Anthony Joshua’s prospective world heavyweight title clash against Wladimir Klitschko – pencilled in for Manchester on December 10 – appears to have hit the buffers.
Former champion Klitschko wants the WBA title to be on the line and appears unwilling to come to the UK to face Joshua without it.
Confusion has reigned in the heavyweight division since Tyson Fury voluntarily vacated his WBA and WBO crowns in order to recover from mental health issues, so here’s our attempt to clear a bit of it up:
Is Joshua v Klitschko going to happen?
With both sides now actively pursuing other options, it appears not – for the time being at least. The WBA is yet to rule, but it is increasingly likely it will instead sanction a fight involving Klitschko for its vacant title. In which case, Joshua would still defend his IBF belt in Manchester on December 10, against an as-yet unnamed opponent. If anything positive can be taken out of the mess, it is that, provided they keep winning, Joshua and Klitschko would be almost certain to clash in an even bigger unification bout at some stage next year.
Who will they fight instead?
Klitschko is apparently lining up a WBA title bout against Australian Lucas Browne – who beat Ruslan Chagaev for the same belt in March, only to be stripped and banned for six months for taking a banned substance. The next best bout for Joshua would be against unbeaten New Zealander Joseph Parker, who is the mandatory challenger for the IBF belt. However, Parker has indicated he is more likely to fight Andy Ruiz Jr for the WBO title in his home country. That leaves Joshua with a list of potential opponents that includes Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev, or even Liverpool’s re-emerging David Price.
Why does anyone care about alphabet titles?
Long gone are the days of a single world heavyweight champion. Now most boxing fans accept the lineal champion – until recently, Fury – as the rightful heir to the likes of Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. Fury’s decision to relinquish the belts has posed a major problem, hence all the jockeying for position. Whilst it is true that holding the WBA belt aloft will not make Klitschko any more (or less) of a champion, it does provide him with certain guarantees going forward. That said, the very fact that Klitschko seems to see more sense in a softer option is perhaps indicative that at the age of 40 he senses his skills beginning to slide.
Where does David Haye fit in?
Haye is expected to fight on the Joshua undercard and will hope to move into the frame for a shot at the champion. But there has been no talk of Haye stepping in to fill the space set to be left by Klitschko – perhaps because a Haye-Joshua bout is seen more as a summer stadium-filler. Now Haye may be attracted by other options: the WBO is still mooting a four-man tournament to determine its new champion. Alternatively, Haye has been linked (somewhat bizarrely) with a bout against reigning WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew.
And what about Deontay Wilder?
Wilder won the WBC title – on the face of it, the most prestigious of the lot – in January last year, and has defended it four times. But the big-punching American has remained remarkably quiet during all the unification talk, despite having every opportunity to step in and stake his claim for a unification bout. Wilder will perhaps be hopeful of enticing Klitschko to a big Las Vegas farewell fight next year. But any consideration of a potentially explosive showdown between Joshua and Wilder appears to remain a long way off.