Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, Britain’s world heavyweight champions, are “making great progress” towards signing for a two-fight unification deal, according to Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn. The news has excited bookmakers but left more disinterested observers wondering when, where and if it will happen.
There is much wrangling to be done before the most anticipated fight in the business comes even close to fruition, although Hearn insists Joshua, who holds three versions of the title, and Fury, the unbeaten WBC champion, are already “in agreement regarding the financial terms”. That would seem to gel with a surprise statement last week by Frank Warren that his fighter, Fury, would be willing to split the purse 50‑50.
Such unanimity between promoters who have never even met, let alone exchanged civil words, is as rare as a trusted handshake in boxing, but at least the signs are encouraging. While Fury has captured attention beyond his sport with his giant personality, a story of redemption straight from Hollywood and a rousing stoppage of the American Deontay Wilder, Joshua has had to regain lost ground with the public after losing an unbeaten record and his title to Andy Ruiz last year. He did that with a convincing points victory in the rematch last December to win back his WBA, IBF and WBO belts, the bargaining chips he needed even to begin talks with Fury.
“We’re making great progress,” Hearn told Sky Sports News. “There is still a lot to overcome. We are looking at venues and dates.
“It’s fair to say [they] are in agreement regarding the financial terms of the fight. The main positive news is that Joshua and Fury have agreed to a two-fight deal, in essence. The most difficult part of any deal is the financial element. I believe we’re in a great place where both guys have agreed to what that should be. We have not signed contracts because there are still things to be worked out.
“We’re pushing towards a place where they can be drafted, for 2021. Both guys are in agreement. The structure of the deal has been put forward, and agreed to by both parties.”
One hurdle is the pandemic that has paralysed sport. There was boxing of sorts on ESPN in the US this week, but without an audience, and it felt as flat as the canvas. Fighting in a near-empty hall robs pugilism of its essence, although Hearn still has plans to hold four nights of boxing over 28 days in July and August in the 15-acre grounds of his Matchroom headquarters in Romford.
There has been no sanctioned boxing in the UK since March, however, and it is difficult to gauge if fans will warm to a promotion with only the televised echo of leather on skin for atmosphere.
Bookmakers, meanwhile, weighed in quickly on a Fury-Joshua match-up. William Hill did not hesitate to make Fury a 2-1 on favourite, with Joshua at 6-4. Their boxing spokesperson, Rupert Adams, said, “Tyson was so dominant against Wilder that we feel we have to make him the favourite to go on and beat Joshua.” Paddy Power have Fury at 7-4 on and Joshua at 11-8, which seems about right.
As for the venue, the Irish bookmakers think Hearn will take the fight back to Saudi Arabia, where Joshua beat Ruiz, and where there is much money available still in the coffers of the government’s “sportwashing” department.
Wherever it might end up – and Wembley would be a more acceptable venue for British fans – it is unlikely to be this year. Joshua is still committed to defending his title against Kubrat Pulev, and Wilder will make a lot of noise if he is denied his mandated rematch.
Punters would be advised to wait a while before committing their money to any of these eventualities. Those looking for a price on the fight not happening at all can get 5-1. Given Fury’s stated intention to retire after two fights, it’s as good a bet as any.
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