They say ‘a week is a long time in politics’ but you can stop the clock when it comes to heavyweight boxing. Following a topsy turvy 2023 when Tyson Fury refused a 70/30 split with Oleksandr Usyk, pulled from a ‘done deal’ bout with Andy Ruiz Jr and had to climb off the canvas on a torrid October night against boxing debutant Francis Ngannou, February 17th, 2024 was set to right the wrongs of the past. In a Riyadh ring, Fury and Usyk would put everything on the line, size against speed, brawn against brains, and we would have our first undisputed heavyweight champion since the great Lennox Lewis. But fate and farce had other plans.
From the moment the fight was announced, there was a significant scepticism voiced by fans and fighters alike. George Groves and Carl Froch both stated their belief that Fury would pull, and boxing forums were on fire with speculation that, somehow, The Gypsy King would scupper the event. In the build-up to the big night, Johnny Nelson had voiced serious concerns that Fury was ‘getting turned over’ in the gym and a question mark hung over Jai Opetaia’s departure from the training camp with mixed reports that he had dropped Fury in sparring. In the end, it was another sparring session that finally put a halt to proceedings with Fury sustaining an injury, allegedly from a head butt. The released video clip has done nothing the fan the flames of controversy as many fight fans simply don’t buy it. They said it would happen and it did.
To describe the events surrounding the February 17th fight night as farcical could be deemed an understatement. For a bout described as ‘The biggest fight of our era’, even securing an undercard has been a laughable process at times. Only a few weeks out from the event, half the card was yet to be confirmed and the proposed bout between Bakhodir Jalolov and Luis Ortiz was on, it was off, it was a maybe and, at the time of cancellation, we had no idea who would turn up on the night. Fighters were being added with days to go and, for such an occasion, it simply reeked of apathy. When you compare it to the Joshua v Wallin undercard, it was chalk and cheese and that fact alone raised red flags about the event.
So where does this furious farce leave us now. With The Gypsy King out for months, possibly June/July or even as late as the Autumn, it appears that Usyk will face Hrgovic in defence of his IBF title. As I’m sure you know, last minute efforts were made for that bout to headline the February 17th event as a late replacement but, alas, it was not to be. Should Usyk get past that challenge, he may be forced to fight the winner of Zhang v Parker in defence of his WBO belt and there’s still the question of his WBA mandatory. Should he be stripped of a belt, we can probably forget about an undisputed champion for years to come.
The WBC have been incredibly flexible with Fury but, following recent events, they should deem him Champion in Recess and schedule a bout for an Interim champ. In doing so, we could still see an undisputed king later in the year. As it stands, Anthony Joshua and Frank Sanchez would be the top contenders and, if the Council moved quickly, its possible that Sanchez could replace Ngannou and face AJ for the interim belt in March. Be honest, who wants to see Joshua and Ngannou anyway? But I strongly suspect that won’t happen and I’ll tell you why.
The biggest fight in the heavyweight division is The Battle of Britain. Unfortunately for Usyk, Zhang, Sanchez, Ruiz Jr and the rest, money talks and the money fight is most certainly Fury vs Joshua. Regardless of recent poor form from both men, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren can sell that fight all day and the Saudi’s will bankroll a record payday. They could do a two-fight deal, Riyadh and Wembley, that would see an extra 100M grace their bank accounts and they could retire without taking on a dangerous opponent in years. Since he fought Usyk, Joshua has faced Franklin, Helenius and Wallin with Ngannou (in his second pro bout) next month. Since Wilder, Fury has faced Whyte, Chisora and Ngannou (in his first pro bout). You couldn’t make it up.
I don’t believe that Joshua was ever going to fight Wilder or that Fury was ever going to share a ring with Usyk as the powers that be in boxing have bust a gut to keep The Battle of Britain on track. For fight fans, the sweet sound of boxing is the chime of a bell. For the suits, it’s the ching ching of PPV and, at the end of a long and disappointing day, that’s the game if not the sport.