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The Spring Heavyweight Bust: Dissecting the disappointment with Wilder, Fury, and Joshua

Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, and Anthony Joshua — in whatever order — are the Big Three of today’s heavyweight division. And they’re all taking letdown fights this spring, with little light at the end of the tunnel right now.

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Deontay Wilder Media Workout Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

What seemed so close just four months ago, now seems further away than ever. Boxing politics doesn’t discriminate against any weight class. The notion that a fight is “too big not to be made” is one that has led us down the path of disappointment for too long, diving head-first into a wall of empty promises and underwhelming alternatives.

Granted, we haven’t arrived at that stage yet with this current batch of heavyweight stars, but with well-documented television deals separating Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder onto three contradictory platforms, potential super-fights between the trio look unlikely to materialise in the near future.

It’s nothing new. Boxing has a decorated history of fights that never made it above the surface, with rumbling currents of narrative failing to climax in explosive action. Roberto Duran vs Alexis Arguello. Riddick Bowe vs Lennox Lewis. Sugar Ray Leonard vs Aaron Pryor. The list will continue to grow over the years, with the biggest stars past and present unimmune from being sucked into the intricate implications of match-making, and inevitable disappointment.

The truth is, with the current crop, you can understand why they have once again avoided each other. With the escalating money-boom in the States at the moment regarding television/streaming deals, a loss to one of these three could see them missing out on millions of dollars long-term. Sure, as fans this is far from our biggest concern, but with an army of advisors, managers and promoters helping to plot every detailed move, now would be a disastrous time to fall off the cliff edge.

Wilder and Fury deserve credit for their Dec. 1 showdown in Los Angeles. In many ways, it has transpired to be the perfect outcome for the division, leaving both men on undefeated records, transferring the precedent for Joshua to follow. This being said, Matchroom will argue that they made their move for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller based on the assumption that Fury and Wilder would rematch immediately; what we got instead was Dominic Breazeale and Tom Schwarz.

The blame game is pointless; understanding the monetary motivations of three men claiming to be the best and baddest heavyweight on the planet is a continual frustration, but one that will rarely differ greatly from team to team. Make no mistake, all three guys want to fight each other, but the teams that control their careers understand the benefit of waiting.

It’s a case of who will blink first. Lennox Lewis’ summary of the current climate, when asked about a possible undisputed fight, was a little simplistic but holds value.

“Today’s [heavyweight] division [is] a soap opera so I can’t say. I had hoped for the fight last year or this year but nobody seemed to be in the same hurry as me wanting to see it! It’s like trying to wrangle cats. You put one in the box and when you go for another, the first one hops out!”

So now that all three cats are well and truly out of the box, roaming around New York and Las Vegas, which one can lay claim to a credible fight this summer?

Boxing at Morningside Arena Leicester Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

The announcement of Tom Schwarz as Tyson Fury’s next opponent on June 15 was greeted was a distinct reaction: “who?” The 24-year-old unbeaten German has been hand-picked by Bob Arum and Frank Warren, as Fury makes a start to his life with ESPN+ in the States. BT Sport still haven’t confirmed whether this will be sold as a pay-per-view bout in the UK, but the early indications suggest Warren will charge for the fight, safe on his high horse having offered the Warrington-Galahad fight for “free” earlier in the night.

Schwarz may well be unbeaten in 24 outings but is yet to be tested in the land of the giants. He has stopped his last six opponents, following going the distance with Ivica Bacurin in 2017; the Croatian had a record of 26-10-1 going into that bout.

So what’s the thinking behind Tom Schwarz? Fury will be expected to get a stoppage in his ESPN+ debut, with the new fanbase not willing to put up with the technical 12 rounds of a Fury masterclass. Schwarz will be perfect cannon-fodder for this type of performance, with the challenger yet to go the 12-round distance in his career.

