At the start of this year, everybody in the world of boxing was excited about the contests we might see by the time the year was out. The injustice of Tyson Fury only being awarded a draw in his fight against Deontay Wilder – a fight in which the giant Brit comfortably outboxed the WBC Champion – was still the talk of the sport. Expectations that Fury – Wilder II would shortly be announced were high. When that was settled, there was a general expectation that the winner of the match would move on to face the undefeated Anthony Joshua later in the year to unify the championships.
It seemed like the fights had to happen. Fury, Wilder, and Joshua are the three biggest names, and biggest box office draws the division has seen since Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis called it a career. For all the success of the Klitschko brothers in the years in between, they never captured the imagination of the boxing audience the way that the three big names of the current generation have. To add to the intrigue, at the start of the year, all three were undefeated. Fury and Wilder had won all of their bouts, except when facing each other. Joshua had never gone down to anyone as a professional. Not only was there the matter of crowning an undisputed World Heavyweight Champion, but there were also three undefeated records on the line. Only one of them could have remained intact by the time the series of fights were over.
Then, sporting politics got in the way. All three fighters signed with different television companies, and gave them exclusive rights to their fights. Even if the fighters wanted to meet in the ring, getting a deal done which the networks would be happy with was now a significant hurdle. Without the prospect of having each other to fight, Wilder agreed to fight Dominic Breazeale (and destroyed him in one round). Tyson Fury has a fight scheduled against Germany’s Tom Schwarz on June 15th. Anthony Joshua signed on to fight Jarrell’ Big Baby’ Miller, but Miller failed a drug test. An out-of-shape Andy Ruiz jr was brought in as a last minute replacement, and all Joshua had to do was get past him so we could talk about getting the dream fights done in 2020 instead of 2019.
Now, even that dream is in tatters.
Joshua Crashes Down
On June 1st, the unthinkable happened. The seemingly unstoppable Anthony Joshua – the man whose chin had been tested by Wladimir Klitschko, but came away from the fight victorious in one of the greatest matches in modern history – was stopped by Ruiz. Joshua had his man on the canvas in the third round, but Ruiz popped right back up to floor him not once, but twice within the same round. Joshua wobbled on, but never seemed to get his head back into the fight. Floored twice more by the seventh round, he couldn’t go on. Perhaps most worryingly of all for Joshua, his trainers, and his fans, he seemed to quit on his feet. He got up off the canvas, but stepped back and put his hands on the ropes, not making eye contact with the referee. The impression that viewers were left with was that Joshua simply didn’t want to take any more punishment from the fast hands of the Mexican.
Two things happened at that moment. One, the career of Anthony Joshua hit a wall it may never bounce back from; and two, millions of dollars of potential box office pay per view revenue disappeared before the eyes of all the people who would have been involved in staging the dream fights. It’s hard to feel sorry for people who are probably already very rich, but they’d likely already been counting their chickens. They’d have felt like the owners of the greatest online casino in the world; they had the best games, and everyone was lining up ready to put their money in and enjoy a jackpot serving of world-class boxing matches. In Wilder vs. Fury, Fury vs. Joshua, and Joshua vs. Wilder, they had three star attractions that the public would likely have sunk money into in record numbers. Players of casino games either win or lose, and so do boxers, but the people who own the casino or the casino’s any sister sites always win. Whatever happened, the promoters were going to get paid. Now, though, the landscape is very different.
One And Done?
Unless Fury takes the same route as Joshua by shocking the world with a loss, it seems impossible that there’s any big match in the future now for either he or Wilder except a second meeting with each other. The end of their previous match was controversial, to say the least, and fans of the sport have been demanding to see them go again since the decision was booed out of the building. Wilder vs. Fury II should still be a reality. After that, depending on the outcome, there could even be a Wilder vs. Fury III. Joshua, though, is out of the picture, and so is the box office he brought with him.
None of this is a slight against Andy Ruiz Jr, who deserves his spotlight, and was clearly as underestimated by Joshua as he was the rest of the boxing public. It’s just that his name doesn’t carry as much weight as the three other men, and likely won’t attract the same level of box office buys.
For Joshua, the big question now is whether he can pick himself back up, and what he wants to do next. His promoter Eddie Hearn has confirmed that a rematch with Ruiz will take place in either November or December this year, with a venue yet to be decided. If Joshua wins that, we could yet still see the mega fights we hoped to see in 2020, albeit with Joshua’s name somewhat tarnished. Lose, and it’s hard to see what he does next. The manner of the defeat was worrying, as was the seemingly light-hearted way he accepted it. Moments after being stopped, he was smiling, laughing, and posing for pictures with Ruiz Jr. The fact that he’d just lost his world titles and his undefeated record didn’t seem to matter to him at all. It’s difficult to imagine Tyson, Lewis, or either of his peers reacting to defeat in such a carefree manner.
If Joshua fails, and there’s a definitive winner of the next Fury vs. Wilder match, then it may be that we have a clear answer as to who the better of the three is; it’s just that the answer will come from a ‘one and done’ fight, as opposed to the extravaganza of great boxing we imagined.