As soon as Anthony Joshua put away Kubrat Pulev by massive ninth-round knockout to retain his unified heavyweight titles on Saturday in London, the conversation immediately turned to the prospect of a unification showdown with Tyson Fury to produce the first four-belt undisputed heavyweight world champion.
Both fighters say they want the fight. Their promoters claim they want to make it for the spring. Boxing fans are, of course, clamoring for it.
While both camps say they plan to get to work making the fight there is no guarantee it will happen next. One reason is if former titlist Deontay Wilder wins his case to force a third fight with Fury, who stopped him their February rematch.
Wilder exercised his contractual right to the third bout, but Fury’s side says the time limit on the option has expired and that Fury is no longer obligated to the bout. Wilder, per his contractual right, has taken Fury to mediation on the matter to try to settle it. Is that does not work, Wilder co-manager Shelly Finkel has said the next step would be binding arbitration.
“I think we’re all in the same mindset. We all want to make the fight,” Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing said this week. “There’s very little to discuss but still some things to discuss. We think we should try and move forward with contracts as soon as possible, let the governing bodies know that we have an agreement and then we’ll go to market and talk to the various people that have been approaching us about where the fight will take place.
“I know there’s a Deontay Wilder situation in terms of the (mediation) for that rematch clause. That’s the only thing that will stop this fight from happening next. There are still hurdles but I don’t see any major hurdles at all unless both guys want to have an argument about who goes first on the poster or who ring walks second. I don’t see that being an issue. I really believe it’s going to move swiftly. Hopefully, we can get something on paper before the end of the year.”
What Hearn ignored in his remarks, however, was Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua’s WBO mandatory challenger. Pulev satisfied Joshua’s IBF mandatory obligation and Usyk is supposed to be up next. It’s a fight the Usyk camp plans to press the issue on.
“We are aiming to fight for the WBO title next and Usyk wants to fight Anthony Joshua and that’s what we are going to do,” Egis Klimas, Usyk’s manager, told BoxingScene.com.
“Look, Oleksandr worked very hard all his life to get into this position, OK? All the amateur career, the gold medal in London Olympics (in 2012), undisputed cruiserweight champion and now having a couple of fights in the heavyweight division. So, he put himself into position where he is right now and he is in a very, very powerful position today to make it happen or not to make it happen.”
Klimas said that while their side wants to face Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs), 31, of England, next they are willing to at least listen to the Joshua side about a possible deal to step aside.
“If I’m gonna say I won’t look into anything I would be a fool. Of course, we have to see what is the best for Oleksandr Usyk,” Klimas said. “We don’t have to see what is the best for Fury or what is the best for Joshua. They have their teams looking after them. We have to see what is the best for Oleksandr Usyk.”
Klimas said he has talked about the situation with Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter and Usyk’s former co-promoter. Klimas also has a good relationship with Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, Fury’s co-promoter.
“I am not an idiot. I would sit down and talk and if it’s going to be fair, if it’s going to be something really good, of course, I will sit down and say, ‘OK, we can go in this direction and we can have this or we can go in a different direction and have this.’ But as far as today, Oleksandr told me a few times he doesn’t want to do anything. He wants to fight Anthony Joshua for the WBO title.”
In a recent interview with BoxingScene, Arum said he did not think the WBO mandatory situation with Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs), 33, of Ukraine, would sidetrack making Fury-Joshua.
“The worst that happens is the (mandatory) fight is enforced so they strip Joshua and we forget about that title,” Arum said.
However, giving up a heavyweight world title is not something anybody does lightly and having all four belts at stake to make Fury-Joshua for the undisputed title is also significant, and Klimas knows it.
If Joshua vacates the belt to fight Fury “then it’s not history,” Klimas said. “Giving up the WBO belt means that Anthony Joshua is scared to fight Oleksandr Usyk. It means he sees a big risk fighting Oleksandr Usyk and losing. That’s what it tells me. If Anthony Joshua is 100 percent sure he can beat Oleksandr Usyk then it’s a different story. But if he is not sure, of course, he can give up the title.”
Klimas said he has not spoken with Hearn since Joshua’s win over Pulev.
“Nobody has called. We spoke with Eddie when we were in London for the (Dereck) Chisora fight about the possibilities,” Klimas said of Usyk’s unanimous decision win on Oct. 31.
“Eddie also would also like to be involved in Usyk’s future career as well as Bob Arum, who is interested to handle Usyk. But Usyk has his own promotional company, Usyk 17 Promotions. We’re in the best (position).”
Klimas said the fight with Chisora was the last bout of Usyk’s three-fight co-promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing. Klimas said K2 Promotions has one more fight left on its deal with Usyk. He wants the final fight of that deal to be against Joshua.
Klimas added that a major reason Usyk vacated the cruiserweight belts was because he knew he would immediately become the WBO heavyweight mandatory challenger. Per WBO rules, a champion deciding to change divisions is entitled to become the immediate mandatory challenger in the new weight class if he requests the position, which Usyk did.
“We’ve been the mandatory before this fight (between Joshua and Pulev) but the IBF came up,” Klimas said. “We should be fighting Joshua. We said we’re not going to go to court; we’re not going to stop anything. OK, let Joshua go fight Pulev and we’ll be fighting the next fight. The rules are rules and that’s where we’re at.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.