Boxing

Tyson Fury ordered to defend against Dillian Whyte

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Faint hopes of Tyson Fury facing Oleksandr Usyk look they’ll have to be abandoned for the time being. Matt Christie considers the implications for the heavyweight division and the problems of the rematch clause

TYSON FURY, the world heavyweight champion, has been ordered by the WBC to defend that title against their interim belt-holder, Dillian Whyte. It means any faint hopes of Fury facing his closest rival, Oleksandr Usyk, are surely over for the time being.

The heavyweight division has been a source of genuine excitement for several years and Fury-Whyte may well follow that theme. But it’s difficult to think of another weight class – or indeed any sporting competition – that has taken so long to establish one universally recognised leader. It has now been more than 22 years since Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield, back then regarded by everyone on planet earth as the best two in the division, settled their differences.

We’ve had a few near misses since then. Vitali Klitschko and Corrie Sanders were arguably the top two when they fought in 2004, though Chris Byrd nor John Ruiz would have agreed. Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye might have ended the drought in 2011 were it not for Vitali Klitschko being ranked by most as No.1. More recently, Anthony Joshua and Wladimir went to war in 2017 but Klitschko had not fought since losing to Tyson Fury in 2015 and, more pertinently, Deontay Wilder was active and dangerous. And, last year, Fury and Wilder collided while one and two in the TBRB rankings but Joshua, after beating Andy Ruiz in a rematch, wasn’t exactly out of the equation.

Today, the top two in the division stand without dispute: Fury, the world champion, and Oleksandr Usyk, who soundly outpointed Joshua two months ago to pick up the other three (WBA, IBF, WBO) sanctioning body belts. Joshua almost immediately triggered his right for a return and with Whyte then in the midst of a legal battle with the WBC to secure his shot, hopes of a long-awaited ‘final’ slowly evaporated.

In the last six years we have seen rematch-clauses and sanctioning body rulings galore with some admittedly resulting in thrilling affairs. But each complication – from the moment Fury and Wladimir began negotiations for their aborted sequel in 2016 – have held up what should have been the natural order of things. With the leaders only fighting twice a year, all it takes is a solitary upset to put things on hold for 12 months.

Boxing News understands that thirty-million quid is the figure that Joshua would have accepted, prior to the WBC’s ruling, to step aside and essentially allow Usyk to challenge Fury. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, even those in the lucrative Fury business.

For context, £30m is three times Joshua’s reported guaranteed fee for fighting Usyk in September and approximately double what he likely earned once his chunk of pay-per-view revenue was added to his purse.

In short, Fury-Usyk won’t happen next, unless three highly unlikely things occur: Fury relinquishes his WBC belt to allow Whyte to fight for the vacant belt; Usyk agrees to fight the “Gypsy King” without that title on the line; and Joshua can be persuaded to give up his right to a return with Usyk for a more realistic figure. Fury has made his loyalty to the WBC clear. Usyk wants to fight for all the belts and Joshua, whose demand of £30m highlights his desire to take on Usyk again, won’t settle for anything less.

Tyson Fury
Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

Team Fury and Team Whyte have 30 days to agree terms before it is put out to purse bids. It is understood that March is currently the most likely date with Cardiff and Manchester under consideration as host cities. The Middle East and the USA could step forward, too.

Frank Warren, who was trying to get Fury-Usyk over the line, made his feelings about the Whyte case clear to Boxing News on Monday.

“He’s the biggest cry baby in the world,” Warren said of Whyte. “People forget that he was offered something like £5m to fight Anthony Joshua in 2019 and he turned it down. Then he got knocked out [by Alexander Povetkin] when he was [WBC] mandatory. All this stuff about him being hard-done by isn’t true… But I have no problem making that fight. We will negotiate with Whyte but he has to be realistic.”

Whyte knocked out Povetkin in an immediate return before pulling out of an October date with Otto Wallin with injury. Were it not for Fury’s three-fight rivalry with Wilder, Whyte – who has beaten Robert Helenius, Lucas Browne, Joseph Parker, Dereck Chisora, Oscar Rivas and Povetkin in bouts regarded as WBC eliminators – would surely have had his chance long ago.

It shouldn’t be this complicated. Nor this absurd.

So here we are again. Waiting and hoping that 2022 can provide what 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 could not. Fury is now 33, Joshua is 32, Usyk is 34 and Whyte is 33.

Fury-Whyte and Usyk-Joshua II are both enticing battles, no question. But will the division ever get the all-conquering showdown its rich history deserves? Perhaps, but there is the very real possibility that Fury, Usyk, Joshua and Whyte will all be past their best before we can possibly get there.

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