IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua isn’t worried in the slightest if he’s forced to give up his IBF or WBO titles, since he believes it’ll be worth it if he can get a bigger fight that the boxing public wants to see. Besides, Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) believes he can win back whatever world title that he’s forced to vacate.
Joshua regained his IBF, WBA and WBO titles last year on December 7 in beating an out of shape 283-lb Andy Ruiz Jr. by a 12 round unanimous decision in Saudi Arabia. With mandatory defenses due with the IBF and World Boxing Organization at the same time, Joshua could lose one of the two belts if the sanctioning bodies aren’t able to agree which title defense comes first.
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn is trying to work a deal for him to defend against his IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev first, and then later this year defend against his WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk. While Joshua is busy defending against the 38-year-old Pulev, Hearn wants Usyk to face Dereck Chisora.
Hearn promotes BOTH fighters, by the way. It’s not a certainty that Usyk will beat the 36-year-old Chisora. Although Usyka is a former unified cruiserweight champion, he’s only had one fight under his belt at heavyweight, and that was against 38-year-old Chazz Witherspoon last October.
“I always said the belts do not represent me,” said Joshua to skysports.com. “I will stand as a champion, even if I have to give one up. It would give me an opportunity to face another world champion. If I give up a belt it creates more history and entertainment. If I have to, I’ll give it away – but I’ll get it back again,” said Joshua.
Given that Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) is also with Matchroom, Joshua will have an easy time setting up a fight against him if he vacates the WBO belt. Of course, Usyk will need to win the vacant World Boxing Organization belt. He would need to fight #2 WBO ranked contender Joseph Parker for the vacant WBO belt, and Hearn promotes him as well.
So essentially, Hearn has all chess pieces on the board, and it’ll be incredibly easy for Joshua to ATTEMPT to win back the WBO belt if he vacates it. He’ll still need to beat whoever ends up with the strap, but at least it’ll be simple for Hearn to set-up a fight against the guy that ends up with the WBO strap.
Hearn has continually been foiled in the past in trying to put together a unification fight between Joshua and WBC champion Deontay Wilder. A big part of the problem is Hearn’s decision to offer Wilder less than a 50% purse split for Joshua. Also, Hearn wasted time with considering a flat fee for Wilder. Obviously the fight could have been made between Joshua and Wilder 2 to 3 years ago if Hearn had offered the American a 50-50 deal.
Hearn is hoping that Wilder loses his February 22 rematch with Tyson Fury. If Fury wins the fight, Hearn believes it’ll be easier to deal with him, but that might not be the case. We’ll have to see.
Usyk did NOT look impressive in that fight in the least, and the match left more questions than answers about the Ukrainian’s ability to live in the heavyweight division. That doesn’t matter though. Usyk isn’t expected to beat Joshua due to his lack of size, power and speed. That’s good for Hearn and Matchroom, because Joshua is a big money maker. Usyk isn’t super popular despite having talent at the cruiserweight level.
Joshua only has a small handful of guys in the division that boxing fans are interested in seeing him fight. Usyk is one of them due to Olympic credentials and his success at cruiserweight. But what we saw from Usyk last October, he doesn’t look like he’s going to do well at heavyweight.