For several weeks over the summer it looked as though boxing fans would get their wish, a fall fight between the world’s top two heavyweights — undefeated knockout artists Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder — for the undisputed title.
Both sides were talking, and a deal was close. Wilder had accepted a $15 million flat fee, though it was unheard of for a fight of this magnitude for a fighter not to insist on a percentage of the entire event, and he had even agreed to fight Joshua on his home turf in the United Kingdom.
But the devil is always in the details. Blame who you want, but the deal was not finalized and both sides moved on.
Wilder is headed to a Dec. 1 Showtime PPV fight with unbeaten former unified champion Tyson Fury, who never lost his belts in the ring but was undone by myriad personal problems. The formal announcement of that bout is expected next week.
Joshua will instead fight former secondary titlist Alexander Povetkin, one of his mandatory challengers, on Saturday before an expected sold-out crowd of more than 80,000 at Wembley Stadium in London. It’s a fight that will serve as the main event of the first live event for the newly launched DAZN streaming service in the United States (1 p.m. ET, with the main event beginning at approximately 5 p.m. ET).
Despite the failed Wilder talks hanging over the fight, Joshua-Povetkin is an attractive match. Povetkin is highly regarded, despite having had two fights canceled in recent years because of positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs), 28, who has signed with DAZN for his American broadcast rights following the expiration of his deal with Showtime, has insisted he is focused on the man in front of him, not the inevitable showdown with Wilder.
“We both have a big heart and we can dig deep, so that always turns out for a good fight,” Joshua said of Povetkin this week. “The one who’s toughest will come out victorious. When I look at this weight, he’s one of the lighter heavyweights, but that means he’s got a lot of speed and is a quick fighter. But I train against amateur guys that are just as quick as him. With a good fighter, I’ll always find a way.”
Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, Joshua’s promoter, views the fight as a dangerous one for Joshua, especially with the Wilder fight so enormous but at risk.
“I think, to be honest, this is tough fight. A lot of people are looking past this. A lot of people are talking about the Wilder fight,” Hearn said. “This is a mandatory. [Joshua is] certainly fighting the top guys. I think the reason this fight is dangerous is because Povetkin is very well schooled. He has a lot more ring time than Anthony Joshua. I think he’s an accurate puncher. He’s a dangerous puncher. I think it’s going to need to be a disciplined performance from Anthony Joshua but at the same time everybody’s looking for that excitement.”
Joshua, who will be making his sixth title defense, unified three major belts on March 31 with a lopsided decision win over Joseph Parker. Joshua has also knocked out legendary former world champion Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of the 2017 fight of the year and owns wins against contenders such as Dillian Whyte, Carlos Takam and Dominic Breazeale. Joshua says that Povetkin, who knocked out David Price on the Joshua-Parker undercard, stacks up with any of them.
“Povetkin is one of my toughest challengers to date so that’s where my focus has been,” Joshua said. “My body has been broken down and rebuilt back up through this camp like never before.”
Povetkin (34-1, 24 KOs), 39, of Russia, has won eight fights in a row, including a knockout of Takam, since suffering his lone defeat — a one-sided decision in which he was dropped four times by Klitschko in a 2013 world title fight. He knows he is not in an easy spot on Saturday.
“Anthony Joshua is one of the strongest in the division,” Povetkin said through a translator. “I never try to say anything ahead of time, so you will see everything on Saturday fight night.”
Yet, while Joshua-Povetkin has intrigue, one thing most people would agree upon is that it’s not Joshua-Wilder. Joshua knows it, and so does Hearn.
“With Wilder, I realized that there’s been a lot of talking and he’s done a lot of hard work,” Joshua said. “Ultimately, when we’re all in the same division, we all have to fight. We’ll get it on as soon as the time is right. Time doesn’t wait for no man and time didn’t wait for us to get our negotiation together, so we have to keep it moving with Povetkin.
“After I fought Carlos Takam (in October 2017), Wilder called me out and said I’ve been dodging him but I had never heard a word from Wilder before then. I’ve ended every fight thinking I’ll fight Wilder next. If I win this fight, I’ll definitely secure a fight for Wilder. I’m going to win this fight to fight Wilder. I’m going to fight him regardless so I’m going to focus on Povetkin. Don’t be cautious — just take out Povetkin like I would any other opponent.”
Wanting the fight with Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs), 32, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and actually making the match are entirely different matters. Hearn claims he wants to make the fight, but said with Joshua already penciled in for his next bout on April 13 (assuming he wins Saturday) — also at Wembley Stadium — it will have to come together quickly. It mostly comes down to logistics, as the Joshua side would need enough time to secure the proper permissions from sanctioning organizations to temporarily bypass mandatory defenses in order to fight Wilder, should he defeat Fury.
“Joshua wanted the fight [with Wilder], undeniably,” Hearn said. “So if [the Wilder camp] no longer agree to the terms please let us know which terms you no longer agree. Is it the money, is it the [broadcast] rights? Please let us know. Whatever it might be. We’ve got to have feedback. We cannot make a fight with a team that won’t meet us, with a manager [Shelly Finkel] that won’t reply to emails. Tell us what you no longer like about the deal you had accepted.
“You have an opportunity to make an undisputed fight in April. You got to pick up the phone, you got to reply to us. You got to give us feedback otherwise how can we presume anything other than you don’t want the fight? And I believe your man does want the fight.”
While the Wilder camp will have to do its part, Hearn said he is prepared to make the fight next if heavy favorite Joshua beats Povetkin
“One million percent, no one else,” Hearn said. “And that’s why we’ve said to Shelly, ‘If you no longer accept the terms you [previously] accepted, we’re not holding a grudge but tell us what you want then — even if it’s unacceptable. We’re all adults.’ How can we plan an April fight when we have mandatories coming up? And then the same thing will happen. In October/November we’ll have to pull the trigger on our next fight and people will say, ‘Ohhh, you’re ducking Wilder.’ That’s why it’s frustrating. If we can’t reach terms for a deal, we can’t reach terms for a deal. That’s just life [but] the undisputed fight is what we want.
“Joshua-Povetkin is a good matchup. Wilder-Fury is a good matchup. Neither of those fights are the one that people want. The one they want is Joshua against Wilder for the undisputed heavyweight world championship, and I’m telling you now, our man wins… If you don’t think I want the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world you are an idiot. If we don’t get this fight done in the next four of five weeks it’s not happening for April, and then we’re all to blame again. We have a duty to fight fans to deliver this fight.”
Prediction: Joshua has the size, the power and the confidence. He’ll roll through the 39-year-old, two-time drug offender Povetkin and stop him late in a one-sided fight.