Anthony Joshua has never come close to agreeing terms with either of his arch rivals, Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder, despite plenty of verbal sparring on social media.
It’s an issue that embodies one of boxing’s biggest injustices and one of the sport’s most enduring questions – why don’t the best fight the best?
It’s topical too as, on Saturday night, Fury takes on relatively unknown Swedish fighter Otto Wallin in a contest billed as “a joke of a fight” by fellow heavyweight contender, Dillian Whyte.
In comparable sporting arenas, bitter and compelling rivalries are played out time and time again, with the same athletes participating.
Picture home and away fixtures in the Six Nations or the Premier League. The real reason we don’t see this in boxing is business and broadcasting.
Admittedly, Wilder and Fury have already fought once and claim they will do so again, but no date has yet been named and both have prior commitments.
Joshua expected to leave his last fight with a routine win over Andy Ruiz Jr, but the Mexican-American, with the well-documented paunch, sprang a surprise upset.
Even without such upsets though, making the sport’s biggest fights is often a near-impossible task.
The complication is, of course, that unlike in most other sports, fixtures are not pre-arranged a season in advance. Contracts, connections and partnerships are hugely significant. A comparatively informal, business-style hierarchy runs boxing.
There’s no omnipotent FIFA or FA-style body telling athletes when and where they will be competing.
While the British Boxing Board of Control, and other equivalent bodies exist, they mainly manage the safety of the sport and its various ranking systems. They have little involvement in actually making fights happen.
Here’s a breakdown of the complications that have kept Joshua away from his rivals so far…
Tyson Fury signed a broadcasting deal with US network, ESPN in February 2019. This slotted alongside his existing broadcasting deal with BT Sport, who broadcast his fights to UK fans, and his promotional deal with Frank Warren.
Anthony Joshua is promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, whose close partnership with Sky TV sees them broadcast his fights in Britain on Sky Sports, while other broadcasters do battle for the rights to broadcast him elsewhere on a fight-by-fight basis.
Deontay Wilder offers a more complex situation. He is co-managed by Al Haymon. Haymon is a powerhouse in the business of boxing and his company, Premier Boxing Champions, has partnerships with multiple broadcasters. The lead broadcaster on Wilder’s last bout was US channel, Showtime.
To oversimplify an over-complex mish-mash of business and sporting interests, we have:
Team A: Joshua/Sky/Eddie Hearn
Team B: Fury/BT + ESPN/Frank Warren
Team C: Wilder/Showtime/Al Haymon
The resulting camps have fractured the landscape of heavyweight boxing. This means we see more simple-to-make match-ups, rather than the blockbuster bouts fans want.
Yes, Fury versus Wilder in December 2018 was, thankfully, an exception but it’s dealing with Joshua and his backers that seems to have been the biggest stumbling block.
Time after time we’ve been told about negotiations between Joshua and Wilder, and even negotiations between Joshua and Fury.
When nothing materialised, on several occasions, Hearn has tried to float the idea of Joshua re-matching Whyte. This is simpler because he is also promoted by Hearn and a regular on Sky Sports. He’s in the same ‘camp’.
Similarly, we see Wilder’s next fight against Luiz Ortiz bringing together two fighters managed by Haymon and have a history with Showtime.
As if the issue isn’t complex enough, other parties are trying to get in on the act too.
Back in March ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported that US streaming service DAZN offered Wilder $100m for a four-fight deal which would include a showdown with Joshua.
They tried to force the fight, but it wasn’t quite that simple to cut boxing’s Gordian knot of business and broadcasting ties.
The upshot is that either Wilder or Fury completing negotiations with Joshua has looked near-impossible for a long time.
Whether his defeat at the hands of Ruiz Jr. changes his personal motivation to chase the fight is an interesting question, but even if it does, something would have to give between the broadcasters and promotional companies.
Why would Sky want a fight-of-the-century between Joshua and Wilder to be on BT? They wouldn’t. And vice versa, so creative problem solving may be needed.
What are the possible solutions?
Pundits have spoken about broadcasters sharing the rights to some of the biggest bouts.
Even Fury’s promoter, Frank Warren, has discussed this option but notably the broadcasters themselves haven’t publicly acknowledged it as a solution.
However, with some of the huge profits on offer in heavyweight boxing, there could be more than enough to incentivise making the fights, even with a split.
Another road may be for DAZN to throw more money at the problem.
Last year they signed boxing’s first ever billion-dollar deal with Joshua’s promoter, Hearn and they’ve also already made offers to Wilder in an attempt to force a Wilder versus Joshua bout.
Another solution could be even more straight forward, at least at first glance.
A second Ruiz win would de-value Joshua to the point that, even if his rivals still wanted to fight him and claim his once-great scalp, there would be less of an incentive for his backers to cling quite so preciously to their demands, stipulations and broadcasting exclusivity.
This might make a Joshua-Wilder or Joshua-Fury fight more achievable, even in a de-valued state.