TYSON FURY said it first. Then Eddie Hearn said it and kept saying it in different ways. Bob Arum said it, seemed to change his mind for a few months, then started saying it again. Anthony Joshua kind of said it. Frank Warren never quite said it, refusing to until he was certain about it, though it’s fair to say his optimism was increasing with each passing day. Then Fury, as recently as Sunday, said it again. The champagne wasn’t yet flowing but we were growing ever more tempted to untighten our grip on the cork. Problem was nobody confirmed it. And when it comes to talking about super-fights like Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury, ‘confirmed’ is the magic word, particularly when Deontay Wilder was always lurking with a legally-binding contract for a third fight with Fury.
This latest plot twist – that Wilder must fight Fury before September 15 (uncovered by Chris McKenna, an excellent Irish journalist with old school philosophies) – is so typically #boxing it didn’t come as a surprise to those of us who have been following the boxing business for most of our lives. But what did come as shock is the suggestion that those who have been so entrenched in the negotiations for the last 12 months apparently didn’t see this coming. Bob Arum, the ageing promoter who has been known to drop the ball more than once in recent years, always insisted that Wilder’s contract would not be a problem. Though the chaos behind the scenes is borderline comical, it is easy to understand why Hearn and Warren – busy sorting out myriad other moving parts – put their trust in Top Rank to ensure any loose ends from old Top Rank negotiations were tied. Why would they doubt promises from such an established figure who built his substantial reputation on putting numerous contests of this magnitude together? Even so, Wilder’s case was not a secret and the loose ends remained.
From the outside looking in – albeit with the benefit of numerous on and off-record conversations with those on the inside – it is frankly preposterous that the saga was allowed to drag on like this when Wilder’s contractual right to a third fight with Fury had not been resolved. Even crazier is that one day before the arbitration case was heard, Fury went on to social media, after being told it was all set (not by Warren or Hearn), to say the fight was on. Quite what effect the presumptuousness of that video had on the outcome of the case the following day is speculative, but one doubts it could have done the Englishman any favours.
Arum has since told ESPN that they will not offer Wilder any step-aside money. Which suggests he was never offered any in the first place. The cynical might even say that Arum – knowing that Joshua’s contract with Matchroom is due for renewal – was playing everyone for a fool all along. Sources in the USA told Boxing News last month that Top Rank were secretly moving forward with contingency plans to match Fury and Wilder together if the Joshua contest fell through. It would now appear that is Arum’s plan: it has been reported that the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas has been reserved for Fury-Wilder III on July 24. That scenario is at odds with people closer to home insisting that Wilder will be offered a huge sum to step aside so Joshua-Fury can take place on August 14 in Saudi Arabia.
That date, which is only 12 weeks away, suddenly seems exceptionally optimistic. And if Arum – very patient considering he’s closing in on his 90th year – was busy working on Fury-Wilder III while being content that Joshua-Fury could be pushed back to November or December it’s little wonder this whole thing is on the brink of implosion. What we have is numerous powerbrokers, who are inherent enemies, completely failing (or not wanting) to communicate effectively.
Wilder is just one of many obstacles that have stood in the way. First there was Daniel Kinahan’s involvement (which has never been truly explained and BN understands his presence remains a concern), then there was the WBO and Oleksandr Usyk, the pandemic, where the money was coming from and who was going to play host, the date clash with the Olympics in which Joshua’s coach, Robert McCracken, will be heavily involved. And that’s all before appeasing the numerous broadcasters involved. Boxing News has been told that, even before this latest development with Wilder, the issue of how the broadcast rights will be divided had not yet been discussed to the extent that a deal was on the table. Because of boxing’s convoluted infrastructure, it is always ludicrously difficult to make the fights that should be the sport’s bread and butter.
It is tempting to blame Wilder at this stage but nobody should. The American exercised his right to either fight Fury a third time or be paid well to step aside. Anyone in his position would do the same. So what does he do next? Does he choose to fight Fury in July or does he wait? Now being trained by Malik Scott and posting clips of himself boxing to orders on social media, his mind does at last seem to be back on returning to the ring. A warm-up bout and a handsome step-aside fee with a guarantee of facing the winner of Fury-Joshua might well appeal to him. Yet even that scenario comes with its own problems and highlights the worst consequences of rematch clauses.
Though it is wholly understood why they exist, one does wonder if they ultimately do more harm than good. Nobody was clamouring for a third Fury-Wilder fight in the aftermath of the second, so complete was the thrashing that Fury dished out. At Boxing News we have been saying from the start that talk of a Joshua-Fury rematch taking place in the UK was ridiculous, simply because a rematch only becomes appealing if the first fight calls for it. If Fury was to do to Joshua what he did to Wilder last year, or Joshua was to batter Fury like he did Kubrat Pulev, how many people will be willing to pay for a second helping?
Furthermore, if Wilder is given a guarantee on fighting the winner how would the WBO and Usyk feel about an indefinite delay? Will the money to pay Wilder eat into the overall purse on offer? In short, it’s a mess that’s all too common in boxing. Yet the very same sport that is struggling to make the fight it really needs can in the meantime arrange ‘fights’ like Mike Tyson versus Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather versus Logan Paul, Oscar De La Hoya versus TBC and a host of other farcical events that shamelessly exploit boxing’s raw appeal. One despairs when thinking of the image that boxing is now portraying by making such hard work of getting Joshua-Fury – the one fight that could dwarf all of the above when it comes to widespread appeal – over the line.
There’s a lesson we all learn from this. And it’s one we should have known inside out already: Regardless of what anyone says, the only guarantee that a fight will occur is the sound of the first bell.