Saudi Arabian money has stalled heavyweight boxing and left Tyson Fury without a fight
The Briton and Oleksandr Usyk need a unification mega-fight to cement their legacies, but Fury needs another opponent in the meantime
The heavyweight division is in danger of grinding to a halt because of timing and money with Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder involved in a game of thrones in pursuit of the greatest riches, as ambitious Saudi Arabian promoters Skills Challenge have slowed down fight negotiations to a crawl.
Perhaps Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, put it best this weekend. “Hopefully these fighters will start thinking about making history instead of just more money. Besides, even more money comes with making history.”
Fury, the WBC champion, is seemingly headed towards an undisputed world title fight with Usyk – the WBA, IBF and WBO champion who has signed a multi-fight deal with the Saudi promoters – and if the Ukrainian defends his three titles against WBA mandatory challenger Daniel Dubois on August 26 in Poland, the big fight is there. A purse potentially, Telegraph Sport understands, which could be close to $150 million.
The money-game and the match-ups involving these four major players in the heavyweight division is reaching a critical point. There is little disputing that Fury is the No 1 in the division, but a fight with Usyk is needed to cement that legacy. Vice-versa for the man from Ukraine.
The biggest issue for Fury, however, is that he needs a summer fight. He would not want to fight Usyk after a year out. There are plans for an early September contest in the UK. There were plans for July, on two dates. There were plans too, of course, to fight Usyk, at Wembley Stadium on April 29, but the talks collapsed. Noises from Saudi Arabia, and the 70/30 split in favour of Fury over Usyk, would have had an influence.
But it is not a simple task to see the next Fury opponent on the horizon. Also on the menu, in the Middle East, in back-to-back weeks or even potentially the same card, there is the long-burning blockbuster of Joshua versus Wilder.
Moreover, and critically, Telegraph Sport can confirm that no formal offers have been sent or signed as yet for Fury – or Joshua – from the Middle East promoters. Their respective contests are still in negotiation.
“A blessing and a curse” is how George Warren, who has been negotiating for Fury, described the current situation, revealing that there have been talks with Saudi Arabia, disclosing that no formal contract or offer has yet been received. A blessing because the fighters can earn life-changing money in one contest, but a curse because it has scuppered the biggest fights happening for several months. Such is boxing, and indeed heavyweight boxing.
What are Fury’s options?
Money and timing are in play. The fact that Usyk signed a multi-fight deal with Saudi Arabia last weekend, at least from the outside appears to make the prospect of an undisputed Fury-Usyk fight more likely, yet Warren told Telegraph Sport it does not affect plans. Their focus is Fury’s next contest, while the talks with the Saudis continue.
There is clearly interest there from Fury’s team for him to fight in December, but the burning question is who the interim fight will be against. The viable WBC challengers are there: They include Andy Ruiz – whom the promoters told Telegraph Sport wants $20 million – far too high a purse to make the contest possible, plus Wilder, Joshua and Cuban Frank Sanchez. They are the top-four ranked WBC challengers.
Frank Warren will meet with the WBC’s president, Mauricio Sulaiman this week with Warren with Sulaiman, he expects, calling a mandatory defence. That could mean Sanchez, or Ruiz. Sulaiman landed in the UK on Sunday from his headquarters in Mexico.
‘Don’t make Tyson out to be the greedy person’
George Warren insists that the perception that may exist that Fury is being obstructive is mistaken, while Frank Warren was strident at the weekend, insisting that Fury is not to blame for the failed fights with both Joshua and Usyk. “All Usyk is interested in is getting a big payday and fighting for big paydays in Saudi Arabia,” Warren told this correspondent on Saturday night.
“I don’t blame him for that. I understand that but don’t make it that Tyson is the greedy person. You go to Saudi Arabia because they are going to pay a lot of money and that’s what it is. If you’re getting paid three or four times the amount of money, whether you want to call it greed, good business, or whatever, that’s not down to Tyson Fury. That’s the reason he didn’t want to fight Tyson Fury in the UK.”
Warren was referencing the potential Fury-Usyk fight on April 29 at Wembley Stadium, which did not materialise. They looked again at dates in July. “We offered him that fight over the summer, and we kept it very quiet, we haven’t banged on about it, and in the interim period Usyk never came back with anything.”
Fury then called for Joshua – again – two weeks ago challenging his British rival to an early September fight, also in the UK. It remains the richest fight in boxing. But Joshua has his own route to riches.
For now, they do not involve Fury, frustrating as that has been for British boxing fans, with a match-up teased three times. Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, says his charge will fight on August 12 – at the O2 Arena – against an as yet unknown opponent before fighting Wilder in the Saudi Arabia extravaganza in December. That too is a headline-grabbing, potential seat-of-your-pants fight. Hearn, however, disclosed on Sunday that they have not had a formal offer as yet from the Saudis either.
With time ticking, expect Fury and Joshua to have their summer fights confirmed in the next fortnight, and all being well, a mega-event, or events, back to back, in December featuring Fury and Usyk, for all the belts, and Joshua versus Wilder for no belts but bragging rights. This is heavyweight boxing. Anything could happen. Best laid plans.