Even as he has not fought in the boxing ring in over a year, Deontay Wilder was able to secure a key victory on Monday outside of it. In the process he may also derailed one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights in decades.
On Monday Daniel Weinstein, the arbitrator overseeing the legal dispute between Wilder and Tyson Fury and a former federal judge, ruled in favor of the former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion. While not awarding monetary damages to Wilder, Weinstein has ordered him & Fury to schedule their third fight for no later than September 15 although he will grant an extension should both parties agree to one.
The ruling comes after months of tense negotiations between the Wilder and Fury camps over their contracted third fight. Their first bout on December 18, 2018 ended in a draw with Fury winning the rematch in an emphatic seventh round technical knockout on February 22, 2020. Neither man has fought since.
While Fury’s promoter on American shores, Bob Arum of Top Rank Inc, has told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel that he will abide by Weinstein’s ruling that may not be the end of the matter. The ruling has put a blockbuster heavyweight fight between Fury, the current WBC and Lineal champion, and World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization, and International Boxing Federation champion Anthony Joshua in jeopardy. The Joshua-Fury bout would result in an undisputed heavyweight champion. The division has not been this close to unification since Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko were the reigning champions while purposely choosing to never fight each other.
The all-British affair between Joshua and Fury has been anticipated in their home country since before either man was a champion. The fight would’ve easily sold out London’s Wembley Stadium in 2020 if not for the COVID-19 pandemic shutting the sports world down for much of the year. The loss of gate revenue from having no fans in attendance has made Arum, Fury’s British promoter Frank Warren, and Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn look for other venues to host the fight, mainly in the Middle East. Even as various reports, mostly quoting Hearn, expressed optimism over the fight being finalized nothing concrete surfaced.
Then on Sunday Fury, who has made his frustrations over the situation very clear, posted a video on his Twitter account stating that fight was on for August 14 in Saudi Arabia.
Now a day later that statement sounds moot.
A logical solution to the problem for the Fury and Joshua camps would be to offer Wilder a substantial step aside fee with a promise that he would fight the winner between the two champions. The amount would likely have to be more than the purse Wilder would make in the third Fury fight. However there is no guarantee that Wilder’s camp would accept a step aside fee at this point. If monetary gain was the sole purpose for Wilder his camp and Fury’s could’ve settled the matter without the need for arbitration months ago. There is also the need for Wilder to shake off the perception that he is a one trick pony overly dependent on his right hand, something that could likely only be achieved in avenging his loss to Fury.
The situation also affects Joshua greatly. Being a unified champion makes him obligated to handle mandatory challengers from each sanctioning body in rotation. He has already defeated the IBF challenger Kubrat Pulev on December 12, 2020. The next person up would be Oleksandr Usyk, the WBO mandatory and former undisputed cruiserweight champion. Even as both Joshua and Usyk are under Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing umbrella the situation is not an ideal one for the promoter. Joshua is Hearn’s main cash cow but he has proven to be vulnerable in his June 1, 2019 upset loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. That fight was supposed to be a showcase American debut for Joshua with Jarrell Miller as the intended opponent until he failed a Voluntary Anti-Doping Association drug test. Ruiz Jr. became a late replacement.
Usyk is one of the most skilled fighters in the heavyweight division which can cause Joshua problems similar to those he endured with Ruiz Jr. Even though Joshua avenged that loss it was against a Ruiz who wasn’t properly prepared, a scenario Usyk won’t replicate. Should Joshua choose not to defend the WBO championship against Usyk he could be stripped of the belt and thus lose some of the prestige of a potential unification fight against Fury or Wilder.
The situation is now very fluid but it will end in a fight for Fury this year. The only question is whether it will be Joshua or Wilder across the ring from him.
UPDATE: On Tuesday The Wilder, Fury, and Joshua camps gave their initial reactions to the arbitration ruling.
Arum has told ESPN that Top Rank has reserved Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium for July 24 as the proposed date and venue for the mandated third Fury-Wilder bout.
At the same time according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix Arum is contradicting his statement to ESPN by stating to him that Top Rank is moving forward with the Fury-Joshua bout and offering Wilder a substantial step aside fee.
Wilder’s new trainer Malik Scott via his Instagram account rebuffed talks of his fighter taking any step aside money.
Hearn for his part put out a YouTube video stating that the situation is out of his hands. While he hopes the Wilder and Fury camps work out a deal to let the Joshua fight move forward Hearn also stated that he will move forward in negotiations to have him make his mandatory defense against Usyk with August 21 or 28 being the target dates.