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What if Fury-Joshua doesn’t happen next? How boxing’s heavyweight division stands and who could be next in line right now

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We all still hope Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua fight next. But what if they don’t? What fighters stand to cash in a big fight?

TOPSHOT-BOX-HEAVY-WORLD-USA-GBR-WILDER-FURY Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

After months of talk and “any two weeks now!” regarding a possible undisputed heavyweight championship fight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, we’re at a point where it’s worth wondering if that’s really going to happen next as has been promised for a bit.

It still might, mind you. It seems more likely it will than won’t, but the percentages on that have narrowed in the wrong direction for the hopes of boxing fans, it seems, with Fury even recently saying the fight is no closer to being done now than it was a year ago.

So what if it doesn’t happen? Then what do these guys do? Various wheels have been set in motion already, there are all kinds of situations that could arise, and there is no other fight that really, actually compares to Fury-Joshua as an event for boxing fans, and for sports fans in general. You just don’t often get an undisputed heavyweight title fight.

In fact, there’s never been an undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era. The last was Lennox Lewis when he held the WBC, WBA, and IBF titles, won in Nov. 1999, and the claim vacated in April 2000 when an entire WBA legal mess involving John Ruiz, Michael Grant, and Henry Akinwande came into play.

So it’s been a long time. There have been “lineal champions” and “Ring Magazine champions,” there have been guys everyone viewed as the No. 1 fighter in the division, but no true undisputed champion for 21 years now.

(For the record, 21 years is not that long a time for a boxing division lacking a true, undisputed champion at this point; a bunch of divisions have gone longer without one, some much longer. Lightweight last had one with Pernell Whitaker in 1992, junior lightweight with Hiroshi Kobayashi in 1969, featherweight with Vicente Saldivar in 1967, bantamweight with Enrique Pinder in 1973, there’s never been one at junior bantamweight, flyweight with Salvatore Burruni in 1965.)

WBC

The WBC title is, of course, held by Tyson Fury, generally regarded as the top man in the division; he also holds the Ring Magazine championship, too, if you care more about that, and is the LINEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!! champion, as well.

Fury (30-0-1, 21 KO) doesn’t have a mandatory challenger at the moment, but there is an interim WBC champion in Alexander Povetkin, who is set to face Dillian Whyte in a rematch on March 27. Povetkin (36-2-1, 25 KO) is 41 years old but still a solid contender, while Whyte (27-2, 18 KO) was knocking on the door of forcing a bout with Fury before Povetkin stunned him last August in one of the most dramatic and exciting fights of 2020.

Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KO) also looms, as he is currently the WBC’s No. 1-ranked contender, the former titleholder, and also may or may not still believe he has the contractual right to a trilogy bout with Fury. Even if he does there hasn’t been any news on that in months, and none of the promoters involved in the Fury-Joshua negotiations seem to think it’s an issue.

The rest of the WBC’s top 10 as of Feb. 2021 are Wilder, Oleksandr Usyk, Luis Ortiz, Andy Ruiz Jr, Joe Joyce (who holds the “silver” title), Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, Michael Hunter, Filip Hrgovic, and Charles Martin.

WBA

Andy Ruiz Jr v Anthony Joshua 2 - Clash on the Dunes, IBF, WBA, WBO & IBO World Heavyweight Title Fight Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

One of three belts held by Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KO), who put the trio of straps together in his 2018 win over Joseph Parker, with Joshua coming in holding the WBA and IBF and Parker the WBO. AJ made one successful defense of all three in 2018, then was shocked by Andy Ruiz Jr in June 2019, before taking them back in their disappointing rematch that December.

The WBA doesn’t have a mandatory challenger. Mahmoud Charr thought he was lined up in January with Trevor Bryan to fight for a mandatory spot to face Joshua, but that was never actually ordered by the WBA that anyone other than Charr talked about. And at any rate, the Charr-Bryan fight didn’t happen, Bryan fought Bermane Stiverne and won the WBA’s secondary “world” (which some people call “regular”) title, and that belt is so mired in irrelevant Don King nonsense and has been for years — and will be for the foreseeable future — that even more than a normal bunk WBA “world” title, you can just ignore it. Everyone else has for years. (Charr is now, for what it’s worth, “champion-in-recess,” which means nothing as pertains to Joshua’s “super world” title.)

