Forget Deontay Wilder: Why Anthony Joshua Can't Afford To Look Past Dillian Whyte

Eddie Hearn has been talking up AJ vs Deontay Wilder
07:00, 02 Aug 2023

Matchroom Boxing chief Eddie Hearn has targeted a January fight with Deontay Wilder for his man, former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. It would be some fight for sure. Two heavy-handed former titleholders in an all-or-nothing shootout for continued relevance. The winner would likely secure a title shot against either WBC king Tyson Fury or WBA, IBF and WBO boss Oleksandr Usyk. The loser would face a long road back to the top or perhaps even the looming prospect of retirement. As a piece of matchmaking, Joshua vs Wilder is almost as exciting as it gets. 

There is just one 6’4, 250-pound problem in this scenario: Dillian Whyte. Despite the loose lips of AJ’s team, first their man must meet ‘The Body Snatcher’ on 12th August at the O2 Arena in London. At best it could be called hubristic to be seeking further challenges when a former world title challenger stands in your way. However, Wilder seems to be getting more airtime than Whyte when an AJ vs DW fight is discussed.

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This sort of talk can backfire. That danger increases exponentially when you consider the wild card that is Dillian Whyte. He is intensely motivated by a long-term rivalry with Joshua. Whyte beat the Watford fighter in the amateur ranks. The defeat became the catalyst for their 2015 pro fight, which Joshua won in the seventh round after being hurt early on.

Whyte had to watch as Olympic champion Joshua became a unified world champion. His own shot at a championship would not arrive until last year. That six-round shellacking at the hands of Fury appeared to be a limp end to Whyte’s time as a world class heavyweight. His only fight since was a majority decision win over fringe contender Jermaine Franklin, in a fight many thought he lost.

Joshua has had his own underwhelming victory against Franklin since then. For AJ, his unanimous decision win over the American was a route back to winning ways. He had lost his last two fights to Oleksandr Usyk, sacrificing his three-belt claim to the world crown. Franklin’s status as a spoiler was well-established by fighting the two Brits. Neither managed to look good against ‘989 Assassin’.

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Joshua and Whyte need each other at this stage. The history they share makes the fight a compelling attraction. Both men haven’t looked themselves in a while and for the victor a career kickstart is assured. But Joshua and Hearn overlooking Whyte is not prudent. The 35-year-old has nothing to lose. While Joshua is eyeing a lucrative fight with Wilder, Whyte has openly complained he hasn’t been afforded the same privilege in victory. Dillian will be coming to upset the best laid plans and make himself a factor again, something he hasn’t truly felt like since Alexander Povetkin stunned him in a knockout defeat in 2020.

If Joshua takes his eye off the ball and loses to Whyte, there is no way back. This wouldn’t be like his previous defeats. His 2019 loss to Andy Ruiz Jr, AJ’s maiden defeat, was attributed to a Hasim Rahman-style shock upset. The fact Joshua won a rematch was seen as a case of business as usual. Joshua’s second and third defeats could be explained away by the fact Oleksandr Usyk is one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

No such concessions can be made if he loses to Whyte. ‘The Body Snatcher’ feels past his prime while Joshua is still trying to cling to his. A loss in these circumstances would end any talk of Joshua troubling the best heavyweights out there. Money dictates that the Wilder fight may still happen but it would carry none of the cache it does now. But you could forget about the long-craved clash with WBC champion Fury. 

Joshua would do well to shut out the noise. Wilder and the rest of the division’s leading lights can wait. Whatever Whyte has left, and that much is up for debate, you know he will empty the tank to try and take out his greatest rival. Joshua vs Wilder is a fight we all want, but it is not yet the fight we have. Much of the intrigue surrounding the one we do have centres on what version of Joshua turns up to take on Whyte. If AJ has any sense, it will be a single-minded, focused version that does so.

aj to beat whyte in rounds 10-12: 11/2*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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