Joshua-Wilder: The Fight that Everyone Wants to See That May Not Happen

Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder is the fight that everyone wants to see, a fight that both boxers are calling for, a fight that according to Joshua’s promoter and Wilder’s manager will be easy to make if the other side wants to do it.

And yet it really might not happen.

Here we take a look at why.

Alphabet Politics

“If this fight doesn’t happen in 2018,” Eddie Hearn has begun telling boxing media over the past few weeks, “it becomes very difficult to make because of the politics.”

The politics that Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, is describing is not the tortuous, contradictory rumor mill which has beset the management camps of Joshua and Wilder before negotiations have even really begun, but something much more destructive: the machinations of the alphabet soup that is the deconstructed heavyweight title.

Anthony Joshua is now looking for places to strap on no fewer than four championship belts while Deontay Wilder is wielding one, “the last one” as Joshua sees it and “the first one” as Wilder sees it.  One of them will be wrong but there is a very real chance both of them will be wrong unless they can make the fight this year, for it is in 2018 that Hearn has decreed this fight must take place if alphabet interference is to be avoided.

Povetkin will be made mandatory for the WBA in coming weeks, and the other ABCs who recognize Joshua will follow.  The current number one contender according the WBC is Dillian Whyte (who has also been ordered to stage a box-off with Kubrat Pulev by the IBF, which could put him in the strange position of being mandatory to both Wilder and Joshua).  Whyte’s status may be a factor more easily controlled as an issue as he is also promoted by Hearn, although Hearn has not been shy about pushing him as the next opponent for Wilder, just as he more recently pushed him towards a fight with Povetkin.  There is a whisper that a two fight deal for Wilder that sees him meet Whyte then Joshua may be in development, although this just seems a good way to tangle a long rope.

Whyte seems to be acting as a policeman to Joshua’s titles, but he can’t keep the alphabets off him any more than he can take punches for him. Probably Hearn is right about 2019 being very difficult if Joshua wants to keep all the belts, although, interestingly, Hearn has recently begun talking openly about dropping one of the straps to keep control of Joshua’s career. Time will tell.

Time Will Tell.

Timing, in boxing as in life, is everything.

The good news is that the two fighters have the same cycle. If Joshua had just won with Wilder now entering camp for a contest in late June, it might become difficult to line them up.

The bad news is that the alphabet madness surrounding these two men makes 2018 fight year, or we could end up waiting for 2020, which nobody reading this wants.

In real terms, that means Hearn and Wilder’s manager, Shelly Finkel, have eight months to get this fight made.

The first thing to consider here is the actual mechanics. Parker-Joshua took around one month to negotiate to completion and I would not expect Joshua-Wilder to be that easy. There is bad blood, big egos, the location is undecided and while Parker was probably delighted just to be getting the fight and the millions associated with it, Wilder’s team may be keen to chisel out a larger piece. Three months feels about right, although four or even five is not out of the question keeping in mind that step-aside money and places on the undercard may be required to satisfy those awaiting shots at a total of five alphabet titles.

What this means is that if earnest negotiations were to begin now, the terms of the fight would be agreed sometime between June and August. Then promotion and camps are required after a working date and venue are identified.

Interesting then that Eddie Hearn has suggested that Wilder should fight Whyte in the late summer before Joshua and (presumably) Wilder meet in December. Already there is talk of Joshua taking another fight in the interim. This would call for negotiations for the December fight to be ongoing during promotion for the intermittent contests. It would also give the fight, according to Hearn, a window around six weeks at the very end of the year, with a miss spelling disaster.

Not impossible but a big ask.

The Bottom Line

For his most recent contest, Joshua is expected to pocket in the region of $20m to $30m. According to CBS Sports, Wilder was guaranteed $2.1m dollars for his most recent contest.

More, Joshua’s opponent, Joseph Parker, is expected to walk away with in excess of $10m while Wilder’s opponent, Luis Ortiz, was guaranteed less than $1m.

There are different versions of these figures but whichever ones you prefer, the difference is stark.  Joshua, currently, is out-earning Wilder enormously.

“They can’t make us any offers,” Hearn has said of Wilder’s camp.  “All they’d be offering is the money we bring.”

There is some truth to this. If the purse split is 80-20 in Joshua’s favor, Wilder will still make the biggest payday of his career by many magnitudes.

Wilder has publicly been very relaxed about all this, merely demanding that whatever the agreed split is that it be reversed for the rematch, inevitable as he sees it, once he’s knocked Joshua out.

Joshua and Hearn are perhaps less relaxed.

“We’ve had to overpay from the debut,” said Hearn of the pay-structure in place for Joshua opponents. “It’s gone all the way up to the twenty-first fight. AJ will get what he deserves. He’s not a charity.”

