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Is Anthony Joshua about to step aside for a Fury-Usyk undisputed unification?

British newspapers are reporting Joshua will take over $20 million to yield his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk

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Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Anthony Joshua after his September 2021 upset loss to Oleksandr Usyk
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Rumors are circulating across multiple British newspapers that Anthony Joshua is about to accept an eight-figure sum to surrender his mandatory rematch with Oleksandr Usyk and make way for a full four belt undisputed heavyweight unification between Usyk and Tyson Fury.

Most notably, Gareth A. Davies reports in The Telegraph that Joshua is on the verge of accepting £15 Million (a little over US $20 Million) to step aside and allow Usyk to face Fury in the Middle East. The rumored deal is also expected to include a guarantee that Joshua would be first in line to face the winner of Fury vs Usyk.

All of this should still be considered rumor and speculation, especially given that the story in The Telegraph misspells Usyk’s name as “Usky” twice in the first two paragraphs. But, Davies is a well known and well connected figure in UK boxing, and he quotes ominous and leading comments from Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, and Fury’s promoters, Bob Arum and Frank Warren, suggesting that the matter might resolve later this week.

Joshua lost the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts to Usyk in September of 2021. Joshua claimed his contractual right to an immediate rematch a few weeks later, but Usyk has mentioned repeatedly that he’d be perfectly happy to fight either Joshua or Fury next. Frank Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, has also openly discussed the possibility of an immediate Fury-Usyk undisputed unification.

Even if a massive check can convince Joshua to get out of the way of a Fury-Usyk showdown, Tyson Fury has obligations of his own to resolve. Back in December, the WBC ordered him to defend their belt against perpetual WBC mandatory challenger, interim champion, and/or #1 contender Dillian Whyte. The fight was scheduled for a very Fury-friendly purse bid originally set for January 11th, but that deadline has been extended several times already and now stands on Wednesday, January 26th.

Whyte spent almost three years as the WBC’s mandatory challenger without actually getting a title shot. He was scheduled to fight Otto Wallin last October for Whyte’s interim WBC title, but withdrew with a shoulder injury that Wallin’s team found suspiciously convenient. Once Joshua claimed his Usyk rematch and Whyte’s timely shoulder injury left him apparently free of his obligation to fight Wallin, Whyte immediately started demanding enforcement of his mandatory position against Fury.

BUT! The original order from the WBC allowed the winner of Fury-Wilder III 30 days to negotiate an undisputed unification with Usyk before requiring them to face the interim beltholder. If Joshua steps aside, would the WBC reverse themselves again, jilt Whyte, and reopen the door for Fury-Usyk? They’ve already violated their own regulations in giving Fury an 80/20 split of the potential purse bid for a Whyte fight. Why wouldn’t they do whatever the hell they wanted yet again for a Fury-Usyk megafight?

There’s also the possibility that Whyte could receive a check decorated with many zeros as an incentive to step aside voluntarily, too. Both Whyte and Joshua are promoted by Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, who presumably wouldn’t be negotiating a hypothetical Joshua step aside without having some plan for handling the Whyte side of the equation as well.

All of this supposes the legitimacy of big money from the Middle East, which is often rumored and seldom materializes. Remember watching Lopez-Kambosos in the Middle East? How about Pacquiao-McGregor? Or Pacquiao-Crawford?

However, Saudi Arabia did host the rematch between Joshua and Andy Ruiz after a site fee was offered with enough money to convince Ruiz to fight there instead of the US or Mexico. And ESPN reported last April that a $150 Million offer was on the table to host an undisputed unification between Joshua and Fury, also in Saudi Arabia.

It could all turn out to be nothing but smoke and rumors. Hopefully, we’ll find out for sure by the Wednesday Fury-Whyte purse bid deadline.