Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and how boxing shot itself in the foot again

From a custom-built stadium in the desert to “dead in the water”, promises rarely mean so little or meet such sudden ends as in boxing. It is perhaps the sport’s greatest pitfall that the drama which dominates all big fights often prevents them from ever coming to fruition. Promoters scheme, subterfuge reigns and scores are settled without a punch being thrown. Never believe a bout is truly happening until both fighters have finished their ring walks, or else they might trip over their laces.

The world’s governments have not often dared stand in Saudi Arabia’s path, but judge Daniel Feinstein took no heed of the lucrative persuasion. By ordering Tyson Fury to honour his binding contract and fight Deontay Wilder for a third time, a civil court ruling has scuppered the sportswashing of a nation – after all, boxing has always lived by its own set of laws. And so after months of enduring trash talk, false dawns and tired deadlines, the only truth that remains is that an all-British heavyweight bout between Anthony Joshua and Fury has, at least for now, never looked less realistic.

If it feels like a record spun a thousand times, perhaps, boxing’s best trick is to adjust without skipping a beat. Joshua is the aggrieved party in this furore, having always set out on a path to become undisputed champion, but negotiations for a defence of his WBO belt against mandatory challenger, Oleksandr Usyk, are already underway. “Tyson Fury … the world now sees you for the fraud you are,” Joshua said in a rare outburst on social media. “You’ve let boxing down. You lied to the fans and led them on. Used my name for clout not a fight. Bring me any championship fighter who can handle their business correctly.”

Fury, meanwhile, in typical fashion, has only readjusted as far as moving from one vein of profane taunts to the next. “[Wilder] had a boxing lesson the first time, humiliation,” he said. “Then you had an absolute destruction. I hate to think what he’s gonna get the next time. I’m gonna have two sets of knuckle dusters in my gloves this time, p****.”

They are two intriguing fights in their own right that offer true jeopardy. Usyk, an Olympic gold medallist, possesses tremendous speed and fleet footwork for a heavyweight, a style that will certainly test Joshua’s endurance, although questions remain over the Ukrainian’s power.

Wilder has been derided and maligned since his loss to Fury in February 2020, largely due to the half-baked excuses he offered afterwards, ranging anywhere from glove-tampering to the weight of his outfit. His record is rather more honest, though, and for all the American’s crudeness, he remains the most explosive puncher in boxing. Fury’s mocking and scoffing cannot disguise that danger, having risen so spectacularly off the canvas in the twelfth round of their first bout.

It is hardly inconceivable that either Joshua or Fury fall short. That may not ruin the prospect of them facing one another, but it would certainly remove some of the gloss. It is a rare feat for two heavyweights to reign at their peaks from any country, let alone the UK, but when common sense should prevail in boxing, fate has a habit of conspiring against it. There is a reason fantasy fights have been such a popular concept in the sport since Riddick Bowe infamously dropped his WBC belt into a dustbin three decades ago as negotiations for a bout against Lennox Lewis sunk into much the same debris. As time passes and promoters become more embittered and exasperated, a historic fight to savour between Joshua and Fury feels evermore doomed to a similar path of ugly machination.

In the meantime, lewd soundbites will continue to breathe life into the lost August date in Saudi Arabia. Argued predictions will continue to take precedence over reality. Boxing’s circus storms on in its eternal state of irreverence, having tripped itself up again long before the laces were tied at all.

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