Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia is another fork in the road for the former heavyweight champion. On the eve of a potentially career-changing fight, The Sporting News looks back on the four greatest moments that shaped the former heavyweight champion’s career and ponders a ‘what if?’ with the 32-year-old boxing superstar.
Welcome to the Multiverse by Anthony Joshua.
Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua’s careers have been closely intertwined for most of the last decade. You can’t name a name without the other coming right after it.
And that became clear in the first part of this series, where we explained how Fury’s departure from boxing after defeating Wladimir Klitschko directly impacted Joshua’s career. At this moment, Fury’s talk about retiring is dominating the headlines and comes just as Joshua is gearing up for his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk.
Coincidence? Probably not.
The constant teasing of a showdown between the two was exhausting, but there’s a universe where that fight would have already happened. The two were supposed to face each other in 2020, until the COVID pandemic thwarted those plans. Of all the events canceled due to the pandemic, none cast a bigger shadow than Fury-Joshua.
A month after Fury recklessly ran over Deontay Wilder in February 2020, the world as we knew it changed as the coronavirus swept the globe and the sports world came to a halt. A third fight was previously tentatively planned for Fury and Wilder in the summer of 2020. But the pandemic and an injured Wilder forced the fight to be postponed. Joshua was set to defend his titles against Kubrat Pulev on June 20 with the idea that the two victors would determine an undisputed heavyweight champion in what is arguably the biggest fight in British boxing history.
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COVID halted those plans as Joshua would not face Pulev until December 12 at Wembley Arena in front of just 1,000 fans due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Joshua retained his titles with a brutal TKO in the ninth round and immediately challenged Fury. Eddie Hearn suggested in March 2021 that Fury and Joshua had agreed to a two-fight deal. However, the Fury-Wilder trilogy was not over yet and Fury was reluctant to let the Joshua fight be a done deal. A settlement was reached later that summer and Hearn even went so far as to say the fight was “as far as possible over,” using August 14 as the date and setting Saudi Arabia as the location.
Enter Deontay Wilder.
Wilder had been sidelined with an injury since February 2020 and has been able to use the pandemic as a means of healing. Due to the passage of time, Wilder was able to recover, allowing him to reinstate his rematch clause. Twenty-four hours after Fury announced he was going to face Joshua, a referee ruled in Wilder’s favor for a trilogy fight, pushing the Fury-Joshua fight off the table.
Joshua would need to turn his attention to former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, while Fury would complete his trilogy with Wilder. Fury got the job done while Wilder didn’t.
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Fury stopped Wilder in a fantastic heavyweight fight on October 9, 2021, but Joshua fell back against Usyk a few weeks earlier and lost his heavyweight titles again.
But what if the pandemic hadn’t hit or Wilder had decided to accept a fee to step aside?
Joshua and Fury would have clashed sometime between 2020 and 2021 and an undisputed heavyweight champion would have been determined over the course of two massive bouts. Considering how Fury managed to lift himself off the canvas against Wilder, it’s hard to believe Joshua would have been able to take down The Gypsy King.
But Joshua is certainly a better boxer overall than Wilder and the two giants would have engaged in an epic war in which the outcome would have been really open. What we do know is that this conversation about an undisputed heavyweight champion would have ended.
But what would have happened to Wilder and Usyk?
Usyk had started his heavyweight journey back in 2019 and established himself as Joshua’s mandatory defender for the WBO title by defeating Derek Chisora in October 2020. That path would probably have been intact, but since Wilder was owed a rematch, he would have been the first to line up to attack Joshua or Fury. Meanwhile, Wilder may have fought Andy Ruiz, while Usyk may have been tasked with a showdown against Dillian Whyte. It’s almost certain that boxing politics would get in the way and the undisputed champion would be disbanded by an unfortunate sanctioning body.
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As for Joshua and Fury, the winner would have had the boxing world in his or her hands. We would have been robbed of one of the greatest heavyweight fights in recent memory because that epic Fury vs. Wilder encounter would have had to wait. On the other hand, Fury-Wilder 3 or Joshua-Fury 1 would have been massive for the undisputed heavyweight championship.
Fury and Joshua continue to orbit each other as the boxing world hopes we finally get to see them. But first Joshua must avenge his loss to Usyk. If Joshua doesn’t get past Usyk, we may never see the ultimate heavyweight showdown that’s years in the making.