By: Jonah Dylan
Deontay Wilder put himself back in boxing headlines on Tuesday night when he announced that his next fight would be against Luis Ortiz, as has been rumored for some time. It wasn’t particularly shocking news, but it is interesting that he announced it during fight week for the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz heavyweight world title fight on Saturday.
The announcement means Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) is essentially tied up for the rest of the year and possibly even further, as many insiders believe he’s headed for a fight with Adam Kownacki (19-0, 15 KOs) if he gets past Ortiz. Setting aside our obvious disappointment at even more uncertainty regarding a Joshua-Wilder fight, here’s a look at where Joshua could go next, assuming he gets past Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs) on Saturday.
I don’t think anyone really wants to see this fight, but Pulev (27-1, 14 KOs) is the IBF mandatory, having earned that spot when he beat Hughie Fury last fall. Sanctioning bodies can be random with when they decide to enforce mandatories, but even if the IBF doesn’t do anything, it might make sense for Joshua to get this out of the way so he can focus on bigger fights later.
Pulev, currently dealing with controversy for his post-fight antics after knocking out Bogdan Dinu in March, has a solid record and is a former European champion. His only loss came in 2014 when he was knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko in what’s been his only world title shot.
He’s on a seven fight win streak and you could certainly make the case he’s deserving of a title shot. Promotionally, he’s with Top Rank, but Bob Arum would probably have no problem sending Pulev to fight Joshua on DAZN and taking his cut of the earnings.
Realistically, this is the fight we should get. Whyte is the next guy after Joshua, Wilder and Tyson Fury, and he clearly deserves a title shot more than anyone in the division. He had a chance to fight Joshua this time around but turned it down, and he seems much more interested in fighting Wilder than Joshua.
Whyte (25-1, 18 KOs) is slated to fight Oscar Rivas in July, which is a legitimate challenge. He’s also rated as the #1 WBO contender although they haven’t officially named him the mandatory for Joshua. Him and Fury have been clamoring about fighting each other for the WBC Diamond belt (which doesn’t really make any sense), but that fight is also unlikely because Fury is with Top Rank and they seem to have all sorts of plans, not of which involve Fury fighting anyone good.
Whyte lost to Joshua in the fight before Joshua won a world title and has never had a title shot. Because he already fought Joshua, the hype for this fight would be fairly low, and Joshua would still be considered a huge favorite. But given the options, it makes sense to give the most deserving guy a chance.
This is the fight I’d like to see, but it’s also unlikely for a few reasons. Usyk – the former undisputed cruiserweight champion who still has three 200-pound belts – is moving up to heavyweight and was supposed to debut last weekend against former world title challenger Carlos Takam. An injury delayed that, and he’s not expected to fight until later this year.
Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) probably wants to take at least one fight as a heavyweight to get his body right before getting a world title shot, and Joshua will probably want to fight sometime in the fall. Usyk would have to forgo that interim fight and go straight for the title, which would be a daunting move. If he beat Joshua in his first heavyweight fight, you’d have a tough time arguing he isn’t the best fighter in the world.
It’d be a fascinating fight. We don’t know how Usyk’s power will carry up to heavyweight, but he’s an unbelievable boxer and would surely frustrate Joshua with his movement. If he pulled off anything close to the masterpiece he worked against Murat Gassiev, he’d have a good shot of beating Joshua on the scorecards. Of course, Joshua still has ridiculous power and could flatten the theoretically smaller Usyk at any point, which is what makes this such an intriguing fight.
It isn’t that hard to see this fight happening sooner rather than later. Usyk – still the WBO cruiserweight titleholder – could become the WBO mandatory if he vacates the belt and decides to move up. Usyk and Joshua are also both with DAZN, so there wouldn’t be any promotional hurdles toward making the fight.
Matchroom is theoretically grooming Michael Hunter for an eventual shot at Joshua, and they could kind of plug him in whenever. Rivas could throw himself into the mix if he beats Whyte, but he’s also with Top Rank so that fight would be unlikely. The other guys rated near the top of the division – Alexander Povetkin and Joseph Parker – already lost to Joshua. The division has fireworks at the top, but isn’t very deep beyond that.
Of course, Joshua still has to get past Ruiz. If he somehow loses, he’ll probably be headed for an immediate rematch, which would delay everything even further. Maybe we’re all underestimating Ruiz and he has a real shot at winning. Or maybe it’s all just a ploy to sell the fight. We’ll know on Saturday night.