With his victory over Joseph Parker last Saturday, unified boxing heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua is one belt away from becoming undisputed heavyweight champion. But it may be one fight too far away.
The only belt missing from AJ’s collection is the WBC belt which currently belongs to American Deontay Wilder. Wilder and Joshua have gone back and forth for a couple of years now, saying they want to fight each other. However, until now, both sides have not sat seriously on the discussion table to make the fight happen.
There is a good reason why only a few boxers are able to unify boxing’s four major alphabet belts. It’s because there are too many obstacles involved, both in and out of the ring. Such is the case with Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. Not only do both champions come from different parts of the globe, they are run by different promoters who have different views of making the fight and making money out of the fight.
Wilder’s camp has said that they are open to fighting in the U.K. But before they agree to fighting in the UK, Wilder’s team wants to compare the figures between fighting in the UK and fighting in Las Vegas. On the other hand, Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter has insisted that their fighter doesn’t need to go outside the UK because he already makes seven to eight times more than Wilder in his home country.
PPV and Viewership Numbers
According to Hearn, Joshua vs Klitschko did 1.5M PPV buys in the UK alone. Those are great numbers, considering the bout didn’t have a fighter surnamed Mayweather. But the reason why that bout sold that much was because Joshua was fighting Klitschko. So while Hearn’s figures may be correct, they may not be solely Anthony Joshua numbers.
Joshua’s title defense against Eric Molina did just 450K buys while his title winning performance against Charles Martin came up with 500K buys. On the other hand, AJ’s grudge match against domestic rival Dillian Whyte did 420K buys. Still those numbers are good because according to Eddie Hearn, a 250K buy used to be a ‘solid touch’ back in the old days.
Deontay Wilder meanwhile hasn’t been in a PPV fight although some analysts believe that he is now ripe and ready for that part of his boxing career. Wilder’s most recent title defense against Luis Ortiz had impressive viewership numbers in the U.S. According to a report from Forbes, Wilder-Ortiz averaged 1.1M viewers and peaked at 1.2M viewers. That’s despite the fact that the fight was aired toe to toe with MMA’s UFC 222.
Wilder-Ortiz was the first boxing bout to reach an average viewership of 1M since 2015 when Wilder defeated Bermane Stiverne to become the first American born boxing heavyweight champion since Shannon Briggs in 2007. That bout attracted 1.24M viewers on the average, making it the network’s fourth highest rated fight ever.
Expectedly, Joshua isn’t the same kind of draw as Wilder in the U.S. market. The Klitschko-Joshua bout averaged 659,000 viewers in the US with Rounds 5 and 6 peaking to 687,000. According to Showtime, that is reportedly the largest afternoon audience ever recorded by Showtime. But then again, it was because Anthony Joshua fought Wladimir Klitschko.
Prior to the Klitschko bout, Joshua’s last three fight averaged about 350,000 viewers only. That’s roughly just one half of the averaged viewers for his April 2017 bout with Wladimir Klitschko. After Klitschko, Joshua fought Carlos Takam in October 2017. That bout averaged only 340,000 viewers per Showtime, while its replay did 367K viewers only.
Stadiums or Arenas
But while the venue won’t matter for the PPV ratings, it will matter for the gate income. Deontay Wilder has been fighting in 10K venues ever since and while packing such venues are pretty good, it’s not even half the number of live fans that Anthony Joshua draws.
Joshua’s fight with Wladimir Klitschko was held at Britain’s famous Wembley Stadium. And for that bout, a mammoth crowd of 90,000 watched the fight, making it the biggest post-war crowd in British boxing history by tying the 90K audience for the 1939 fight between Len Harvey and Jock McAvoy at White Stadium.
An estimated 78,000 fans watched Joshua’s next fight at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. That number made the fight the most watched indoor fight in boxing history, beating the 63,315 that watched Muhammad Ali vs Leon Spinks at the New Orleans Superdome in 1978.
Fighting in the same venue against Joseph Parker last weekend, Anthony Joshua packed Cardiff once again and a similar estimate of 78,000 fans watched AJ add Parker’s WBO heavyweight belt to his growing collection.
