His silence has been deafening. But somewhere in the Deep South there will have been a rumble, an awakening of Deontay Wilder when he heard his name uttered with such irreverence.
The news that Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury have agreed financial terms for two undisputed heavyweight championship fights in 2021 came with a caveat – “there is a lot to overcome in the meantime,” said promoter Eddie Hearn.
The biggest hurdle to jump is the man who, four months ago, was feted with awe and fear as boxing’s hardest-ever puncher.
Wilder has kept his head down since losing an alarmingly one-sided WBC title defence to Fury in February.
Since suggesting that his elaborate ring-walk costume knackered his own legs before a punch was thrown, Wilder has stayed quiet in Alabama and undergone bicep surgery (for the second time in his career, notably).
He has not shot back at Joshua and Fury’s big news.
Perhaps a long period of self-reflection is what Wilder needed to rediscover his old self. Perhaps Joshua and Fury’s plans to meet will stoke the fire in his belly to scupper it.
He has said one major thing of note since losing to Fury, when asked about suggestions that he could willingly step away from his contracted right to a third fight: “Why wouldn’t I want it?”
Wilder has big questions to answer, not least the toughest that any boxer can face: how will he respond to a humiliating and painful defeat? Joshua did it successfully, Fury has never had to. Wilder has made worrying excuses, been through another surgery, but the true test of his heart is still to come.
Fury knows that Wilder is a serious obstacle to the Joshua fight, exclusively telling Sky Sports: “It only takes one punch off Deontay Wilder.
“Still a very dangerous opponent, still a very hungry man, who is coming in there to prove his worth, to prove he can come back and become a two-time heavyweight champion.
“More dangerous than the last fight, for sure.”
Joshua takes a dimmer view, exclusively telling Sky Sports: “I always believe that when you go to war, you can’t have one weapon in your arsenal, which was his right hand.
“Once that was taken away from him, which Tyson Fury did, I’m not going to go into tactics, but he was able to annihilate Deontay Wilder and expose him for some of his weaknesses.”
Dillian Whyte is another serious roadblock on the path to Joshua vs Fury.
He remains the mandatory challenger to Fury’s WBC belt, having been that organisation’s top challenger since November 2017 without ever receiving his opportunity.
“There is a big period of time where Whyte should get his shot at the title,” promoter Hearn told Sky Sports. “That’s important to us.”
But Fury’s US promoter, Top Rank’s Bob Arum, told Sky Sports: “We will be talking to the organisations to eliminate mandatories, or to postpone them all for at least one year.”
Whyte is due to challenge for the belt by February 2021 which the WBC confirmed is still the case. Fury’s next fight against Wilder is planned for November or December 2020. A distinct possibility is that Fury must battle past two of the world’s top four heavyweights before meeting Joshua midway through next year.
The WBC tweeted on Wednesday that they wouldn’t apply the ‘franchise’ tag to Fury as a means for Whyte to instead challenge somebody else for a vacant belt. Vasiliy Lomachenko and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez are currently WBC ‘franchise’ champions but seemingly that won’t be repeated in the heavyweight division.
“We’ll give Whyte a beating,” Fury told Sky Sports. “Why not?”
Whyte, who will next face Alexander Povetkin at a behind-closed-doors UK venue, insists he bettered Fury in sparring and said: “No one is mentioning me as they are scared of fighting me. One hundred per cent I beat Fury. He knows it and that’s why he doesn’t want to face me.
“We have history. He has run in the past and he’s running scared now.”
Oleksandr Usyk is a lurking threat to Joshua who is also dead-set on spoiling the dream fight with Fury.
The undefeated and glory-laden Usyk is expected to have his second heavyweight outing against Derek Chisora but he is already the WBO mandatory challenger to Joshua’s belt.
“WBO mandatory should be next,” the governing body’s president Paco Valcarcel tweeted on Thursday. Usyk’s status will create a scheduling conflict because, like Whyte, he is owed an opportunity.
Joshua and Usyk both won gold medals at London 2012 – the Ukrainian has since become undisputed cruiserweight champion and a pound-for-pound rated phenom.
Usyk told Sky Sports about Joshua and Fury: “I want to fight both.”
His manager Egis Klimas said: “I believe Anthony also wants this fight. Good fighters want to fight good fighters. Anthony sees a good challenge in Oleksandr and wants to go there.”
Joshua previously told Sky Sports about Usyk: “Line them all up. You know what it is with me, you look through my resume, I take them all on.
“I will be a well-respected heavyweight in this division, knowing that I never ducked a challenge, but Usyk, Whyte, Fury, Wilder – they’re all on my hit list, for sure.
“Usyk is a WBO mandatory challenger and if Dillian didn’t step up, Fury didn’t step up, I would take on Usyk without a shadow of a doubt.”
Joshua, before any of those, will take on his IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev whose only defeat in 29 fights came against Wladimir Klitschko. Pulev is the first hurdle on a lengthy path towards Fury.
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