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The heavyweight love triangle: who needs who?

Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are the big two. Tyson Fury has reentered the game. But who needs who?

Anthony Joshua v Alexander Povetkin - Press Conference Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

What seems simple in boxing is rarely so.

The picture in the heavyweight division, as it stands, is as confused and convoluted as ever. Blame aside, we have ourselves a situation where it is hard to see a workable solution materialise.

This is what we know: we have the unified WBA (Super), IBF and WBO champion, Anthony Joshua (21-0), with two dates set at Wembley Stadium, this year (Sept. 22) and next (Apr. 13). The first, against Alexander Povetkin (34-1) is a WBA mandatory defence; it’s worth noting that the WBA stated that they would allow Joshua to defend against Deontay Wilder instead of calling the Povetkin mandatory. A deal, however, wasn’t reached.

So, we are left with Apr. 13, 2019 as a possible date for all of the heavyweight marbles to be on the line. Contracts, rumours of contracts and unsigned contracts have dominated conversation regarding the circus that surrounds Eddie Hearn, Shelly Finkel and the two fighters in question. However, with Hearn constantly hinting that the Apr. 13 date is there for Dillian Whyte (24-1) to slide into (in an all-Matchroom affair) if Wilder’s team don’t agree on a deal, it appears we may be further away from the fight than we had hoped.

In walks Tyson Fury (26-0). This week we have seen Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion, and Frank Warren, his promoter, take to social media in claiming that a deal to fight Deontay Wilder is “all but done” for later this year - providing he comes through his underwhelming clash with Francesco Pianeta (35-4-1) on Aug. 18. Now, whether you believe this to be the case or not, it raises certain questions.

Firstly, does Fury need Wilder yet? We heard it from the big man himself. Four or five tests to get him into, or close to, the shape that saw him dethrone Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. Just two tests later, in Sefer Seferi (23-2) and the aforementioned Pianeta, and Fury believes he is ready to step in with the ‘Bronze Bomber’?

Now, what there is to win for Fury doesn’t necessarily outweigh what there is to lose. A win against the WBC champ would provide him with the only heavyweight belt he’s yet to hold; a relatively big payday; and taking the ‘0’ of Wilder.

A loss is catastrophic. A loss at this stage of Fury’s comeback will be hard to bounce back from, with the ‘Gypsy King’ struggling to convince Joshua to join him in the squared circle off the back of this. Facing, and losing to Wilder could eradicate the possibility of a fight with the ‘golden goose’ of heavyweight boxing, Anthony Joshua, and in turn, a stab at regaining his old belts and the biggest payday in his boxing career - by a distance.

Deontay Wilder v Artur Szpilka Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

But then, does Wilder needs Fury? Despite their heated rivalry from a couple of years back, Wilder has no real need to draw Fury into a fight that he may struggle with. A fit Fury is capable of sucking the life out of a fight; his quick hands, quick feet and mountainous frame will be hard for Wilder to negate. What would be the incentive for the WBC champ to take this fight? Without a belt to claim, or the heaps of money that could still be squeezed out of the Joshua deal, a win over Fury wouldn’t be given the respect it once deserved, or still could be deserved. This fight will be great towards the end of next year, however, the hunger and incentive needs to be at its peak for both parties.

So let’s assume that Joshua and Wilder can’t strike a deal for April 13, and by what we have been lead to believe so far in the negotiations, this is a highly likely outcome. Joshua will fight Whyte in an all-British rematch from their 2015 bout, and Wilder will probably be fed two from Dominic Breazeale, Dereck Chisora or Luis Ortiz (again). We are then back to square one: mandatories will start getting called again (reports that Trevor Bryan and BJ Flores will fight for the WBA’s number one position are enough to fuel your concerns), and we will continue to be provided with lies from both sides as to why we aren’t seeing the fight that boxing needs.

As much as boxing pundits, promoters and presenters alike want to spin the narrative, it’s becoming clear that there is a gulf between the top heavyweights and the chasing pack. Outside of Wilder and Joshua, there aren’t many other fights to be made that are capable of drumming up the interest, money, rewards or legacy that a fight between these two can. These two need each other; we are far enough down the line for it to be unforgivable if this unification bout doesn’t materialise before April next year.

The stagnation in the heavyweight division is unmistakable. The top dogs are running out of credible opponents and the recycling of old foes is beginning. Fury can join the party in 2019, but first, we need an undisputed champion at the pinnacle of the sport.

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