There is also the WBA “gold” title, which keeps Robert Helenius out of their top 10 rankings. The WBA’s top 10 contenders as of Feb. 28, 2021, are Oleksandr Usyk, Bogdan Dinu somehow, Deontay Wilder, Luis Ortiz, Andy Ruiz Jr, Adam Kownacki, Charles Martin, Chris Arreola for some reason, Agit Kabayel, and Michael Hunter.

IBF

The second of three belt by Joshua, and the first he ever won, way back in 2016 when he beat Charles Martin.

Joshua just made a mandatory defense of this belt in his last fight, beating Kubrat Pulev in December. So he’s not due for another one any time soon, and there is no mandatory challenger at the moment.

IBF mandatories can be hard to figure, sometimes one eliminator is enough, sometimes they do two semifinal eliminators and then those two winners fight for a shot. They often have their No. 1 and No. 2 ranking spots vacant, waiting to be filled by those fights.

At last update, the IBF had no No. 1-ranked contender. They do have a No. 2-ranked contender, former titlist Charles Martin himself, who won an eliminator over Gerald Washington about a year ago. The No. 1 slot will be filled — at least the IBF hope — by an ordered fight between Filip Hrgovic (12-0, 10 KO) and Michael Hunter (19-1-1, 13 KO), which is a really good fight.

But it’s hard to tell if the winner of Hrgovic-Hunter then has to fight Martin to determine a mandatory, or if they immediately get a Joshua order from that. We saw something similar with the IBF at lightweight recently, where George Kambosos Jr and Isaac Cruz both won eliminators close to one another, and then Kambosos got the order to fight Teofimo Lopez, which is happening this spring. So we’ll see. It wouldn’t be boxing if it weren’t overly complicated and often vague.

At any rate, currently the IBF rankings have the top slot vacant, then Martin, Oleksandr Usyk, Michael Hunter, Filip Hrgovic, Joseph Parker, Agit Kabayel, Tony Yoka, Junior Fa, and Luis Ortiz rounding out the top 10.

WBO

Another of the three held by Joshua, obviously.

There is a mandatory challenger here, but it’s a whole story. (Of course it is, again, it’s boxing.) The mandatory is Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KO), who was given the designation before ever fighting at heavyweight. The former undisputed cruiserweight champion has beaten Chazz Witherspoon and Derek Chisora, and had every intention of enforcing his mandatory shot at Joshua this spring.

But sanctioning bodies are flexible organizations, and the WBO have given the green light for Fury-Joshua to the surprise of nobody except maybe Usyk’s team. Instead, Usyk has been ordered to fight Joe Joyce (12-0, 11 KO) for an interim title, and that’s expected to go to purse bid. Usyk-Joyce is a really good fight, and the winner would then be, like, a mega-mandatory, I guess.

The WBO’s most recent top 10 contenders are Oleksandr Usyk, Joe Joyce, Joseph Parker, Andy Ruiz Jr, Junior Fa, Frank Sanchez, Michael Hunter, Zhilei Zhang, Deontay Wilder, and Evgeny Romanov, in that order.

So what happens if Fury-Joshua doesn’t?

Dylan Buell/Getty Images, Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images, Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images, Martin Rose/Getty Images

The quickest thing one would expect if Fury-Joshua falls through and Usyk-Joyce hasn’t actually happened yet, Usyk would probably be able to get out of a commitment to fighting Joyce, and exercise his mandatory against Joshua. Joshua-Usyk wouldn’t at all be politically hard to make happen, and with the IBF and WBA having no mandatory claim, AJ wouldn’t have anything else as an order, and really, at that point Usyk’s as big a fight as he can make, too.

If, on the other hand, we don’t “officially” get word that Fury-Joshua won’t be happening and Usyk has already fought Joyce, then the winner of Usyk-Joyce would surely try to force that next. That could potentially leave Joshua sitting a while; he’s already gotten an exception on this matter, he might not get another one to take a tune-up and then the Usyk-Joyce winner.

Fury doesn’t have as clear a “next fight” in the pipeline. Wilder would be financially bigger than basically anything else he can do, but if Wilder can’t force that in court, one has to wonder if Fury is willing to give Deontay the time of day again after all of last year’s wild conspiracy claims.

At that point, the winner of Povetkin-Whyte 2 might look good, but Fury also hasn’t fought since Feb. 2020; over a year as of now, who knows when the whole thing would, in this scenario, actually be called off with the AJ fight. He’d probably want some type of tune-up; Agit Kabayel was expected to be a Fury stay-busy type of opponent in December before that idea was scrapped. That could be revisited. Not exciting, but at some point these guys just have to fight someone.