IBF, WBA & WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) is making his North American debut tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden against challenger Andy Ruiz, Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs) exclusively on DAZN. Joshua is expected to defend his 3 belts (he’s a 40/1 favorite), but his next fight won’t be to unify the division against WBC champion Deontay Wilder; it was announced on Wednesday that the American will instead turn his focus towards a rematch with Luis Ortiz. While not unexpected – Ortiz appeared in the ring following Wilder’s 1st round KO of Dominic Breazeale on May 18th – recent denials from Wilder’s co-manager Shelly Finkel about the deal being completed and public comments acknowledging a meeting with John Skipper about “the Joshua fight” had fight fans hoping the two sides would come to terms. Instead, it appears as if boxing loyalists will wait until at least 2020 for “The Fight of the Century” to occur.
Howie Long-Short: JohnWallStreet reported that Wilder-Ortiz II was a done deal back on May 17th, so Finkel’s comments were a bit disingenuous (if technically true). Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed as much saying that there “weren’t really any” substantial conversations with Wilder’s camp following the Breazeale fight and certainly none where Wilder’s side expressed “their intentions to get a deal done.” Hearn noted that less than two hours after Joshua went on ESPN and declared that he wanted Wilder as his next opponent (and would be willing to sit down for a face-to-face meeting to make it happen) “Deontay announced a fight with Ortiz that probably isn’t even signed, yet. It’s his way of avoiding questions about a potential unification bout.”
It’s hard to argue that the Wilder camp isn’t ducking Joshua. DAZN presented the American champion with a “huge offer” – 3 or 4 fights for $100 million or $120 million that would have included a pair of bouts against A.J. – but were rebuffed. The decision to risk “generational money” coupled with questions about who invested in the Wilder-Breazeale fight (Showtime alone couldn’t have funded it) and why (the belief is that Al Haymon did it to retain Wilder with PBC for sale or raising capital), have had boxing insiders wondering whose interests Al Haymon had been representing in the meeting Finkel referenced with John Skipper – Premier Boxing Champions (as president) or Deontay (as co-manager). Hearn believes that “the decision made [to pass on a DAZN deal] and the advice given [to take the Ortiz fight next] were done with a network or PBC hat on; obviously, it wouldn’t be good news for PBC to lose Wilder to another network or for him to lose (presumably to Joshua).”
To be clear, with potentially lucrative fights against Joshua and lineal champion Tyson Fury on the horizon there’s value in remaining a network free agent (exclusive deals between fighters and broadcast platforms often get in the way of big fights being made); PPV fights against competition of that caliber could net the Wilder more than he would have earned under the terms of the DAZN deal. But those fights (and the dollars that come with them) only remain possible if he beats Ortiz – no sure thing considering “King Kong” had him on the ropes the first time around. Wilder should earn at least $20 million for the rematch (the figure he took home against Breazeale), but Hearn says that he’s “not making what DAZN offered [him] for fights with Ortiz and Kownacki” (an anticipated H1 ’20 opponent). For reference purposes, A.J. is set to take home +/- $25 million on Saturday night.
Much of the disappointment surrounding Wilder’s decision to push a potential unification bout into 2020 is that he’s turning 34 (6 years older than Joshua). The feeling is that he’s closing in on an age where as Chris Mannix said, “the outcome of the fight will be accompanied by a ‘well what would have happened’ comment”; and that’s a best case scenario. For a unification bout to happen, Wilder needs to continue winning and Joshua says that’s far from a certainty. “It’s impossible for Wilder to remain champion for the rest of his career. He’s had close fights with Molina, Fury and Ortiz. It feels like we’re getting close to a time where that belt changes hands.” If it does before a Joshua-Wilder mega-fight, boxing fans will have lost.
Fan Marino: With Wilder no longer a possibility as the next fight, undefeated lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury – a fellow Brit – would seem like an intriguing possibility for Joshua. A.J. has said he’s willing to fight Fury, but it’s Wilder that has what he seeks – the WBC championship belt. Hearn said “Wilder is the bigger fight, but it’s really not about who it is; it’s about what is – the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. The biggest prize in the sport.”
If Fury isn’t next up, Oleksandr Usyk, Michael Hunter, Kubrat Pulev, Dillian Whyte, Joe Joyce and Filip Hrgović will be among the names under consideration.
Interested in Sports Business? Sign-up for our free daily email newsletter list, here!