In the land of heavyweight promises the fighting giants are often left dreaming and hoping that they get the chance they deserve and the fight the public demand.
In the next three months the finest heavyweights in the world will fight each other in Las Vegas, an indoor venue in Manchester and outdoors at a soccer stadium in North London. There are a preposterous seven so-called world heavyweight championship belts available in the three fights.
The British trio of Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte all hold various versions of the world title and all fight before the end of July; Whyte is out first in May against Russian hardman Alexander Povetkin, Joshua follows in June against the Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev and then it is back to Las Vegas for Fury against Deontay Wilder III in July. It is a glorious sequence.
Whyte has had a difficult year since a drug test anomaly last June – he has now been cleared to fight. He was at the time of the test the interim WBC heavyweight champion and the harsh truth is that Whyte should have fought Deontay Wilder for the WBC title at some point in 2018.
Whyte fights Povetkin in Manchester on May 2 and he has been told that he must fight for the full WBC title before the end of February 2021; that means he would have been the WBC’s number one contender for well over two years, closer to three. That is crazy. Both Povetkin and Whyte are Joshua victims; Whyte was stopped and dropped in seven rounds back in December 2015 and Povetkin bludgeoned in seven rounds outdoors at Wembley Stadium in September 2018.
However, Whyte and Povetkin mixed together makes a hard, definitely brutal fight. There is a real edge to it, they are both getting close to that dreaded saloon, just a defeat or two away from the door: Whyte will lose his position, his right to fight the champion and Povetkin, who held the heavyweight world title in 2011, is painfully aware that this will be his last chance if he loses. Povetkin is 40, has lost just twice in 38 fights and is still dangerous. Whyte is the early betting favorite, with Povetkin installed at +310.
Whyte, remember, had a fight last December, was nearly 30 pounds overweight and looked bad – Povetkin still has a few dangerous rounds in him. But, I pick Whyte, weighing somewhere near 250 pounds, to stop Povetkin before the end of round seven in a war.
It appears Joshua waited patiently for negotiations for a Fury fight to begin at the end of February and when they collapsed before they had started, he announced the first defence of his second reign against Pulev. The pair were meant to fight in October 2017, but Pulev withdrew less than two weeks before the first bell. It was a dangerous fight then and now it is a tricky fight because Joshua has to win and win impressively.
In 2017, he just had to win, but the struggle now is on the outside of the ropes for the hearts and minds of the boxing public; Fury beat the beast that is Wilder and Joshua is fighting a tough veteran – the pressure is on. It is, trust me, a popularity contest.
Joshua has so far won eight of his nine word title fights and is desperate for a showdown with Fury. Pulev, meanwhile, was stopped by Wladimir Klitschko in their 2015 championship fight, will be 39 when the first bell sounds and has distance wins over Hughie Fury and Dereck Chisora in the last few years. The Klitschko loss is the only defeat in 29 fights on Pulev’s record.
Pulev is rugged, reliable, brave, has a good chin, but his chances have diminished since he pulled out of the first fight. Joshua is a much better fighter now than he was in October 2017. Pulev needs to be aggressive, to force Joshua to fight, to try and take Joshua back to the night of unforgettable disaster in New York last April when Andy Ruiz pulled off the crazy shock.
However, four of Pulev’s last six fights have gone long and he is simply not busy enough to beat Joshua on points. He is still, what we like to call in boxing, a handful.
Joshua is the understandable betting favorite – he was a bigger favourite against Ruiz in their first fight - and Pulev is priced as wide as +700 for their fight on June 20. The danger in this fight exists because of that night in Madison Square Garden when Ruiz refused to lose and Joshua forgot how to win; Pulev has three or four dangerous rounds before he is, much to the delight of about 80,000 at the new Tottenham Stadium, stopped in about eight hard rounds. Joshua needs to make a statement and he will.
And that leaves part three of the Fury and Wilder saga. A draw, a destruction and now a third fight that has divided the boxing community. Fury knew Wilder would ask for the third fight and Wilder has simply dismissed what everybody saw when they pair last entered the Las Vegas ring.
Wilder has blamed his ring entrance outfit. He has settled the unrest in his corner. He still denies Fury hurt him. He has acted like he was not destroyed in seven, bloody and painful rounds. It is, arguably, boxing’s greatest ever act of denial. And, it has to said, it has started to work.
The third fight is scheduled for the same MGM ring on July 18, the WBC belt is the prize, the winner must fight Whyte by next February, the winner wants to fight Joshua by the end of the year, possibly in Saudi Arabia, and the rest is just the usual boxing mayhem. Wilder has promised a different Wilder on the night, there is talk about illegal punches, bold talk of a fourth fight and other crazy talk.
Fury fighting the same way, with the same conviction, determination and focus will do the same again. If Wilder can move, throw punches and not fall over his feet as he is pushed back, then a different fight might just take place.
Fury is the favorite and those odds will shrink by the first bell. Wilder is the type of boxer that can never, ever be written off. Fury to repeat is the sensible bet, but the training camps and their endless whispers might just flick the switch and change the betting on a remarkable fight in a wonderful trilogy.