THE plan is for Anthony Joshua to fight Oleksandr Usyk in front of 70,000 fans in London on September 18 or 25. That contest, for the WBO, IBF and WBA heavyweight titles, is close to being finalised.

Joshua had been expected to box Tyson Fury for the undisputed heavyweight crown in August. But negotiations for the megafight collapsed. Wisely Joshua has pushed back his next fight date to the following month. He has learned from past experience. For the first loss of his career, he had gone straight into the bout with a replacement opponent, Andy Ruiz, who duly shocked the champion in a stoppage defeat. Joshua avenged that loss but it’s a mistake he does not intend to repeat.

Promoter Eddie Hearn explains, “AJ’s just taken his time to reset and reset camp and do things properly. Rather than going early or mid August, let’s just go mid or end of September. You’ve been sparring for three or four months thinking about Tyson Fury, now you’ve got a fighter with a completely different style. When we did the same thing with Andy Ruiz with just a few weeks and got a few sparring partners in, it was a big mistake. We all learned from that. So I’m pleased.”

Hearn declines to lament the months lost working on a fight that didn’t happen. “You’ve got to do what you feel is right at the time and we were all trying, from our side anyway, with a common goal of making that fight so we had to exhaust that,” he said.

Fury instead will complete a trilogy with Deontay Wilder on July 24 in Las Vegas. Joshua’s challenger Usyk doesn’t have Wilder’s one-punch power but he is a deft, skillful southpaw, an Olympic gold medallist and undisputed champion himself at cruiserweight. “That’s what makes it a great fight – the risk,” Joshua’s promoter added.

The world’s two top heavyweights aren’t fighting each other and, in different ways, are both taking dangerous fights next. That could upset hopes of matching them later for all four major belts.

Anthony Joshua
Mark Robinson

“That’s the danger of the Fury fight, the same thing [with the risk from a new opponent coming in]. It’s six weeks from Saturday. So no regrets,” Hearn said. Even with the recriminations after the Joshua-Fury negotiations fell apart, a Wilder victory could result in just as fraught an aftermath. “It weren’t easy last time,” said Hearn, recalling when he tried to negotiate a Joshua fight with then WBC champion Wilder in 2018. That was another contest which didn’t get made.

“But we don’t care who it is,” Hearn continued. “We just want the undisputed fight.”