For two years that felt more like five years, talk of a super showdown fight between British heavyweights Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury dominated the world of boxing. At one point, the fight was even signed up, agreed to, and on the cards. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Deontay Wilder’s lawyers had other ideas, and Fury was forced into a trilogy fight with the American. Joshua opted to fill his time with what most people thought would be a routine defence against Ukrainian fighter Oleksandr Usyk. That “routine fight” turned out to be anything but, and the Joshua vs Fury showdown might now be doomed never to happen.
Joshua wasn’t so much beaten by Usyk as schooled by him. The much smaller fighter harassed and embarrassed Joshua, swatting away his supposedly powerful jab and sidestepping his big right while dancing around the Brit and landing eye-catching punches of his own. By “eye-catching,” we don’t just mean that the punches scored well with the judges. We also mean that Usyk kept catching Joshua on the eye with laser-like precision. By the ninth round, Joshua’s eye was swollen almost totally shut. Joshua would later blame his defeat on this factor, claiming that he was unable to see for the final three rounds. In truth, he’d been boxing like he couldn’t see Usyk since the opening bell of round one. The deposed former champion has already activated his rematch clause. Unless he can totally reinvent himself as a fighter between now and February or March, there’s little reason to believe the result will be any different.
With the dust still settling on Joshua’s defeat and, without wanting to be overly dramatic, possibly his career as a top-level fighter, too, attention now turns to Tyson Fury’s rematch with Deontay Wilder on October 3rd. Just as the bookmakers favoured Joshua before the Usyk fight, they favour Fury ahead of this contest. There were always those within boxing who felt that Joshua would have a hard time with Usyk. Significantly fewer of them feel the same way about Fury and Wilder. The giant “Gypsy King” comprehensively outboxed Wilder in their first meeting only to be robbed by judges who somehow scored it as a draw and then obliterated the Bronze Bomber in the second fight. As is the case with Joshua, the only way Wilder stands a chance in this rematch is if he’s found a totally new way to box in the time between then and now. Fury remains unbeaten, and his size and notoriously awkward style make it likely that he’ll end his career that way. Wilder’s career, to all intents and purposes, is likely to come to an end on October 3rd. Fury claims to be coming to the ring in search of a first-round knockout. We shall see.
If Wilder upsets the apple cart and wins Fury’s WBC World Heavyweight Championship, there will inevitably be talk of a unification fight between Wilder and Usyk. Joshua held every version of the world title other than the WBC’s before his loss, so all those belts now belong to the man from Ukraine. There would undoubtedly be interest in a fight between the two men, and it would be a box office draw. It would probably also sell out a moderately large stadium if the correct destination for the fight was chosen. It would not, however, command the drawing power of an all-British showdown between Fury and Joshua. Even if Fury wins, the prospect of a bout between Fury and Usyk won’t fire the imagination in the same way that a Joshua vs Fury fight would. The spark has been lost.
It’s still possible for Joshua to fight Fury regardless of the outcome. They could fight for no belts at all if Fury loses to Wilder. They could fight just for the WBC title if Fury retains. Even then, the bout will have lost some of its shine. Arranging fights at the highest level is a little like trying to persuade an online slots game to give you a five-of-a-kind win. Getting a smaller three-of-a-kind win is relatively easy, and that’s the hook that convinces players to keep playing slots online for so long. Fury versus Joshua without the belts is a three-of-a-kind win. Fury versus Joshua with one world title on the line is closer to four-of-a-kind. The only way to get that five-of-a-kind win – that maximum online slots jackpot – is to have the fight be for all the gold. Even the most ardent of optimists would now struggle to see a way for that fight to happen.
Assuming that we were such an optimist, let’s look at the pattern of events that would need to happen. First, we presume Fury beats Wilder and keeps the championship. Next, we have to assume that Joshua beats Usyk and gets his belts back, just as he did when he briefly lost them to Andy Ruiz jr. Even then, the path to Joshua versus Fury isn’t clear. Usyk would want a rematch, which is something that Joshua was lucky to avoid when he won his second match with Ruiz. Given the amount of time that elapses between top-tier boxing matches, we’d be looking at about six months between Joshua vs Usyk II and Joshua vs Usyk III. Fury wouldn’t be permitted to remain inactive for all of that time. He’d have to face a mandatory challenger while he was waiting for Joshua, and that’s another potential banana peel. He, too, would then need time to recover from that fight and prepare for the next one, by which time Joshua would have had to fight again. Both men are in their thirties. They’re in their athletic prime now but won’t stay that way indefinitely. The further away this fight drifts, the less likely it is to happen. Right now, it’s a very long way away.
The only person Anthony Joshua can blame for this state of affairs is himself. The weaknesses that cost him against Usyk are the same weaknesses that have been pointed out to him time and again. He doesn’t move his head enough. His offensive strategy is one-dimensional. There are gaping holes in his defence. Taking all of this into account, his decision to slim down for this fight looks all the more bizarre because it cost him power and thereby cost him the one advantage he might conceivably have had. He might learn lessons from this, but they’ll probably be learned too late to salvage what would otherwise have been a once-in-a-lifetime boxing event.