Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder heavyweight title fight talks set to begin Thursday
The war of words between Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, the men who would be king of the heavyweight division, has been going on for quite some time and escalated in the days following the successful defenses of each’s share of the title over the past two weeks.
But on Thursday, it will be their representatives who will fight it out in Manhattan as British promoter Eddie Hearn, representing Joshua, and Al Haymon and Shelley Finkel, representing Wilder, meet in an attempt to come to terms for a unification bout sometime next year.
“This fight has to happen in 2018,’’ Hearn told RingTV.com on Wednesday at an open workout for Saturday’s card at Nassau Coliseum headlined by a 12-round middleweight bout between Daniel Jacobs and Luis Arias. “If not, you get into a situation where fans will lose hope and boxing doesn’t get to see the fight it wants to see. It’s the biggest fight in boxing. And besides, it’s boxing. Someone could get knocked off.’’
Hearn, who sold 78,000 tickets to Joshua’s unexpectedly tough IBF title defense against Carlos Takam at Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Oct. 28 and 90,000 tickets to the fight that put Joshua on the map, his TKO of Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium in April, said he is agreeable to holding the fight in the U.S., acknowledging that even crowds like those can’t match the dollars to be generated in Las Vegas.
But before you rush out to buy your tickets, know also that Hearn is also sending out mixed signals, hedging his bets with talk of a possible Joshua-Joseph Parker fight in the interim and quick to remind everyone that with just 20 pro fights on his record, Joshua’s career is “in an embryonic stage.’’
“He’s great but he’s just a baby,’’ Hearn said of Joshua. “He’s still learning. But he could be in a learning phase and still beat Deontay Wilder.’’
A Wilder-Joshua unification bout is generally considered to be the most attractive match in boxing today, pitting the crude but fearsome-punching knockout artist Wilder, who KO’d an overmatched and undertrained Bermane Stiverne in the first round on Nov. 4 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, against the more-polished but far less experienced Joshua, who in his most impressive performance got off the floor to stop Klitschko in 11 rounds on April 29.
After dropping Stiverne – the only man to have lasted the distance with him in 39 pro fights — three times in their rematch, Wilder, 32, threw down a challenge to the 28-year-old Joshua.
“I declare war upon you. Do you accept my challenge?’’ Wilder said. “I’ve been waiting for a long time. I know I’m the champion, I know I’m the best. Are you up for the test?”
This week, Joshua returned fire, telling BBC Sport: “Let’s present him with an offer, and see how they feel about that. If Wilder’s not making an offer, we’ll do it on my terms. And if you want to stay at home like a little girl, this king has no problem travelling to knock out the champion.’’
The genesis for the meeting between Hearn, Haymon, who is Wilder’s “adviser,’’ and Finkel, who is his co-manager, came about when Hearn was a guest on a boxing podcast on Monday, during which both Wilder and Finkel called in.
“If you’re serious about making the fight, it will happen,’’ Finkel told Hearn. The two continued their conversation off-air and set up an early morning Thursday meeting at an undisclosed Manhattan restaurant. Hearn and the fighters will be holding a press conference for Saturday night’s show at a midtown Manhattan theater later in the morning.
Speaking at the Mendez Boxing Gym in Manhattan on Wednesday, Hearn said he was eager to strike a deal for the fight, but also said he thought both fighters needed to raise their profiles in order to maximize their earnings for the bout.
“If they present us with the right terms, we could make the fight (Thursday),’’ he said. “But I think this fight is much bigger in the summer than it is in March and it’s much bigger in the fall than it is in the summer. If I were a sensible guy I’d say this fight makes more sense in a year to 18 months from now. But the fans want it now, so we have to weigh everything.’’
Hearn also said that if the two camps were unable to come to terms, he might consider matching Joshua with unbeaten Brooklyn heavyweight Jarrell (Big Baby) Miller, who he also promotes, in March. Miller is fighting Poland’s Mariusz Wach in a 10-rounder on the undercard.
“Miller is a guy that I would look at as a perfect first opponent in the U.S. for Anthony Joshua, and probably here in New York,’’ he said.
Or, Joshua could face Parker, the WBO titleholder from New Zealand who is unbeaten in 24 fights with 18 KOs. “That’s a dangerous fight, but it’s boxing, isn’t it?,’’ Hearn said. “That’s why we have to make the fight sooner rather than later. That’s why I say we have to make it in 2018.’’
The talk of other possible opponents for Joshua makes Finkel skeptical of Hearn’s sincerity to discuss terms for a showdown with Wilder.
“I’m just not confident he really wants to do this,” said the veteran boxing dealmaker. “I think we’re meeting because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed that he didn’t even try.”
If Hearn has cold feet, it isn’t due to Wilder’s most recent KO. Like most observers, Hearn said he learned little from watching Wilder’s brief bout with Stiverne.
“I thought he does what he always does,’’ Hearn said. “He’s very reckless but he’s a very big puncher. The fight was a mismatch but at least he dealt with it in that fashion rather than dragging it out. So at least you have to give him props for that.”
Still, Hearn seemed to lean toward the belief that both Joshua and Wilder could benefit from having at least one more interim bout before going to a unification showdown.
“Neither guy’s profile in the States is huge yet,’’ Hearn said. “Right now, I think that fight could do a half-million pay-per-view buys but to be really successful we have to do a million-plus. To do that I think we need a collective plan to build up both guys.’’
Finkel believes the fight can do 1 million pay-per-view buys without a long build-up.
Asked if there was a possibility of Joshua and Wilder fighting separate opponents on the same card, Hearn said, “I don’t think Wilder’s ego could handle fighting on Joshua’s undercard.’’
Still, the British promoter seemed resigned to doing the fight on Wilder’s turf.
“I could sell 900,000 tickets to that fight in Wembley, but it only seats 90,000, and even so, I think you could generate as much money as you could in Las Vegas,’’ he said. “Really, Joshua is earning eight times more than Wilder per fight, but he is a champion, too, and we mustn’t disrespect him. He does have value, so we have to find somewhere between fantasy and reality to make the fight happen.’’
One possibly solution could be a two-fight deal, with one fight being held in the U.S. and the other in the U.K.
“Wilder wants to fight in the U.S. and we’d rather fight in the U.K.,’’ Hearn said. “This a superfight and these guys need each other. So why not do it two, or even three times?’’
First they have to make a deal to do it once.