THANKS to Tyson Fury taking himself off social media last week, much to the relief of all involved, the noise surrounding an Oleksandr Usyk showdown momentarily quietened. In boxing, that generally means that things are progressing towards a conclusion. It seems that conclusion is now upon us.
BN understands there will be one last ditch effort today (Wednesday March 22) from Queensberry Promotions to save the event after Usyk’s promoter, Alex Krassyuk, insisted negotiations had ceased. In short, the most important fight in boxing is a long way off with April 29 now only five weeks away. So what will soon occur will be one of two things: One, the contest will miraculously be rescued and that aforementioned noise will morph into the sweetest sound we’ve heard since the opening bell was struck ahead of Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao in 2015; or two, the far more likely scenario, the parties will admit defeat, Fury and Usyk will look elsewhere for opponents, and this latest tale will be even more anticlimactic than Mayweather-Pacquiao turned out to be in reality.
Mayweather-Pacquiao should have taught the sport a valuable lesson: All good things don’t come to those who wait. Though I don’t believe Floyd versus Manny was a complete waste of time, it unquestionably came too late. So much so, that even after Mayweather won convincingly, we were none the wiser about who was the better fighter when both were at their best. If Fury and Usyk – who over the last week have had the contracts in their hands – can’t agree terms now, we could soon be asking the very same question about them.
Mayweather and Pacquiao provided further lessons. After years of broken promises, unworkable demands and what at the time felt like eternal frustration, they resolved all their differences shortly after bumping into each other at a basketball game. One suspects that if Fury and Usyk could engineer a similar meeting, rather than seek attention on social media, the process would be somewhat simpler. Only the boxers can agree to fight, after all. And only the boxers can save this now.
Team Usyk is already insisting there will be no return to the table. There have been concessions made on both sides, but several sticking points remain, notably the finer details of the rematch clause. After a stressful day (Tuesday, March 21) of Zoom meetings, it was thought a deadline of 48 hours had been imposed. But overnight, Team Usyk signalled enough was enough.
The World Boxing Association (WBA) are growing impatient too. They have given until April 1 for an agreement to be reached. Why are the WBA setting deadlines? When one fighter holds multiple belts – and Usyk holds three – the alphabet bodies have an unwritten agreement where they take it in turns for the boxer in question to defend their title against their mandatory. And it’s now the turn of the WBA and Daniel Dubois, a fighter whose rise through the ranks since a 2020 loss to Joe Joyce is simply unjustifiable. Let’s not forget that there isn’t a single sanctioning body in place that demands the best fighters fight their closest rivals. And without one overruling authority demanding the right fights occur, it is increasingly difficult to ensure they do.
Regardless, by April 1, it will be too late. By then, with tickets to put on sale, sponsors to keep happy, crowd management to be put in place (police, transport etc), television scheduling to be set and venues to be allowed the time to plan effectively – not to mention hectic media commitments for the fighters to adhere to – the contest will be unworkable. Particularly when the budgets are so tight this cannot afford to overspend nor undersell.
There will be an enormous sense of deflation if the next outings Fury and Usyk undertake are not against each other. Simply because we’ve been here so many times before. There are surely only so many semi-finals that can be played before the paying public get so bored, they lose all interest in the process.
A logical step at this point would be to push the fight back a couple of months. So much ground has already been covered, so many points agreed. But Team Usyk have confirmed they will not make these concessions again. Usyk will not accept 30 per cent of the purse, for example, if the contest is in play for later in the year. The thought of starting all over again won’t appeal to anyone. And once the blame game gathers pace – already the Ukrainian’s team is in full flow – it will make any handshaking down the line all but impossible, particularly once a spitting mad Fury gets busy with his F-bombs.
Is there any hope at all? Let’s put it this way: There have only been a handful of contests this century that could attempt to rival Fury-Usyk in terms of importance and interest, but there has not been a single comparable bout that has left it so late in the day to conclude business.