IT WOULD be nice to write about something other than the failure of Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk to agree terms, but, having followed the saga closely in recent weeks, it seems only right to report on the bitter end.
Where the blame lies is perhaps irrelevant and frankly difficult to decipher when reporters are not privy to every moment of negotiations, irrespective of how good they claim their access to be. The only information we have is what has been relayed by representatives of each boxer. And if the two boxers couldn’t agree to fight, it was always unlikely they would then agree on who was at fault for that disagreement.
What we do know is that on Sunday March 19, when Frank Warren’s twitter account suggested a positive announcement was nigh, both parties felt that significant progress has been made to the point the contest was all but set for April 29 at Wembley Stadium. Production crews were in place, press conference dates had been agreed, the order of the ringwalks had been sorted out – Fury was to walk last on the condition he didn’t leave Usyk waiting around – and the rematch clause was in the contracts.
But that final point was where everything came crashing down. If Usyk won, and if the fight was again set for the UK, he wanted a 70/30 split in his favour while Fury was asking for 50/50. Neither would budge. As we went to press last week, we were told there were two days left for that final detail to be resolved but, it must be said, there wasn’t a lot of optimism from either side. On Wednesday March 22, after waking up to an email from Team Usyk stating they were pulling out of negotiations, Queensberry Promotions made a last-ditch attempt to salvage the unsalvageable. At approximately 7pm, Boxing News received a call to confirm the contest was officially off.
As we had suggested would happen in previous weeks, both parties then blamed only the other side. Team Usyk, who had agreed to take only 30 per cent of the purse for the first contest, suggested they had been met with obstacle after obstacle throughout the process. It’s doubtful that Fury’s social media posts, where he taunted the opposition for how they’d been ‘played’ when agreeing to that aforementioned 30 per cent, assisted the process. Team Fury, meanwhile, took a swipe at the Ukrainian, suggesting his desire for a 70/30 split in the rematch was unrealistic, particularly in Fury’s homeland where the ‘undisputed title’ would not be at stake (at least two of the four sanctioning bodies had stated they would not stick around for a rematch, so titles would be declared vacant).
Both fighters were ultimately governed by money. That, to a degree, is understandable. Both are nearing the end of their careers and it’s feasible that a rematch between the pair could have been the last contest for each and therefore their final retirement payout. However, what is harder to accept is the system – or lack of – that allows the boxers, and only the boxers, to call the shots. And when two multi-millionaires are squabbling over more millions, it’s always going to be difficult to get any kind of agreement in place.
Frankly, both boxers are to blame. But when they operate in a sport that invites, but never demands, the best to fight the best, then it’s little wonder these mega-fights are so agonisingly rare, particularly in the heavyweight division where earnings are eye-wateringly high, even for substandard title bouts.
Furthermore, is it time for the rematch clause to be removed from negotiations altogether? Can we not go back to simpler times when we waited to see if a rematch was necessary before even mentioning it? Due to rematches being scheduled, obliged, or not agreed in recent years, the following ‘undisputed’ fights could not occur: Deontay Wilder-Anthony Joshua; Fury-Joshua; Wilder-Andy Ruiz Jnr and, of course, Fury-Usyk.
Which brings us to that infuriating notion of undisputed. Why does the sport continue to collectively label the coming together of four belts as the holy grail when it only screams to the world our shortcomings? If we didn’t have four belts, then there would be substantially less wiggle room at the negotiating table and substantially more clarity on who deserved the champion’s share. There is a strikingly obvious correlation between the ‘four-belt era’ and the amount of best versus best matchups falling out of bed. We have all created this mess by empowering the sanctioning bodies for too long. Yes, I know this is how boxing ‘works’, but that doesn’t mean we should be too scared to instigate change now it’s abundantly clear it doesn’t work at all.