Shelly Finkel says the money can be “worked out.” Hearn says they will approach Wilder with “a serious offer” and “one that we think is fair, not something disrespectful”. In these words is the confidence of a man who knows he holds the chips in the shape of the moneymaker and most of the belts.

Joseph Parker received the short end of a 65-35 split. 60-40 is the number most often floated when the fight is under discussion by third parties. Whether it is one that Hearn and Joshua are in a mood to make is a different matter.

Location, Location, Location

“Me personally,” Joshua said discussing the Wilder fight at his most recent post-fight press conference, “I’d like it to be in a stadium in the UK.”

This is understandable and why any promotion would chose to fight in front of 8,000 in preference to 80,000 I don’t know, but will Wilder be willing to take the short end and give up location?

Like iterations on all other matters, each interview brings with it agreeable sound-bites from both camps.

“We’ll fight him anywhere,” offered Finkel. “We are fine to fight in the UK and we are fine to fight in Vegas.”

“I’d love to go to America and look at the landscape and see how serious they are,” conceded Joshua. “Deal with this behind closed doors.”

If Joshua is serious about this, it would be a huge help. A face-to-face negotiation in America might be enough to get the fight settled. Hearn claims to be open to the idea of fighting in America and admits that Vegas has “potential.”

Finkel talks like he has Wilder’s blessing to make the fight in London or Cardiff; that, then, should be the route, not least because it is Joshua’s stated preference. Both of these men, however, are homebodies.  Wilder hasn’t fought outside of the Americas and hasn’t fought outside of the United States for more than five years. Joshua is rooted in Britain as a professional.

Also, as a whispered aside: Joshua has a drugs conviction in the UK. As I understand it, Americans aren’t keen on convicted criminals from other countries working for a living in their country. Joshua might get a Presidential nod, which would probably be nice for the promotion, but here is another layer of complexity we don’t need.

Location may be the biggest knock-down-drag out binary barrier to the fight happening.

Who Wants It?

On paper, everybody wants it.

But nobody believes anybody else wants it.

“[Joshua] doesn’t want the fight now,” Finkel has said. “Nothing to do with cowardice – he knows Deontay is the only one that could beat him. He’ll fight when he’s ready; right now he’s dodging us.”

This is a balanced statement and it rang true for me. Was it so outside the realms of possibility that Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua are simply delaying? After all, they could bank $60m dollars for fighting Alexander Povetkin and Kubrat Pulev, whereas Wilder would make as little as $6m boxing the same two opponents.

“If you knew what it takes to make a fight,” Hearn said recently, “you’d know how far away we are from making this fight…If they step up and actually are serious about the fight and serious about a deal that we’re more than fair to offer them, but, with them, they’re so erratic and unpredictable, I don’t know what to believe.”

Who and what to believe is indeed the key question.

Finkel is a veteran and has made some very slick maneuvers in moving the blame back on to Hearn. He also rings true for me when he says “if [Hearn] wanted the fight next, he could make the fight next.”

I believe that.

I am also convinced by the level of frustration Hearn betrays when discussing the matter. Recently, Deontay Wilder claimed (for the second time in fact) that he hoped to take a human life in the ring before his career was over. When questioned about these heinous remarks, Hearn did not attack Wilder for them but was almost sympathetic.

“Wilder’s saying things out of desperation,” Hearn said, “because he has no idea what’s happening to his career, he has no idea who is talking on his behalf, he has no idea what is happening next.”

Hearn’s whole attitude hints at chaos behind the scenes where his negotiations over Wilder are concerned. The involvement of Finkel and the more intangible presence Al Haymon –  described as “a ghost” by Wilder – contradicts his position, but Hearn is convincing.

The final truth is that we don’t know. There is some terrible disconnect here between a fighter who can make $30m for a single fight against a low-profile opponent and a fighter who cannot, and between the management teams that represent them. That’s a gap.

If I was forced to guess I would suggest that it works like this: financially, Joshua flat out doesn’t need Wilder. Fisticly, he does, because Wilder is in possession of the final title belt. Hearn is essentially a creature of finance; sporting excellence interests him but not as much as the money that accompanies it. Wilder’s team is reading Joshua, but not Hearn. This has led Finkel to overestimate the strength of his hand and leave Hearn bemused by their aggression. He expects to be thanked for the opportunity; instead he has private emails he sent Finkel read in public.

Joshua meanwhile has reached a place where he is sick of overpaying opponents, something Hearn claims they have done from the very beginning. Joshua is now ready to lay claim to his fair share, perhaps a position as much about respect as money; so his line of thinking has fallen in with his promoter’s at the exact moment his promoter has decided to stick it to an ungrateful opposition.

And Wilder continues to wave the belt, Finkel to use words like “ducking.”

The sum total of these parts makes for a precarious position. If the fight is not made for a date before March 2019, things could get very, very sticky. Quite apart from anything else, one of them could lose.

Watch this space, but temper your expectations.

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