Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder vs. Anthony Joshua: What to know about the muddled heavyweight title picture


After loads of hype, weeks of uncertainty and the securing of the biggest site fee in the history of boxing, it seemed the battle for the undisputed heavyweight championship between WBC champion Tyson Fury and WBO, WBA and IBF champ Anthony Joshua was finally a done deal. Then, an arbitrator ruled Fury must face Deontay Wilder in a third bout between the two before mid September and everything was muddied.

Wilder was guaranteed a fight with Fury after Fury beat him in their February 2020 rematch. That fight had a stipulation where the loser could initiate a third fight by taking the short side of a 60-40 purse split. Wilder initiated before the COVID-19 pandemic threw extra wrinkles that pushed the fight from summer to October and then December before Wilder’s team attempted to push it further into 2021. At that point, Fury’s team claimed the time allotted for the rematch clause had expired and attention turned to a clash with Joshua, which would be the biggest fight in boxing.

The politics and machinations of boxing are confusing enough for insiders, let alone those who only tune in for the biggest fights of the year. Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions in this increasingly complicated situation.

Is Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury happening in August?

Long story short? No one knows. As per the arbitrator’s decision, Deontay Wilder must receive a fight with Fury by Sept. 15. That would seem to kill the fight between Joshua and Fury — at least for the discussed August date. There’s a standard approach to getting around these issues in boxing: Pay the guy a bunch of money to go away. Fury’s team is trying to figure out if there is a package they can put together — likely involving tens of millions of dollars in step-aside and a guarantee that he will face the Joshua vs. Fury winner — that will convince Wilder to give up on his guaranteed opportunity at Fury and the WBC title in September.

One big indicator that Joshua vs. Fury is not going to happen in the summer is Bob Arum’s statement that Top Rank has reserved a July 24 date at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium for the third fight between Fury and Wilder.

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Is there any chance Wilder will still agree to step aside?

If you listen to his camp, no. Wilder has reportedly already refused the idea of giving up on a third fight with Fury. Wilder has convinced himself of a series of issues and conspiracy theories surrounding his lopsided loss to Fury in the rematch, ranging from his legs being burned out from wearing an elaborate costume to the ring to Fury tampering with his gloves to Wilder’s own cornermen fixing the fight against him. With that in mind, and knowing he has the power to knock out any man on the planet, Wilder seems to want the fight he’s owed in the immediate future.

There’s also the fact that, while money would be guaranteed to step aside, even a written guarantee that Wilder face the winner could be meaningless. Fury has toyed with retirement and repeatedly suggested it’s coming in the near future. If Fury beats Joshua, no one can say with any certainty that Fury wouldn’t then decide to announce a retirement that may or may not stick long-term, but would screw Wilder out of his opportunity at becoming undisputed champion as the titles would scatter to the four corners of the world.

Is Fury’s camp just going to accept the fight with Wilder?

According to Bob Arum, Fury’s American promoter, the Fury camp is strongly considering simply facing Wilder as the ruling demands before moving on to a fight with Joshua in late 2021.

“We’re not paying Wilder to step aside,” Arum told ESPN. “It’s better to get rid of him and go about our business. We can make the Fury-Joshua fight for November or December.”

Frank Warren, Fury’s other promoter, said they are trying to work out a deal with Wilder to allow Fury vs. Joshua to go ahead, but admitted that Wilder — who is coming off the knockout loss — is the man with the power in the situation.

If Fury faces Wilder, what happens for Joshua?

It seems a fight with Oleksandr Usyk is on the menu at that point for Joshua. Usyk moved to heavyweight from cruiserweight, where he was undisputed champion, and beat Derek Chisora in October. Since then, the WBO mandatory challenger has been stuck with seemingly no shot at the title until Fury and Joshua fought their two contracted bouts with each other. Once Wilder re-entered the picture, Usyk’s team made it clear they were willing to take any needed action to secure their fighter the title shot he is owed. Those actions include potential legal action, just like Wilder.

Talk of Usyk vs. Joshua on Aug. 21 and 28 has already surfaced and Eddie Hearn has said that it is the fight that makes the most sense for Joshua, though he also said they have other potential options. Of course, if Joshua doesn’t defend against his mandatory opponent, he could be stripped of the WBO title. That would then cause the issue of any potential future clash between Joshua and Fury (or Wilder, should he beat Fury) being a unification bout, but not a fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship.

Furthermore, the WBO has sent a “show cause” letter to Joshua’s team, stating they have until Friday to prove that a fight with Fury is a done deal and free of restrictions or he must face Usyk in his next fight. Failure to do so would, in theory, result in Joshua being stripped of one of his three world titles, as mentioned previously.

Could Usyk or Wilder spoil a fight between Joshua and Fury?

Absolutely! Wilder has some of the greatest one-punch knockout power in the history of the sport. That means any man on earth could fall to the power of Wilder, even if Fury proved he’s the far better boxer. As for Usyk, he became the undisputed cruiserweight champion because he’s a great boxer. Joshua would be the favorite, but Usyk putting together a great performance and scoring an upset wouldn’t be completely out of the question.

What’s the most likely outcome?

At this point, it seems Fury will face Wilder in July and Usyk will get his shot at Joshua in August.  It simply feels too unlikely that Wilder is going to agree to step aside with no way to actually guarantee he will face the winner by stepping aside. This is the cost of boxing leaning on guaranteed rematches and heaps of sanctioning bodies that get input as well.





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