Unbeaten English Heavyweight Anthony Joshua wants to be the undisputed ruler of the Heavyweight division, the king pin, the fighter with all 4 of the major world titles. However in 2019 securing the titles is trickier than that it has ever been, with numerous problems holding back Joshua's dream.
At the moment the Heavyweight division is on the precipice of a golden era, combining top talent, different personalities and completely different styles. The top of the divisional tree, including the unbeaten trio of Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, gives us a trio of elite talent that we haven't seen since the likes of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Even then, back in the 1990's, we never had a point where all 3 men were at the top and unbeaten, making this current scenario even more compelling, as recently covered by in a recent article on the insider.
Despite the amazing trio that we have at the top there are major problems, problems that we simply cannot ignore. The three men aren't fighting each other next, or, it seems, any time soon. This means that Joshua, the IBF, WBO and WBA "super" champion, Wilder, the WBC king, and Fury, the Lineal champion, aren't battling to prove that they are the true king of the division.
Instead of facing each other the three men are all going in different directions, with Wilder having recently fought Dominic Breazeale, Tyson Fury battling Tom Schwarz in the coming weeks and Joshua fighting this coming weekend.
The unbeaten Joshua, the fighting pride of the UK, will be defending his trio of titles this coming Saturday as he takes on the unheralded Andy Ruiz Jr at the legendary Madison Square Garden. Whilst unable to secure bouts with Wilder or Fury he is looking to leave his mark on the US, and put pressure on his rivals. He is expected to shine against Ruiz, and Joshua is the clear favourite in the boxing odds to beat Ruiz – and move one step close to getting the huge bouts he desires.
Whilst Joshua has had no problems unifying 3 of the major titles, his pursuit for the illusive WBC title is a much trickier task. There are more problems securing this title than any of his others, and the chase to get Deontay Wilder in the ring is certainly tricky than it is to get almost any other opponent.
Part of the issue is the promotional, and managerial teams of the two men. Joshua's promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, and Wilder's adviser Shelley Finkel, have spent well over a year pointing fingers and making accusations at each other. What seemed a logical and easy fight to make, has taken a problematic turn in terms of agreeing a deal, with clear animosity, distrust and frustrations between the two sides, each believing they deserve more from negotiations than they are able to secure.
Of course promoters in the sport have long disagreed, with the likes of Bob Arum and Don King or Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn's father Barry Hearn, famously not seeing eye to eye. However common sense often seemed to come out on top, in the end, and the promoters realised their was too much money on the table to not eventually make the bouts.
On the subject of money each promoter will be looking at doing what they can to both line their fighters pocket and their own. Arguments about purses are only a fraction of the issue, with other problems regarding PPV upsides, sponsorship deals, long term rights issues, international TV rights. The arguments extend well beyond pay, with another major issue being the venue. Joshua would likely prefer to fight in the UK, in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley, but Wilder would almost certainly prefer a US dominated crowd and home advantage.
Even little issues can be used as bartering chips. Who is first on the shows poster, what size of ring will they use, what type of gloves, who gets introduced into the ring first, who's anthem is played first and which officials are selected. Even what sort of drug testing can become an issue, and whilst the WBC's Clean Boxing Program will likely be part of that their may be additional testing on top.
One of the most pressing issues for bouts right now is actually the broadcaster, with Anthony Joshua's promoter being the lead promoter for the newly launched DAZN US, Tyson Fury being a figure head of the ESPN boxing deal and Wilder essentially being part of working relationship with US TV giant Showtime. Whilst there are possibilities for the broadcasters to split shows, as we have seen a couple of times between Showtime and HBO, they are rare and given the different mediums.
Whilst all 3 men are unbeaten the potential bouts between Joshua, Fury and Wilder will continue to build in terms of the financials involved. It does however take just a single slip up, a poor performance, a draw, or even worse a loss, and the bout loses a lot of it's allure. We saw this when a potential super fight between Mike Tson and Evander Holyfield was scuppered by Tyson losing in Tokyo to Buster Douglas, and we also saw it when Manny Pacquiao lost his ability to request a 50-50 split with Floyd Mayweather Jr following a KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth bout. As soon as one man loses their "0" his drawing power and appeal does. His invincibility is gone. Here a loss in a lesser fight will potentially be worth 10's of millions of dollars. A figure us mere mortal can only dream of.
Even if the fighters can agree a deal to fight, an get the broadcasters to agree, and can secure a future date for the bout there are still issues in play. This like the world title bodies, who have been accused of making up their rules as they go along, could throw a wrench into the works by ordering a mandatory challenger, or stripping a champion, or in the case of the WBA just creating a random new title. There are also issues with potential injuries, an adverse finding in a drug test, as we've seen in cases involving Fury along with Alexander Povetkin who was scheduled to Deontay Wilder and more recently Jarrell Miller, who was set to face Joshua on June 1st.
Another issue is that Joshua could, potentially, be frozen out. Wilder and Fury have fought before, fighting to a draw in 2018. Their promoters have a friendly relationship and would happy work together again if the finances make sense. Fury's promoter, Frank Warren, has long had a rivalry with Matchroom Sport, first with Barry Hearn and now with his son Eddie Hearn. A rematch between Fury and Wilder seems much more likely than a match between Joshua and either of the other two.
Looking beyond June 1st it's clear that Joshua will have mandatory challengers to deal with, especially if he wants to keep his 3 titles unified, that will further delay a potential show down with one of his two main rivals. It is however worth noting we should never over-look an under-dog. We've seen it time and time again, such as in 2006 when the super fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Zab Judah lost it's lure when the much unfancied Carlos Manuel Baldomir upset Judah, and Joshua cannot look past Ruiz this weekend.
The heavyweight division might by the sports gold banner, but until the best face the best the division will continue to frustrate fans, broadcasters and other fighters. Fingers crossed we begin to get the best against the best later in the year
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.