Three kings of different credence and conviction, it seemed destined to be an era of heavyweight royalty. The Lazarus-like Tyson Fury held the lineage, Anthony Joshua the treasure trove and Deontay Wilder, the transatlantic ticket. A trifecta of undefeated braggadocios formed into another of boxing’s Hollywood scripts.
But, yet again, as the road to riches comes in off the horizon, the rifts come clearer into focus. The ‘hurt business’ ready to tear itself apart at the seams over fractional percentages and futile greed.
And so just as Fury and Wilder looked set to rematch at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, a fortnight before Joshua’s float docked down the road in Manhattan for a Stateside debut against Jarrell Miller, the stumbling blocks have materialised once more.
After professing to only box the best and ignore the much-maligned “dossers”, Fury will now fight in a tune-up in May against exactly such an opponent. His own promoter, Frank Warren, who orchestrated the reputed £80m contract with ESPN, is now blaming that same deal for delaying the rematch with Wilder. Cliques unable to communicate in harmony within their own overcrowded camps, let alone the mania beyond.
When it comes to making heavyweight fights of this magnitude, there are so many clawing at the pot that negotiating any deal has become a task of total acrimony and tedium.
Fury now has two promoters and will be exclusively broadcast on ESPN in the States and BT Sport in the UK. Wilder has two managers, an advisor, no promoter, and long-held allegiances to bitter ESPN rival, Showtime. And Joshua rearguards with a promoter, management team, first-option deals with DAZN and Sky Sports and a PR vessel currently chugging its way across the Atlantic.
There are so many divisive hands scrapping over each ounce of change that the division has become a portrait of comic affray. We have Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, and members of Wilder’s team publicly bickering over social media in a catty pantomime of contracts. Even now, they continue to wrangle over a soap opera $50m offer – which may or may not have existed – put forward almost a year ago.
This is the pace at which discordant negotiations are being played out and, with that, there’s the very real danger that by the time the trio do eventually collide Wilder’s manic athleticism may have declined, Joshua’s heavyset stiffness laboured a little and Fury’s ballet flats more resemblant of cowboy boots.
Nor, though, is it entirely the fault of conniving suits. While the boxers themselves cannot be blamed for looking to maximise their earning potential in a sport where vitality is in such short supply, their own smokescreen of insults and propaganda has run a cinder.
When Fury signed the landmark ESPN deal, fracturing the market and scuppering the Wilder rematch, he claimed: “I will fight anyone in world boxing, don’t use boxing politics as an excuse not to challenge me the lineal heavyweight champ!” The equivalent of barricading oneself in a room and then beckoning anyone to enter from behind the blank walls.
During Joshua’s hysteria rodeo over the past fortnight, to build a bout with self-proclaimed enemy of cheeseburgers and all things Trans fat, ‘Big Baby’ Miller, the WBA, WBO & IBF champion persistently cited Floyd Mayweather as the man who has “shown everyone how to do it”.
By that, Joshua is referencing taking power and percentages into his own hands as Mayweather did when he paid $750,000 to buy out his own promotional contract. But what that also entailed was holding out on a pinnacle fight until the very last spits of hype and fantasy for the sake of revenue in Mayweather-Pacquiao
If the same fate befalls the heavyweight division, and we do not see Joshua take on Fury or Wilder until its last and most lucrative ember, it will be a tragedy of the sport. One which will always leave this generation of heavyweights with questions over their place in the pantheon.
Whether it’s Joshua sacrificing small percentages for the sake of legacy or Wilder walking away from his alliance with Showtime, both fighters have the power to force a meeting with one another, or with Fury.
But, until then, the same tortured cycle continues; lies and propaganda perpetuating and YouTube channels used as spin doctors. Nothing is new in the standstill and grubby scandal of the heavyweight division. As always, the ugliest elements of boxing are played out in the trading of blows beyond the ring.