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Anthony Joshua’s next fight: Tyson Fury getting all the hype, but Oleksandr Usyk might be reality

Everyone wants Tyson Fury, and promoters are already hyping it. Everyone may wind up disappointed.

Anthony Joshua v Kubrat Pulev - IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO World Heavyweight Title Fight Photo by Andrew Couldridge - Pool/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

With Anthony Joshua having taken care of business against Kubrat Pulev on Saturday in London, stopping the Bulgarian challenger in the ninth round to retain the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles, attention turns to what’s next.

There are two possibilities. This won’t be a time-killer where we run down the top five potential opponents. There are two.

Tyson Fury

Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Obviously, this is what everyone would like to see next. This is the fight people want. Joshua (24-1, 22 KO) putting his three belts up against the WBC (and LINEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) titles held by Fury (30-0-1, 20 KO) to crown the first undisputed champion in the heavyweight division since since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in 1999, and the Fury-Joshua winner would be the first undisputed heavyweight champ of the accepted four-belt era.

(That reign lasted until April 2000 with zero defenses. In fact, nobody has actually defended an undisputed crown since Evander Holyfield lost to Riddick Bowe in 1992, with Bowe stripped of the WBC belt a month after winning the three straps because he didn’t want to fight Lewis.)

Fury vs Joshua would probably legitimately be the biggest fight in British boxing history, and would be a huge deal for the sport as a whole. That part’s not hype.

What is hype right now is promoters taking advantage of public interest and demand and suggesting that it will come next.

Fury co-promoter Bob Arum knows better, despite this Tweet:

Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn knows better, despite this post-fight statement:

They both know two very important facts:

  1. Anthony Joshua has a WBO mandatory defense due against Oleksandr Usyk.
  2. Oleksandr Usyk has no intention of stepping aside to let Fury-Joshua happen next. He has said this over and over, including just recently again, and we keep saying it over and over, because it’s important that people know what’s happening beyond big talk.

Even beyond the situation with Joshua, Usyk, and the WBO, Fury has Deontay Wilder trying to force a third fight. The Fury side say that Wilder’s chance to exercise that rematch clause has come and gone — he did exercise it back in February, but then the fight didn’t get scheduled. Wilder’s side will be looking to explain that the COVID pandemic made that impossible, probably. Arum has stated confidently that he thinks they’ll “win” that and not have to fight Wilder a third time, but to be fair Arum states a lot of things confidently. Not saying he’s wrong, just saying boxing promoters say lots of stuff.

As far as going, “Hey, we’ll negotiate immediately!” what Arum and Hearn are doing is setting boxing fans up to be disappointed and to think less of them, which is sort of a bizarre way to go about things, but boxing promoters generally are disliked already so maybe they feel they really have nothing to lose here — fans can hate them if/when Fury-Joshua isn’t next, but they’ll still want the fight, and they might as well hype it for all it’s worth even if they know it won’t be next.

But to be clear: the odds are really not for Fury-Joshua happening next, no matter how confident the salesmen try to sound.

Oleksandr Usyk

Oleksandr Usyk v Chazz Witherspoon Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The former undisputed cruiserweight champion would like to be undisputed at heavyweight. He was named WBO mandatory challenger before he even fought in his move up to the new division. He’s now 2-0 there, beating Chazz Witherspoon and 2019 and Derek Chisora in 2020.

Since the jump when they moved up, Team Usyk have been extremely clear that they were not moving up to pussyfoot around and “get acclimated” for five fights before taking a world title shot. Usyk (18-0, 13 KO) is 33 years old. He’s fighting small at this weight, has a lot of disadvantages. His best shot is to act quickly. Not only does this ensure he won’t crop up with further nagging injuries that rob him of whatever chance he has in the first place, but it ensures he won’t get clipped by some big lad or other and wind up on his ass before he can ever get that title fight in the first place. And Usyk had just enough problems with Chisora — though he clearly won — that the latter is definitely a concern. If you’re gonna really risk the loss, risk it for the biggest chance and the biggest payday.

The scenario that sees Joshua-Usyk not happening next would involve Team Joshua asking Usyk to step aside first. Maybe there’s a mindbending figure that gets Usyk to do that against his repeatedly stated word, but let’s assume they’re not going to offer him that kind of money to do it.

After that, Eddie Hearn and Co. could go to the WBO and plead their case for an exception. That could be granted, but you can then all but guarantee that Usyk’s team would take it to court. It wouldn’t just be a decision and then Usyk and gang go, “Aw, nuts!”

Usyk’s reasons are plenty. The aforementioned age and risk concern is a big one, but also, let’s say there is a number he’ll take to step aside. He would then want a guarantee of facing the Fury-Joshua winner immediately. Can that happen? Likely not, because if Fury-Joshua gets put together, it will almost certainly be a two-fight deal.

So if Fury-Joshua happened in, say, April or May, it would probably happen again in November or December. It’s possible the WBO title could then go vacant and Usyk could get a title fight against Joseph Parker or someone by the summer or early autumn in that case. Something like that happened back in 2015. When Fury upset Wladimir Klitschko, he had to take a rematch that Klitschko exercised the option on. That meant Tyson couldn’t make a mandatory IBF defense, leaving that belt up for grabs within weeks between Charles Martin and Vyacheslav Glazkov.

Hey, doesn’t this all paint a wonderful picture of boxing as an accessible, easy to follow sport?

The TL;dr version is this: the smart money is still on Joshua-Usyk happening next, and Fury taking a stay-busy fight around the same time in the spring. If he doesn’t get made to fight Wilder, it could be Agit Kabayel or someone, whomever he wanted to fight on Dec. 5 when he planned to tune up before the Wilder situation prevented him from doing so in a title fight.

This is no guarantee, of course, and there’s yet another possibility that if he is ordered to fight Wilder again, Fury will simply vacate the WBC belt and go about his business otherwise. Fury has never seemed too hung up on belts, unlike AJ who takes them very seriously. That would torpedo Fury-Joshua even in late 2021 as an “undisputed” fight; it would still be a big fight, just not “undisputed.”

Or they could ask the WBC for a “Franchise” title and just lie to the public.

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