Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and the blame game

Anthony Joshua
Paul Macleod
Sharing the view from America, Jack Hirsch gives his verdict on who is responsible for the Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder negotiations breaking down

THE parking fine with the accompanying late fee arrived in the mail. It had me baffled since I had not seen a ticket left on my car in the first place. I traced the date and time to when I was attending a Boxing Writers Association of America’s awards banquet.

That evening I paid to have my car parked in a busy Manhattan lot. I handed the keys to the parking attendant. From what I could later surmise, the attendant in trying to clear space had temporarily moved my car back onto the street where it was then ticketed by the police. Rather than take responsibility and do the decent thing by informing me of their error and paying me the cost of the fine, the ticket was removed meaning I would have no knowledge of receiving it until much later.

Because I had kept my parking stub and receipt, I was sure the ticket would get dismissed when I presented it to the judge along with my not guilty plea. “As you can see, it was not my fault,” I argued. The judge agreed, then upheld the verdict. Her premise was simple, that I had authorised the parking lot to be in charge of my car that evening and because of that was responsible for how they mishandled it. Which brings us to Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, and the unacceptable delay in them signing to meet.

Everyone assumes that it is inevitable they will fight the other, probably sometime in 2019, but don’t be too sure. We have been down this road before with an American and British boxer who clearly had separated themselves from the rest of the heavyweight pack, but never did meet as professionals. In that case it was Lennox Lewis desperately trying to entice Riddick Bowe into the ring, willing to take money well below his market value to make the match happen. Bowe, who was completely subservient to his manager Rock Newman’s wishes, talked big such as Joshua is now doing with Wilder, but never held firm and demanded it take place. Newman understanding the threat that Lewis represented went so far as to have Bowe rescind his WBC belt and throw it in the trash can when the sanctioning body made Lennox the mandatory. What was intended as an act of defiance was in reality one of cowardice. Lewis continued to chase Bowe with no success.

History is repeating itself once again with Joshua and Wilder holding the heavyweight division hostage. However, this time it is the American hounding the British star who has given complete authority to his promoter and de facto manager Eddie Hearn to call the shots for him. There are a few small differences though.

For one, Bowe and Lewis had previously met in a high profile fight when they fought in the super-heavyweight gold medal match in the 1988 Olympics. Lewis prevailed by stoppage. Bowe would have had his ultimate chance for revenge had he fought Lewis with the heavyweight title on the line, but Newman’s influence was greater than Riddick’s pride.

Secondly, Bowe was in a more enviable position to be called heavyweight champion than Joshua and Wilder are. Although opinion was split who the better fighter was, Bowe’s championship claim was clearly stronger, having won it in the ring by defeating the linear ruler Evander Holyfield long before Lewis had ever fought him.

Lewis participated in big fights in England, notably against Razor Ruddock and Frank Bruno, but during that era the nature of the business was not quite what it is today. Joshua can make astronomical sums by staying at home. Certainly you can’t fault Hearn for trying to milk that for as long as he can with opponents posing a substantially less risk than Wilder. The Alabama heavyweight lacks the level of support in the United States that Joshua enjoys in England.

And that is the biggest argument that Hearn presents in putting off a Wilder fight, saying his man brings more to the table financially. On that point Hearn is absolutely right, but it is utterly distasteful when he grandstands by saying Wilder does not want to really box Joshua. If that were the case Team Wilder would not have put a guaranteed $50 million offer on the table with an additional percentage if Joshua boxed their man in Las Vegas. Hearn countered with a two fight deal for Wilder, first a match with his mandatory WBC challenger Dominic Breazeale for five million, or a match against Dillian White for approximately seven and a half million. Wilder would also be free to pick the location of the contests.

Hearn’s offer is more than fair for those fights, but Wilder would be obligated to box on the new streaming network he has set up. Because Wilder has been a staple of the Showtime network he understandably is remaining loyal to them.

