Last week, the future of boxing’s blue riband division looked clear. Anthony Joshua had been offered money to step aside and allow a unification fight between WBC and lineal champion Tyson Fury and WBA/WBO/IBF titleholder Oleksandr Usyk. ‘AJ’ had hinted that he might take the offer, on the proviso he could fight the winner for the undisputed championship further down the line. The WBC have thrown a spanner into these complex works though, ordering Fury to defend his belt against mandatory challenger Dillian Whyte. The heavyweight division enters 2022 on the cusp of crowning a first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis. But there are roadblocks along the way.
Obstacles to a four-belt unification are nothing new, which explains why there has never been one since the WBO belt came to prominence alongside the big three two decades ago. The 2000s saw a division ruled by Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. The latter reigned as WBC boss while his brother eventually hoovered up the remaining belts, but their family connection understandably precluded a title union. More recently, the table looked set for Fury and Joshua to finally hook it up for their championships. Usyk put paid to that notion with his dazzling decision win over the Olympian in London.
Were boxing more simple in its functions, the road to undisputed would be clear. ‘The Gypsy King’ has targeted a February or March date for his next bout. In an ideal world, he would take to the ring against Whyte on that date and settle his mandatory business. With Usyk vs Joshua II touted for later in the spring, that fight would then decide Fury’s next opponent as well as the holder of three quarters of the fractured heavyweight crown. This would set the table for an Autumn/Winter blockbuster for the undisputed championship.
Boxing rarely moves with this sort of precision, which is a real shame. A domestic dust-up between Fury and Whyte could fill any stadium in Britain, and would give Dillian the title chance he has long-deserved. Likewise, Usyk facing Joshua again would be a fascinating bout. ‘AJ’ reacted to his last loss, against Andy Ruiz Jr, by overhauling his ring style and winning the rematch with a slick boxing display. The Ukrainian is a different beast though, and it would be enthralling to see Joshua try and cope with one of the pound-for-pound best again.
Fury, for his part, is not thrilled with how the situation is developing. The heavyweight champion appeared on Behind The Gloves, and was quick to dismiss Whyte’s right to fight him. “How many days has he been my mandatory? One, yesterday, so welcome to the big GK world”. However, he did seem to warm to the idea as at least one option among many as the interview wore on. “I don’t care if it’s Usyk, Dillian Whyte, Joshua, or Wilder again. Whoever it’s going to be next, the outcome will be the same for me.”
On the promotional side, Top Rank appear to be doing their part to put the Whyte fight on and keep Fury’s WBC championship intact. Speaking to Sky Sports this week, Fury’s promoter Bob Arum says the wheels are already in motion to stage the fight. “We are talking to Whyte now to come to an arrangement to put the fight on in the UK. It will be a splendid fight and we are working hard to put it together.”
Fury is famous for being a contrarian, and even though a Whyte bout has reached the negotiation stage, it is not guaranteed. Joe Joyce recently threw his hat into the ring for a shot at ‘The Gypsy King’, and he would surely still fancy that scrap with just The Ring and lineal championships up for grabs. Andy Ruiz Jr lingers as a big name potential opponent also. The early spring date for Fury’s next bout means only an ‘AJ’ u-turn would free up Usyk, but there are still options for Fury.
It is not often that the WBC are an agent of order in boxing, despite that being the exact definition of a sanctioning body. In this case though, it is hard to shake the feeling that they have lit the most sensible path. Fury/Whyte and Usyk/Joshua as essentially semi-finals towards the wider goal of an undisputed championship final seems like the way to go. In a world of triangle rings and Paul brothers nonsense, boxing needs this. Whether we get it or not is another matter entirely.