Not since Lennox Lewis defended his WBC world heavyweight crown against Frank Bruno at The National Stadium in Cardiff Wales back in 1993 have two British born heavyweights captured the imagination of boxing fans all over the globe in the manner that Tyson Fury (WBC champion) and Anthony Joshua (WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO champion) have with their impending meeting, or should I say that in the plural (meetings) as they are supposedly clashing twice in 2021.
I deliberately leave out the shambolic David Haye versus Audley Harrison WBA heavyweight title non-fight of 2010 because while ‘Big Frank’, Lennox, ‘AJ’, and ‘The Gypsy King’ have all risen to the occasion at their first chance at ‘the richest prize in sports’, sadly, Audley, our Olympic super-heavyweight gold medallist of 2000 did not.
Dulwich, South London met Brighton, Sussex in an all-British world heavyweight title fight that was fought in of all places, Nashville, Tennessee when WBO heavyweight ruler Henry Akinwande defended his belt against fan favourite Scott Welch in a one-sided affair that did little for either in terms of recognition but, at least provided a decent payday for both. Welch of course became all the more recognisable to the non-boxing public when he faced Brad Pitt in a bare-knuckle fight scene in Snatch (2000), the Guy Ritchie London gangster movie.
The country that spawned the sport of boxing has had its fair share of downtime when it comes to heavyweight success. There have been times when we produced challengers that frankly, our cousins across the pond laughed at, even when they were going up against some of history’s finest big men. Don Cockle, Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner, Richard Dunn, and Brian London all faced men of the stature of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Floyd Paterson, and Rocky Marciano, how bad could they really have been?
No one is laughing at Fury and Joshua now though. Both have firmly established themselves atop the world heavyweight tree and, no matter from where in the world you hail as boxing fans, these two facing each other in 2021 is almost certainly the fight you most want to see happen.
To complete any deal there have to be concessions and mutual financial gratification but, when both sides want the deal to happen and there is so much money available for everyone involved, then it is likely to happen. The Covid-19 pandemic is the only obstacle capable of stopping this fight happening. Joshua’s WBO title obligation to face his mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk will not be allowed to get in the way. With a few hundred million dollars on the table for the unification fight, a nice payday awaits the Ukrainian just to not fight. Usyk is not the fool he sometimes portrays himself as, and if he sits it out and watches ‘AJ’ and ‘The Gypsy King’ sort out which one is the true undisputed champ, he then is first in line to challenge ‘The Man.’ Either that or Joshua dumps the WBO belt and Usyk is left out in the cold again. Even if he wins the belt against Joe Joyce in a vacant title fight he will be no closer to an undisputed fight with the winner of Joshua and Fury.
With the Usyk problem eliminated, where could we imagine the promotors staging the contest? We know that this fight can only ever happen in front of a large live gate and the Las Vegas Casinos can normally be relied upon to pay the biggest site fee and Wembley Arena could be relied on to place 90,000 posteriors on well paid for seats, but not all the time Covid-19 is lurking in the background so, will heavyweight world title boxing return to ‘The Kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia?
When it was announced that Joshua’s return engagement with his sole conqueror Andy Ruiz Jr was to be staged in Saudi, there were many fans who were not happy with the thought of travelling to the region and that the expense would be far higher than if it were held in Las Vegas or New York. However, those that experienced the hospitality in Diriyah and the value for money came back with rave reviews and a new high paying boxing venue had been born.
It looks like a sensible option to take the fight to a venue that allows for live crowds to be present and if Saudi Arabia or perhaps Dubai fits that bill and the money is readily available to fund this huge event then surely it must happen there because as we have all seen in the past, fighters grow old and fans grow impatient, and before you know it we have another Mayweather vs Pacquiao let down on our hands.
If all these stars align in the early part of 2021 then we could well see the highest-paid heavyweight battle in the history of the sport taking part while both combatants are in their primes. When I say primes, I mean that Fury has never looked better than when destroying the previously all-conquering Deontay Wilder and, Joshua looked supreme in his return with Ruiz Jr and back to his destructive best against dangerous and tough Kubrat Pulev recently.
Looking back at the world heavyweight title battles of recent years that pitched seemingly evenly matched fighters in their primes, I can only think of Bowe vs Holyfield and then all the way back to Holmes vs Cooney in 1982. The Holyfield that faced Mike Tyson was 34-years-old and, the former undisputed cruiserweight and three-time heavyweight champ was 37-years of age when he fought Lewis in 1999. There is a case to state that Joshua vs Fury may be the most evenly matched undisputed heavyweight fight since Muhammad Ali clashed in title confrontations with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman back in the 1970s.
Fingers and any other digits crossed that this mega heavyweight title fight actually happens in 2021.