Boxing is, at times, full of surprises.
Earth-shattering announcements that catch spectators entirely off-guard and have supporters and reporters-alike scurrying for the scoop.
Anthony Joshua vs Alexander Povetkin was not one of these announcements.
Following months of seemingly endless rhetoric, the fight that was always going to happen turned out… well, to be happening.
While boxing fans around the world clamoured for an undisputed World heavyweight title bout between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, the wheels were slowly in motion for the inevitable: a mandatory defence of Joshua’s WBA crown against the Russian former World champion.
The very public back-and-forth between messrs Hearn and Finkel has ceased – for now at least – and members of the boxing fraternity can begin to focus on fights that are signed, sealed and delivered: as opposed to researching terms like “proof of funds” and applying for online business economics diplomas.
We have as boxing fans, of course, been here before with regards to protracted, ahem, ‘super fight’ negotiations.
The ‘glory days’ of the eighties – a pedestal for any ‘true’ boxing fan to constantly and tiresomely refer back to – was also not without its laborious public slanging matches.
Who can forget American darling ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard ‘retiring’ from the sport in November 1982 amidst talk of a showdown with middleweight kingpin Marvelous Marvin Hagler?
Cladded in one of his customary finely-tailored suits, Leonard would proclaim the millions of dollars he would make by fighting Hagler… before announcing that “the fight will never happen.”
The fight, of course, did indeed take place: some sixty-two months later and, as predicted, for millions of dollars – in fact, a considerably higher amount than each man would have earned if the bout had taken place in 1982.
The truth is, for any money-spinning contest to take place, this type of media fervour and, to be frank, brazen public negotiations are part-and-parcel of proceedings. Boxing, while romantic and idyllic in its inception, is a sport fuelled by money like no other: and, in competition where you can be legally killed, so it should be.
With a contest that stands to gross a sum as substantial as a potential Joshua-Wilder match-up, there are an untold amount of people – usually in suits – that seek to maximise their slice of the proverbial pie.
Network executives, promoters, managers, advisors, agents, trainers… not to mention the fighters themselves… are all willing participants in the sport in the hope of landing a pay-per-view monster.
Most recently, for years boxing fans pined for pound-for-pound luminaries Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao to face-off in what was eventually billed as ‘The Fight of the Century’.
Naturally, a bout between two money-making machines – plying their trade on separate TV networks, no less – went through the same drawn-out process before a fight came even close to being made.
… Then, of course, negotiations fell apart.
Nevertheless, each man continued with their careers, with the-powers-that-be more than happy to sell fights on the premise that after their latest bout, “the one you’ve all been waiting for” could well happen… sound familiar? It should.
Anthony Joshua, by all accounts, is intent on becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. A noble, yet problematic quest.
With great power, comes great responsibility; and in the case of Joshua, arguably the sport’s biggest draw, a responsibility to defend his accrued titles against mandatory opponents is the price to pay for his enormous success to this point.
Should he defeat WBA mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium on September 22nd, Joshua will be under no obligations to make a mandatory defence of the title for a further twelve months – paving the way for a bout with Wilder, right? Hmm.
Kubrat Pulev, a seemingly perennial number one contender, has been rumoured to be facing Hughie Fury in a final eliminator for the right to be called as mandatory for Joshua’s IBF World title: there again lies a potential escape route from a bout with Wilder.
… If one can call a bout in which you are likely to be paid-in-excess-of-£20m-and-enter-the-contest-as-a-heavy-betting-favourite as an ‘escape’.
Long-time Joshua rival Dillian Whyte – who holds a lofty ranking with all four governing bodies – squares off against former WBO World champion (and fellow Joshua victim) Joseph Parker next weekend at London’s O2 Arena. Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has already stated that should a bout with Wilder fail to materialise, a victory for Whyte would likely see him fulfil the second of Joshua’s pre-agreed Wembley Stadium dates in April 2019.
Should Whyte prove to be victorious against Parker and, as many suspect, an eliminator status for one of Joshua’s remaining belts (likely the WBO) is granted – another possible money-spinner becomes available for ‘AJ’ and, again, he will be a prohibitive favourite in a lucrative showdown that does not involve Deontay Wilder.
Understanding the mechanics of ‘risk-reward’ in the modern era of the sport can be as important as deciphering a fighter’s in-ring strengths and weaknesses.
While, as mentioned above, the concept of delay-and-pay is nothing new – even in the ‘glory days’ of the ‘Four Kings’ of the 1980’s – the intense scrutiny on not only boxing itself and its competitors, but its business dealings between power-brokers, mean that an understanding and realisation of the moves of said brokers have become vital when assessing the landscape of the sport.
Ignoring these moves and decrying each delay as simply “ducking” is, in my opinion, short-sighted and simplistic. I do not agree with the moves, but understand they are a necessary evil in a sport with boxing’s infrastructure. They have been for a number of years, and will continue long after Hearn et al have left the sport.
Anthony Joshua will fight Alexander Povetkin in September, and in all likelihood, he will face an opponent not-named Deontay Wilder in his next outing thereafter.
It is not through a lack of courage or belief, nor is it “the easy way out” – both Povetkin and Whyte pose a considerable threat of their own – it is, as Michael Corleone so succinctly put it in ‘The Godfather’: strictly business.
Article by: Rob Tebbutt
Follow Rob on Twitter at: @RobTebbutt