History tells us that an event of the magnitude of a Joshua-Wilder fight is so lucrative that the pie is big enough for everyone to get a nice slice. Joshua-Wilder would inarguably be a blockbuster event, pairing two big punchers with perfect records fighting for the undisputed world heavyweight championship. Add in their charismatic personalities and ability to sell a fight, and you are talking about a massive amount of revenue it would garner. Just between the fighters themselves there could be somewhere in the $100 million range to be split if not substantially more.

Fans are often naïve. They are told what Wilder has earned in past fights, then are informed by Hearn what he is offering and feel it should be accepted.  Considering Wilder’s contribution to such an event, he would be selling himself short if he took Hearn’s offer. Working off of a percentage comparable to what Joseph Parker did with Joshua (a reported 62 ½% -37 ½% split) would make much more sense. That would more than double Wilder’s take over the 15 million Hearn has proposed. Hearn has offered a flat fee which would probably end up being in the 10-15% range for Wilder when all was said and done.

The Joshua camp reportedly has been insistent that a Wilder match would have to be fought in England.  Wilder would probably accommodate them if necessary, but ideally would like the fight to be in Las Vegas. Traditionally fighters who want home advantage are willing to offer their opponent a little more money to do so. That was how promoter Frank Warren got Kostya Tszyu to come to England to defend his title against Ricky Hatton.

Anthony Joshua v Deontay Wilder

After defeating Wladimir Klitschko in such dramatic fashion, Joshua looked well on his way to becoming a global star, but his momentum has slowed a little with two lacklustre performances against Carlos Takam and Joseph Parker. Supporters of Joshua dismiss the lack of excitement to him still being a young fighter who is learning. Sorry, but the public has every right to expect its world heavyweight champion to produce performances that are commensurate with the title he holds. Wilder has done that of late. His last two outings have been electrifying, stopping Bermane Stiverne and the division’s Boogeyman the feared Luis Ortiz. What was once a fight that would have clearly favoured Joshua is now thought of more as an even money proposition.

Hearn claims that Joshua as a multiple belt holder has a greater claim to the title than Wilder who only holds the WBC version. A counter-argument can be made that Wilder’s WBC version is more prestigious than any of the other sanctioning bodies belts in Joshua’s possession.

It took five years to make the Floyd Mayweather–Manny Pacquiao match. Had it happened sooner it might not have generated quite the record numbers it achieved, but it would have produced a better and more meaningful fight being the men would have been closer to the peak of their career’s than the end of it.

Hearn’s recent strategy of scheduling Joshua’s next two fights in Wembley is arrogant and a convenient way to avoid Wilder. Povetkin gets the September date, then Wilder is offered the April one far below market value. Hearn is counting on Wilder rejecting the flat fee. However, there is precedent for things not going as expected.

After Leon Spinks dethroned Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton was the consensus number one contender and the WBC’s mandatory challenger. Promoter Bob Arum wanting to do the Ali rematch instead, lowballed Norton with an offer of $200,000 that he expected and wanted him to reject.  Arum could then place the burden on Norton, clearing the way for Spinks to box Ali. Insulted as he was, Norton was so confident in his ability to defeat the still raw Spinks that he accepted. Nevertheless, Norton did not get his shot at Spinks.

If Wilder is as confident of defeating Joshua as Norton was of Spinks, perhaps he should take Hearns’ offer, but it is not that simple. Hearn is a smart promoter who would be looking to protect his investment, meaning Wilder would still be tied into him afterward for either a Joshua rematch or for other fights. This understandably would not be appealing to Wilder who has other network and business affiliations.

Last but not least, there is the Tyson Fury factor. You can make a case that he, not Joshua or Wilder is the true champion based on him dethroning Klitschko and not having been defeated since. Fury is an attractive alternative and if we are to believe him, a Wilder match is in negotiations at the present moment. It is a mouth-watering clash in which the winner might emerge with a stronger championship claim than Joshua in the court of public opinion.

My verdict is in and Joshua has been found guilty of avoiding Wilder. Yes, as the judge told me with my parking ticket I do believe that Joshua wants the fight, but the man he has put in charge of his career does not, at least for now.

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