It’s slim, but hope remains for Fury and Usyk to collide in a true defining contest. Matt Christie on the latest developments in the heavyweight division
THE Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua-Dillian Whyte saga continues. This week we’ve been teased with all manner of scenarios, as the tantalising prospect of Fury versus Usyk made headlines. At the time of writing, after several contrasting conversations, the situation is still unclear. One hopes that things are clearer at the time of reading.
The likeliest scenario would appear to be that Fury will take on Whyte and Joshua, as has always been his wish, will get his rematch with Usyk. But there are enough question marks flying around for us not to give up on Fury-Usyk just yet. It’s healthy to dream, after all.
Talk of Fury vs Usyk gathering pace this week can be explained by three things. One, the ongoing delay to Usyk-Joshua II being signed. Two, purse bids for Fury’s WBC mandatory assignment with Whyte being postponed three times (largely due to Whyte not being happy with 20 per cent share of the purse that was ruled by the sanctioning body with whom he is in the midst of a legal battle) . Three, sums of money being offered to both Joshua and Whyte to step aside. Boxing News understands that if Joshua cannot be persuaded to do so (it is thought that Whyte has agreed in principle to £5m), the Fury-Whyte bid will go ahead at the fourth time of asking on Wednesday (January 26).
The delay to Usyk-Joshua II is not a surprise but inevitably led to speculation. The thinking went, if the financials were in place thanks to the contract both fighters signed ahead of their first fight and Joshua really wanted the rematch, what was the hold up? Enter that talk of step-aside money (£15m) heading Joshua’s way to allow the Ukrainian to take on Fury in a bout funded by the Middle East. Talk, too, of Dillian Whyte taking a chunk of cash to walk away from his on-off fight with Tyson. An idea that Joshua, armed with £15m, and Whyte, a tidy £5m richer himself, will then negotiate their own lucrative rematch makes total sense but is not substantiated.
Cue lots of talk and noise on social media early in the week. But still no contracts and no wad of cash in place to fulfil the various step-asides in the short-term. No obvious plans to appease all involved in the long-term. And not a single word to back up any of it from the fighters involved.
“I’m hearing people saying AJ accepts £15m to step aside,” Joshua stated in a brief 36-second video on Monday (January 24) after another ‘exclusive’ Fury-Usyk story did the rounds. “I ain’t signed no contract, I ain’t seen no contract. So, as it stands, stop listening to the bullsh*t until it comes from me.
“I’m the man in control of my destiny. I’m the man that handles my business. I’m a smart individual and I make calculated decisions every step of the way… You know what’s bad about all these interviews I see? I see certain interviews that quote what I said and I think to myself, ‘I ain’t done no interviews.’ Where did this person get that information from? Don’t listen to the bullsh*t from other sources. If I tell you something you know it’s real.”
But what Joshua didn’t say was that he still intended to pursue the rematch with Usyk, a fight that several people close to ‘AJ’ are thought to be against.
Before that, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn tried to explain why the sequel with Usyk had not yet been confirmed and why the Ukrainian continued to be linked with Fury.
“There are still people that would like to work out a solution for the ‘quartet’, that would allow Fury to fight Usyk, for AJ to have a fight and for Whyte to have a fight and then AJ fights the winner [of Fury-Usyk],” Hearn told Boxing News. “It’s a very complicated procedure, which is why it’s taking so long. It goes quiet for a week, then it re-emerges, then it comes back fiercely, then it goes quiet again. The talk over the last few days is because that [talk of Fury-Usyk] has re-emerged.
“I still think the favorite scenario is Fury against Whyte and AJ-Usyk II. But I won’t deny there are talks ongoing to work out other scenarios.”
The Matchroom boss’ public preference has always been for Joshua to get his return with Usyk. However, though his priority will be fulfilling his fighter’s wishes, it’s easy to wonder if Hearn recognised that an extended break from Usyk might be a better option for his most valuable asset, particularly as he rebuilds following the clear points loss in the first fight.
“There’s a lot to be said about AJ’s new training team, he goes away, he has this ‘interim’ fight and then he fights the winner of Fury against Usyk,” Hearn said. “But is that guaranteed? Is one of those guys going to sail into the sunset? How big is the money for that fight?
“There’s so much to consider. It’s not about the step-aside money. That’s not the be-all and end-all about this scenario, it’s about the plan. And right now, AJ has a clear shot to regain his world heavyweight titles and no one can take that away from him. So to do something different, it has to be financially attractive, it has to be secure, solid and smart. If it’s not all of those, we won’t do it. My preference is for AJ to take the route that makes the most sense for his career. Right now, I know how difficult it is to get a shot at the championship, particularly the world heavyweight championship.”
Hearn went on to explain that a meeting was scheduled today (Tuesday January 25) with Joshua and his management team, regarding what the fighter does next. Such is his gargantuan market value, it’s difficult to believe that Joshua, presuming he returns to winning ways, wouldn’t be able to get a shot at the title whenever he wants a shot at the title.
“Possibly,” Hearn said. “But it’s what that shot comes with. Some won’t want to give you the shot unless [you make some concessions]. There’s a lot of carrots that people will put in front of you but they may not be beneficial to your career. AJ has always been in control of his own destiny and that’s how we’d like things to continue. He’s not the champion at the moment and he has a contract to challenge for the world [WBO, IBF, WBA] heavyweight championship in a fight he wants to take. So I’m not prepared to step aside with no plan and no guarantee. All he wants is to become champion again, he’s not bothered about someone giving him a little bit of money to go on holiday. It has to have a solid, unbreakable plan attached to it.”
Hearn is right, of course. The recent history of the heavyweight division has proved that nothing at all about the heavyweight division is simple. Even when the obvious fight is right there in front of us, it’s the hardest thing in the entire sporting world just to make it.
Frank Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, made no secret of his desire to put Tyson in with Usyk for all the marbles as he grew tired of Whyte’s demands for a greater share of the purse. After all, if Whyte had accepted 20 per cent when the Fury fight was initially ordered last year it’s doubtful we’d still be talking about all of this now. It’s understood that Warren is now keen to get Fury’s immediate future, regardless of who he fights, resolved as soon as possible.
It remains a massive ask to get four fighters, four sanctioning bodies and various promoters and advisors to stand together and shake hands. No small thing, either, to persuade those funding any step-asides to part with a whopping £20m before even beginning to stage what would be one of the most eagerly awaited heavyweight showdowns in history.
What does seem certain is that we have at least two more enticing heavyweight showdowns upon us. The real hope is that one of them includes both Fury and Usyk.
Come on, boxing, surprise us.