December 5 while waiting out Joshua’s IBF-mandated title defense versus Kubrat Pulev before moving forward with a clash with all of the belts at stake.
Joshua went on to win by 9th round knockout, while Fury remained entrenched in a legal battle. The false narrative was repeatedly floated that Wilder didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, which is obviously contradicted by Monday’s ruling.
Top Rank representatives as well as Shelly Finkel, Wilder’s career-long manager declined comment, per the terms of the gag order surrounding the case.
The expectations from Wilder’s side will be to pursue a third fight in order to avenge his lone career defeat. The fighting pride of Tuscaloosa, Alabama claimed the WBC heavyweight title via 12-round unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne in Jan. 2015 at MGM Grand. The win saw Wilder end a seven-plus year drought from the last time an American heavyweight held a piece of the heavyweight crown, when Shannon Briggs’ brief reign ended in June 2007.
Wilder made 10 successful defenses of the title, nine ending in knockout. The lone title defense to go the distance came in the first fight with Fury, who survived knockdowns in rounds nine and twelve to make it to the final bell only to have to settle for split decision draw.
A rematch was expected to take place in May 2019, only for Fury to call an audible prior to the contracts being signed as he instead agreed to a promotional deal with Top Rank and ESPN+. Two non-title fight wins followed for Fury before moving to the rematch with Wilder last February.
Fury has yet to defend the WBC title and there is the risk of his having to vacate the belt in order to proceed with a desired showdown versus Joshua. Such a bout was rumored to take place August 14 in Saudi Arabia, with both heavyweights reportedly guaranteed $75 million each.
A decision will have to be made to appease all parties, presumably sooner rather than later as the current ruling calls for a third fight with Wilder to take place no later than September 15. Any fight other than one with Fury will put Joshua on the hook to next face WBO mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox