By Hector T. Morgan
Fantasy fights have long been a source of debate among boxing fans. Cross generational contests divide followers; Ali and Tyson, Mayweather and Leonard, the idea never ages, the passions evoked never cool. In the modern era, a time of fewer fights between the sport’s great and good, boxing fans are often left with only the fantasy debate to decide who is the best between two fighters who co-exist. Politics, money, broadcast platforms, sanctioning bodies, fear, they all play their role in keeping the best prize fighters apart.
The news Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, the best two heavyweights active today, are on the brink of signing to box each other this summer is, therefore, a subject of both excitement and cynicism among those same boxing fans. Excitement about the contest, the all too uncommon clarity it will provide for the heavyweight division duels with the enduring suspicion that fate or politics will intervene once more.
It is a tantalising fight, but dare we believe?
In recent memory similar super fights have been subject to rumours of imminent announcements. A decade ago Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao was the best fight the sport could make. Both the richest, the most competitive and the most compelling available. It took close to six years for the fight to come to fruition, by which time both Pretty Boy Floyd and the ‘Pacman’ were in their mid-thirties and the Filipino was carrying an injury. The numbers it generated were astronomical. The fight that took place between the ropes a disappointment and arguably only a tempered version of what it might have been 5 years earlier. But that is boxing. Persistent in the damage it inflicts on itself. Boxing needs Fury and Joshua to see now. Not later.
Bob Arum, Tyson Fury’s promoter of record in the US, is confident only signatures and a finalised date remain and that the estimated $200m the fight is predicted to be worth will shortly begin flowing into cash registers. The two fighters likely to draw career high purses from the pot. A high bar given the commercial phenomenon Anthony Joshua has proved to be in his professional career. Of the two fighters, the protracted negotiation probably suits Joshua having fought most recently, knocking out Kubrat Pulev in three rounds late in 2020. Fury hasn’t fought since destroying Deontay Wilder more than a year ago. The delay is most likely driven by the wait for fans than ego, though the latter will undoubtedly be a factor.
The fight will divide boxing fans the same way fantasy debates about Holyfield v Frazier and Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray always do. A natural stylistic clash between orthodox boxer-puncher Joshua, who will carry the IBF, WBO and WBA belts in to the ring, and the enigmatic Fury, who may opt to be elusive and box on the back foot or decide, as he did with Wilder to win the WBC and Ring belts, to walk forward and bully the puncher. It will be intriguing to witness either way. Both men are in their respective primes and no asterisk will be required for the victor’s win. Neither is too old, out of form or compromised by weight making or being the ‘away’ fighter. Politics has little leverage on the outcome of the fight once the bell rings. They are equals.
Any contract of this magnitude remain stubbornly complex, rich men help rich men protect their interests, and Joshua and Fury are sufficiently wise and well protected to ensure they’re influencing those discussions. To that end, a rematch clause is inevitable, and providing the first contest is competitive, will presumably follow later this year. The date may not be finalised, June is now widely tipped irrespective of venue, with the Middle East a likely destination in the absence of a full outdoor stadium, but bookmakers are already offering boxing betting odds on this seminal bout.
Fury v Joshua as a super fight, shares much with its historic ancestors. The style clash of course, the confidence both men encourage in their supporters and the weight of achievement the two have already accumulated. Their divergent personalities is also an interesting sub-plot to the encounter, offering a natural contrast in the way Hagler and Hearns did, Tyson and Holyfield and as far back as Dempsey and Tunney. Joshua has remodelled himself from an errant youth. A polished, presentable sportsman and example to those with whom he shares the circumstances of his formative years. He has become a sponsor’s dream and collected a coterie of global brands eager to align with his profile. The Mancunian giant, the self-styled Gypsy King, has overcome demons of his own, retreating from the cliff-edge of suicide, the black hole of depression and toward his current status as the number one fighter in the division. In doing so he has reshaped his profile as a beacon of positivity and loveable family man with the twinkling rogue still visible. His climb from the canvas in his first fight with Wilder, featured below, proving a metaphor for his battle away from the ring and the crucible for his current popularity.
How those two polar perspectives influence each other and how they impact each other’s fight plan could be a key battle ground. It is a type of warfare Fury finds instinctive. Joshua less so.
The stage is now set for the two men. All the belts are on the line, there is no third man claiming the throne. All of boxing knows the two are the THE two. It is now time to establish, to confirm, who is the greatest between them and in doing so write into the history books that both Joshua and Fury are students of, one of their names as the King of their era.
After all, when the punches stop and the last word is written, a fighter can only ever be the best in his own time.