By Hector T. Morgan
Anthony Joshua’s humbling defeat to Oleksandr Usyk didn’t steal a unification bout from him, or his contemporary, Tyson Fury despite the persuasive narrative that it did. Boxing’s usual follies and the greed of one or both parties deprived the fans of the most enticing fight available several months ago. The two protagonists will one day look back wistfully to the moment, or moments, when they allowed the fight to slip away in the pursuit of an ever larger purse they will never have time to spend. Hipsters will point to the overdue Welterweight pairing of Errol Spence and Terence Crawford as the bout boxing actually needs the most, and there is merit in the argument, but heavyweights remain the premier attraction and the measure by which most eras are judged.
A fact that informs the greed that enveloped the potential fixture and permitted the contracted trilogy bout between Fury and Wilder to encroach and supersede the richest fight boxing could make.
And though fans may one day witness the two face each other, it will forever be diminished by the passage of time and the two defeats Joshua has now collected.
To rebuild the fight to the pristine peak of its 2020/21 profile will take too long given the truth of modern day boxing; that fighters only box twice a year. A reality that may have hindered Joshua during his two title reigns. As a fighter with shallow, though exalted, Amateur background, Joshua was propelled to title level ahead of schedule and there is a sense that the exuberance and aggression of his early success has been polished out in a bid to make him a more rounded fighter. In the process, much of what took him to victories against Charles Martin for the title, then a totemic triumph over Wladimir Klitschko, has been lost.
A Fury v Joshua bout will always sell, whenever it comes to pass, but it will need a rematch victory and perhaps another dominant display from a resurgent Joshua to encourage fans and sport bettors to consider Joshua competitive. Those two victories, if Joshua can secure them, will likely take any prospective Fury bout into late 2022. It is an elusive fixture.
At one point, according to Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, a showdown between the heavyweights was a ‘done deal’, said to take place this summer. In fact, if facts still exist, contracts were signed at the beginning of 2021 and a location was even confirmed. There is much in boxing promotion that is a triumph of semantics over substance but that was the accepted story back in the Spring/Summer.
However, various things have changed since, and many people are now wondering whether this fight will ever take place. Deontay Wilder will now be Fury’s next fight, while Joshua must review his preparations and the arc of his recent performances and contemplate whether he has the desire to rebuild and the right environment and personnel to do so. Defeats should not be the end of a fighter, nor diminish them unduly in the eyes of fans but it is entirely fair to judge a fighter by the performances they deliver. In that light, Joshua has much to recapture if he is to find redemption ahead.
He remains a box office phenomenon, one that will likely survive this setback. Boxing loves a comeback after all. His popularity will endure, despite slipping to 100/1, according to the outright boxing betting markets, for the BBC SPOTY, an award he has contended for in the past when his most famous victories and transcendent appeal brought him recognition beyond boxing.
What Could Have Been
Optimistic observers will point to the fluctuating prospects of the fight and encourage faith in the fight coming to pass, after all, there was a time when Fury was inactive, troubled and morbidly obese and yet three years later he now stands as the consensus number one. Time doesn’t wait, and with both men now in their thirties, the zenith of their respective careers may already have passed.
For now, boxing fans and those who enjoy an investment in the outcome turn their attention to the Fury Wilder III. A rare occurrence in modern boxing, this trilogy bout was at first despised for interrupting the quest for Fury v Joshua, but now enjoys a renewed glow as fans remember that upsets can happen and Wilder, for all his technical deficiencies still boasts the ‘game-changer’; a right hand that can level buildings.
It is but a short wait for the next installment in the heavyweight story. Wilder vs Fury is set to take place in October at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
One day, Fury and Joshua will happen, though historians will remind us that Lennox Lewis v Riddick Bowe never did, nor George Foreman v Larry Holmes or a selection of other mouthwatering bouts that escaped unresolved. As with all things in boxing, nothing is certain.
Which is part of its compulsive attraction.