At some point, surely, the money will talk. And the negotiations between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, which increasingly carry the pheromonal whiff of a secondary‑school playground, will conclude with the planet’s two hardest-punching heavyweights putting their belts on the line in an epic reunification fight.
But even if Joshua creates history – as I expect him to do – by adding Wilder’s WBC belt to his WBA, IBF and WBO titles, thus becoming the first heavyweight to hold all four major belts at the same time, there is another fighter with the pedigree and x-factor to give him the toughest test of all: Tyson Fury.
Not the Fury we have seen during for much of the past two years: fattened up like a Christmas turkey, fighting a ban after a positive test for nandrolone, and spouting unedifying opinions like a drunk at Speakers’ Corner. But rather the raging Fury of November 2015, who presented Wladimir Klitschko with a fiendish puzzle he never looked like solving.
Many had given up hope that this Fury would ever return. However, last week his friend Ricky Hatton tweeted that he was “looking fit, confident and the swagger’s back”.
Whether the Gypsy King is capable of going 12 rounds any time soon is another matter. But one heavyweight I spoke to last year, who has sparred with Joshua and Fury, thought it would be incredibly close contest. Going up against Fury, he stressed in almost awed tones, was “like fighting an octopus” with his reach, height and ability to avoid being hit cleanly.
Wilder’s challenge is much more straightforward. True, the American punches with the force of someone with titanium in their knuckles. But his technique is more that of a four-, not 40-fight, veteran. Provided Joshua is able to box smartly – and stay away from the bombs flung at him from awkward angles – he should be able to capitalise on Wilder’s recklessness and poor balance.
Joshua is clearly maturing, too. Before the fight against Joseph Parker on Saturday, he spoke warmly about learning lessons from the way Klitchsko had tried to control him before their fight, as well as from the Ukrainian’s perpetual lust for improvement. The way he boxed behind his jab against Parker – and cleverly slipped out of range whenever the New Zealander tried a jab and overhand right – suggested he had absorbed some of Klitschko’s ringcraft, too.
Parker’s trainer, Kevin Barry, had been in the corner of another Kiwi, David Tua, when he fought Britain’s Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight title in 2000. Tua, an explosive puncher, was reckoned to be a major test. Instead he grew meek under the power of Lewis’s jab and lost a wide points decision. This was not much different.
True, the 80,000 crowd in Cardiff had wanted more blood and action. But can you blame Joshua for boxing more conservatively after those hellish but exciting fifth and sixth rounds against Klitschko last year? Why roll the dice when your physical advantages dictate you don’t have to?
Fury, though, would present an altogether tougher problem. Joshua likes to control fights with his stinging jab, thrust time and time again in his opponent’s face with the spite of a bullfighter’s sword. From that left hand everything else flows. But it would be far harder to establish the jab against Fury, who has a three-inch height and reach advantage.
And while Fury often sounds boorish outside the ring, inside it he is as tactically cute as they come. Just look at how he dealt with Klitschko, who had held at least one version of the world heavyweight title for almost 10 years and won 64 of his 67 fights, 53 by knockout, before they met.
During that fight Fury boxed orthodox, with his left hand leading when he was attacking, yet was able to switch to southpaw whenever his opponent came for him. Not only did this prevent Klitschko from setting, but – crucially – it also increased the distance between the Ukrainian’s right hand and Fury’s chin, making it harder for Wladimir to land with the heavy artillery.
Watch the fight again and you will also see Fury frequently step to the right while in his southpaw stance, again blunting the effectiveness of the Ukrainian’s right cross.
It did not make for pretty viewing. Indeed after three rounds Fury had landed only 17 punches to Klitschko’s 11. But Fury had established that the fight would be held on his terms and went on to win a clear and deserved points victory.
True, he is not the most explosive of fighters. But he does not need to be because he has an unerring ability to drag his opponent down to his level, to ensure that any contest is on his terms, and to win. At his best, Joshua would have to show exceptional cunning to stop Fury.
Speaking during the early hours of Sunday morning, meanwhile, Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, admitted that if the Wilder fight does not happen in 2018 there will be “serious problems” because the Englishman will soon have to face mandatory challengers for his WBA, IBF and WBO belts instead. Joshua said that “2018 is about getting all the belts and we are one away now”, and added, “I will have to be the most powerful man on a negotiating table”.
Indeed he will. But if Wilder is dealt with, he knows that Fury will have a few bargaining chips of his own, outside and in the ring.