It was an easy sell to trainer Ben Davison. Speaking at the press conference of Billy Joe Saunders’ next fight in May, Fury’s trainer claimed that the height of Schwarz played a huge factor. Schwarz stands at slightly under 6’6”, only a touch shorter than Deontay Wilder. Davison wanted an opponent of similar stature to the other big names in the division, as to avoid adapting training camp and sparring for a smaller victim.

There is little argument in stating that Tom Schwarz is the weakest of the three contenders; however, with many claiming Fury needed a couple more “tick over” fights before facing Wilder in December, a step back down in opposition enables us to fully understand what level his body and fitness is at after such a long lay off. If anyone deserves a pass, you’d be hard-pushed not to give it to Fury — despite the “Gypsy King” claiming he was coming back for legacy, not money.

How about Dominic Breazeale? We saw “Trouble” get dissected by Anthony Joshua in 2016, but despite this, the 33-year-old has forced himself in a mandatory position with the WBC. It’s a contentious point — especially if you are talking to Dillian Whyte — but a mandatory is a mandatory, so Wilder can’t be given too much stick in his “choice” of opposition.

In terms of a second-best option to the Tyson Fury rematch, it’s not the worst. The brash challenger has a history with Wilder and his team, with the bad blood leading up to the fight enabling Showtime to reap the rewards of increased viewership. Stephen Espinoza is using this fight to bring Wilder back into the home of American viewers; the reluctance to put it on pay-per-view will do wonders for the long-term goals of the WBC champion and his team.

Wilder’s move after this defence will be the most interesting of the three. Signing this fight as a one-off deal leaves him open to options in the summer, with a further approach from Eddie Hearn/Matchroom, John Skipper/DAZN guaranteed early summer.

Anthony Joshua v Jarrell Miller - Press Conference Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Three of the four recognised heavyweight straps will be on the line come June 1, as Anthony Joshua and Jarrell Miller lock horns in New York. The disappointment of Joshua’s promised two-fight-deal at Wembley Stadium falling through was felt amongst the “casual” army of AJ fans in the UK, but the reality was that Wembley was only suitable for Fury or Wilder. Perhaps Dillian Whyte, but still, best to go Stateside.

Opening up the US market was always on the radar of Hearn and Joshua, especially now that we are half a year into the DAZN deal. Miller ticks all the boxes as an opponent for Joshua to make a statement against. Fighting out of Brooklyn, Miller was massaged into this position by Matchroom over a number of years; it just so happens that the time to cash in came sooner than expected.

The opening press conference did all the promotional work in the opening seconds. A push from Miller on the champion, followed by a barrage of insults traded between the tables would have sold this fight to the general public of New York, if not the boxing community.

Miller is the best of the three but is arguably made for Joshua. AJ’s lack of head movement and stiff upper body won’t be tested to the extremes against the 300-plus-pound Miller. Picturing Joshua teeing off on Miller in the middle rounds with the challenger’s back against the ropes doesn’t take the wildest of imaginations.

These aren’t the fights we wanted, but the benefit of all three getting in the ring within a month of each other is obvious. Following Fury’s fight on June 15, we’ve got another summer of if, whats and maybes surrounding negotiations between the three teams. Mandatories will state their claims — Kubrat Pulev and Dillian Whyte will be knocking on the door again — but the pressure from us fans to see one of these fights by the end of 2019 will be hard to ignore.

Bob Arum has claimed that there will be another Fury fight later this year that will not involve Wilder, another showcase fight. Arum is saying if Wilder vs Fury happens again, it’s in the early stages of next year. Does Wilder venture into Joshua-infested waters before the rematch?

Joshua vs Wilder has risen from the ashes to become the most likely of these three fights — certainly in 2019 — but it’s hard to imagine a compromise surfacing.

Don’t expect the landscape to have changed much come this summer. All three are heavily tipped to prevail in their upcoming bouts, but until they do, it’s hard to envisage a breakthrough.

So for now, Schwarz, Breazeale, and Miller will have to do. As long as in three or four years to come they are just footnotes on the careers of the big three, we’ll survive.

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