Is unification a mirage ?
Will we ever see an undisputed world heavyweight champion ? Does it really matter ?
Last week WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury took to social media to announce a deal had been reached for a two fight series with WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua. Should it happen it will likely break all box office records in the sport to date. A unification of the heavyweight championship, certainly in the eyes of the paying public would result. It would be the first time since Lennox Lewis reign in the early millennium that the heavyweight champion was universally accepted. But, despite hyperbole and best intentions, is it really going to happen ?
First, there is the current COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding a resumption of the sport. Time and the diminishing sands are crucial to a fighter’s wellbeing and legacy. It is hoped and claimed that this could happen in 2021, but do we really know if any degree of normality will be back and hold through until then ? Hopefully ‘Yes’ and both combatants are the right end of their 30’s and relatively young for heavyweights. So, tick the timing off as a positive.
Next, do the sanctioning bodies really want to see it ? History and logic would say ‘No’. The ‘alphabet boys’ WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO all exist through the sanctioning fees that fighters and promoters pay for the ‘prestige’ of challenging for one of their titles. Why would they really want one champion, when at best they would fight twice a year and only get sanctioning fees for two bouts, albeit then split between four different organisations. Surely it makes more business sense just to have their own ‘champion’ and market them as the legitimate title holder. Boxing history has compounded fighters to make mandatory defences against their number one contender, regardless of skills, credibility and logic.
Only last week the WBO President Paco Valcarcel on hearing news of the deal being struck said but first Joshua would have to make his mandatory defence against their #1 contender Oleksandr Usyk. The sanctioning bodies might outwardly convey a desire for a unified champion but in reality this is lip service. It’s basically not in their interest. Consider this a cross against unification happening.
Then, linked to the above there is the minefield that awaits both Fury and Joshua before they are in a position to eyeball each other across the ring. Again the alphabet boys drive this but these are the facts; unless the combatants camps can get their respective contractural obligations to take ‘step aside’ money, which collectively could exceed £50M, then Fury has to navigate a third Deontay Wilder fight and Joshua has to defeat IBF #1 contender Kubrat Pulev, and according to the WBO President then beat Usyk. And what of Dillian Whyte’s long awaited WBC mandatory rights to fight for the title ? He too has a legitimate and overdue right to fight Fury or Wilder. This in itself extends any eventual unification to the second half of 2021 (minimum).
This on face value is a cross against any unification fight happening, certainly if you look over boxing history. Heavyweights are an unpredictable breed. One punch from the best laid plans disappearing into the ether – ask Lennox Lewis for one.
Then we have the logistics involved in putting on two fights of this magnitude. Credit to messrs Hearn, Arum and Warren for promoting the desire and dream to have an undisputed heavyweight champion and them being the only ones with the wherewithal and experience to make it happen, but in the current climate where is it going to be, when and for how much ? All unknown entities at press time and the social and morale implications of finding a host will be heavily scrutinised before the deal is done.
So, to my final question … does it really matter ? Yes it does, to the casual sports fan, the average punter in the street and for the continued integrity of the sport. They should know when asked “who is the heavyweight champion of the world ?”. In an ideal world the response would be emphatic, not, “well actually there are two, (or even three)”. It does the sport a continued disservice to not have a universally recognised champion for the last twenty odd years.
But in reality all sports are confusing to a degree. In tennis you have a Wimbledon champion, a French Open champion etc. True you have a world #1 but each Slam has its respective champions. In lesser ‘sports’ like darts confusion reigns. What is important is that Fury and Joshua do meet, as soon as possible and ideally with no further losses on their records (noted that Fury is undefeated). If all the straps are up for grabs all the better, but don’t let that get in the way of these two guys meeting. The public will ultimately decide who the best man is based on results. If a title or two has to be given up on the journey so be it. Make the fight happen when the world returns to a sense of normality. Over to you messrs Warren, Arum and Hearn.