The heavyweight horizon has not looked this complicated in years, with at least four world titles in play, several astronomical egos all jockeying for position and a slew of social media call-outs propelling boxing back into the big time.
But the heavyweight champion that matters the most has been unequivocal about his plans all along.
Anthony Joshua wants to fight three times in 2018. Once against the WBC champion Deontay Wilder. Once against the WBO champion Joseph Parker. And once again — either against a mandatory challenger or perhaps even Tyson Fury, the absent champion of the world who has been inactive since his outstanding victory over Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015.
The men in the mix
Who fights who in 2018?
Anthony Joshua 20-0 (20KO)
The IBF and WBA (Super) heavyweight champion of the world. The biggest draw in boxing and the kingpin of the division.
Deontay Wilder 39-0 (38KO)
The WBC champion has a formidable record but a series of drug-cheat opponents means he is still something of an unknown quantity.
Joseph Parker 24-0 (18KO)
The New Zealand heavyweight is the WBO champion and recently defeated Hughie Fury in Manchester, winning on points.
Tyson Fury 25-0 (18KO)
The joker in the pack. The former WBA, IBF and WBO champion of the world who was stripped of his titles and has been inactive since 2015.
Dillian Whyte 22-1(16KO)
The WBC international champion who could well fight either Wilder or Parker next year. He lost to Joshua in December 2015.
Jarrell Miller 20-0-1(17KO)
His chances of fighting Joshua appeared to improve markedly when he signed with Eddie Hearn this week. Tipped for the top.
Joshua could be forced to fight a mandatory at some point next year. The likes of Kubrat Pulev, Luis Ortiz and Alexander Ustinov may be in the mix.
Joshua’s goal? To become the first heavyweight in history to unify the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO belts. “I want to unify all the titles and fight all the champions by the end of 2018,” he said earlier this week. It has never been done before, not even by the great Klitschko. Not even by that other great British champion, Lennox Lewis.
And yet while his ambition is simple, even noble, Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, now face a series of difficult negotiations ahead of them, locked in board rooms with a collection of bruisers with the brittlest of egos. “Our job to deliver, but it doesn’t happen over night,” Hearn commented while on a trip to New York to meet with some suits. The wrangling starts here.
The most obvious fight, and the one that the majority of the British public is clamouring for, is a showdown with the WBC champion, Wilder. Undefeated, unusual and — crucially — untested against genuine world-class opposition, Wilder is a brash 32-year-old from Alabama with a penchant for talking smack outside the ring and throwing wild, windmill power-punches in it, the kind that would earn kids a clip round the ear from their despairing trainer at the local ABC.
On paper then, it sounds perfect. The UK vs the USA. Undefeated champ vs undefeated champ. Ice vs fire. And yet there are a few factors that could prevent the contest from obtaining bona fide ‘super-fight’ status — certainly over in the States.
For one thing, Wilder is one tenth of the star in the USA as Joshua is in the UK. Joshua’s recent title defence against late-replacement Carlos Takam attracted 78,000 paying punters to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. The official attendance for Wilder’s most recent victory over the big lump Bermane Stiverne was an optimistic 10,924. And who can blame them: Stiverne was the WBA’s mandatory challenger and yet failed to land a single punch. But that’s another story.
To further hammer home this disparity in popularity between Joshua and his transatlantic rival, Hearn was recently recorded by iFL TV larking around Madison Avenue asking the hapless New Yorkers who shuffled by if they had ever heard of a fella called Deontay Wilder. “No, who’s that?” one smiles. “Deon who?” another repeats quizzically, before replying: “an NFL player?”
Clearly then, there needs to be some fairly intensive promotional work ahead of the fight. Hearn floated the idea of Wilder coming to the UK for a test fight —perhaps against Dillian Whyte — to ‘prove’ he is worthy of a unification bout with Joshua, although that was quickly shot down by the American after his one-round demolition of Stiverne.
“A king don’t chase the peasants. A king takes kings. I want Joshua,” Wilder rasped. Although it is worth baring in mind the last American boxer to head for these shores talking merrily of pomp and pageantry was Charles Martin, who arrived at the O2 Arena resplendent in a purple cloak and crown before Joshua left him flat on his arse some four-and-a-half minutes later.
Money is another sticking point; Joshua thinks Wilder has overestimated his worth. Which is quite the opposite of his hot take on the big-hitting if rather one-dimensional Joseph Parker, who was effectively accused of attempting to cash in his WBO bauble by Joshua this week.
“You hear like Parker saying 'oh they offered like 20 percent of the pot and I'm not happy with that - I'm not fighting him for 20 percent’,” Joshua grumbled. “Are you trying to sell yourself to fight? Are you trying to sell your belt? Some people contradict what they're saying.”
Beating the undefeated Parker is an essential part of the unification plan and negotiations between the two camps began this week, although there remains a chance Joshua could find himself beaten to the ring by Tyson Fury, who is close to the New Zealander’s entourage and would surely be keen to avenge his cousin Hughie Fury’s points defeat in Manchester earlier this year.
If Joshua is the king of the heavyweight division then Fury is the court jester, a man with the talent to beat all three reigning world champions if not necessarily the inclination. His strange, sublime victory over Klitschko on a cold night in Düsseldorf just under two years ago remains one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, although little has gone his way since.
The capricious champion, who still holds The Ring magazine heavyweight title, has battled with depression and has readily admitted to “taking lots of cocaine”. He is currently waiting for a final ruling from UK Anti-Doping for a suspended performance-enhancing drugs ban. Fury’s version of events? He tested positive for a banned steroid because he ate a whole boar — organs, entrails and all — every week.
In recent days Fury has appeared with increasingly regularity on the boxing circuit, and was in Monaco last weekend to watch his old foe and new friend Dereck Chisora lose on points to the European champion Agit Kabayel. In the casino afterwards, with an iPhone shoved in his face, a slightly trimmer Fury revealed that he was back in training and wanted to reclaim what is his.
The sniping started from there. “I’m gonna stop you inside eight rounds, watch me go,” Fury tweeted before promising his fans he would fight three times in 2018, replicating his rival’s plan of attack. “Get fit you fat fuck,” Joshua shot back, in a rare lack of civility. Needless to say, Fury was delighted. “That’s a new one because he usually doesn’t swear, he tries not to be himself,” the self-styled Gypsy King crowed in the back seat of a taxi. “But to be honest mate I don’t need to get fit for you — I could come over and punch your face in even at 25-stone.”
And so, in his pursuit of history, Joshua finds himself fighting a three-front war, with his adoring public demanding a hat-trick of record-breaking super-fights. But this is boxing. Joshua could yet be forced to fight an intermittent mandatory challenger — or he could yet lose. That tends to happen in this sport. There is a good reason why no man has ever unified the heavyweight titles before.
Where will Joshua fight next?
Hearn’s original choice for the potential Joshua vs Wilder superfight. But scheduling problems owing to Tottenham Hotspur's temporary move to the stadium could scupper his original plans. Odds: 10/11
Twickers doesn’t have a history of staging boxing events, but does boast a capacity of 82,000 and would certainly deliver the 'wow factor' Hearn craves. 11/10
Joshua’s unofficial home on account of seven of his 20 fights being staged there. But with a capacity of just 20,000, has he outgrown the venue? 9/1
Joshua’s fight with Takam in Cardiff was a huge success and broke Muhammad Ali’s longstanding record for the biggest indoor boxing crowd. Don’t rule out a return sometime in the future. 9/1
It is only a matter of time until Joshua makes his USA debut and the premier indoor arena in Las Vegas would seem to be the most likely destination. 20/1
Odds supplied by Betsafe