It’s fighting in these London stadiums that make it hard for Hearn to let Joshua leave the U.K. Unless it’s in the Cowboys Arena in Dallas where Manny Pacquiao once packed 50,994 to watch him defeat Joshua Clottey, the venues in Las Vegas don’t have the same capacity as that of U.K.’s football stadiums.
For example, the T-Mobile Arena, which is probably the premier boxing or MMA venue today, packs only 20,000 for boxing matches. That’s not even half of what the crowd will be if say the fight will be held at Wembley Stadium.
The A- Side
In December, Deontay Wilder said that a fight with Joshua should be a 50-50 split between two equal champions. However, based on Joshua vs Parker which was supposedly 65-35 in favor of the Brit, Eddie Hearn will never give Wilder the 50-50 split that he’s demanding for.
While Deontay is right that he and Joshua are equal champions, Joshua has the track record of being a blockbuster in the bank. AJ’s PPV numbers and stadium audiences are a proof of that. Meanwhile, Wilder hasn’t fought in a PPV bout before and hasn’t packed a crowd half as what Joshua has. In fact, he’s never made more than $2.1M, which he earned in his last fight with Luis Ortiz. Anthony Joshua made a career high £18m against Joseph Parker. That’s roughly $25M when converted to American money.
Whether the fight will be in Las Vegas or the U.K, it’s Anthony Joshua who will bring the numbers. AJ is the type of star whose fanbase is so strong that they will likely follow him to Las Vegas if he chooses to fight there. If he fights at home, fans will come in sheer volume or buy PPV at home.
Wilder’s got the viewership numbers but these don’t necessarily translate to PPV buys. And outside his home state of Alabama, Wilder isn’t the America’s favorite boxing champion. The likes of Terence Crawford, Errol Spence and even Keith Thurman can also claim the same title. Will Wilder’s fans travel with him to UK? Most probably not.
Given the difference between the two, it’s pretty obvious that Anthony Joshua is the A-side in the negotiations. And while Wilder has his reasons, he must make realistic demands from Joshua and Eddie Hearn. The Brits may sound trash but they have the numbers to back up their talk. Wilder can back up his mouth with his punching power but not his drawing power. Unless he does so, then we may not see this fight happen because of yet another potential obstacle.
Aside from all of the above, a barrier to the Joshua vs Wilder unification bout are the champions mandatory challengers. While the WBC has previously stated that it will fully support a showdown between Joshua and Wilder, it’s likely that they are going to make Joshua’s domestic rival Dillian Whyte as Wilder’s mandatory challenger.
Whyte is coming off a brutal knockout of former WBA champion Lucas Browne. Whyte has been the WBC’s #1 contender since beating fringe contender Robert Helenius last October. Eddie Hearn has been pushing for Wilder to fight Whyte as a so-called audition bout for Anthony Joshua but Wilder said in the past that ‘Kings don’t chase peasants’. However, should the WBC mandate him, Wilder will have no choice, leaving a Joshua bout hanging in the air.
Joshua himself isn’t short of mandatory challengers. During the Joshua-Parker undercard, Alexander Povetkin made short work of David Price to retain his WBA and WBO intercontinental titles. Likewise, the IBF has recently ordered a final title eliminator between Kubrat Pulev and Dominic Breazeale with the winner becoming AJ’s IBF mandatory challenger.
Then there is also the possibility of Anthony Joshua fighting former champion Tyson Fury. The undefeated Fury was the man who dethroned Wladimir Klitschko but since his iconic win over the Ukrainian, he has been out due to personal troubles. Fury has talked about fighting Joshua and reclaiming the belts which he says belong to him. That fight would be a huge money fight in the UK and it’s possible that could happen.
All these possible opponents would delay the fight that the world has been waiting for. Boxing is one fight away from witnessing the next undisputed heavyweight champion, and the first heavyweight to unify four major belts. But with these mandatories, we are at a risk of having one of either Joshua or Wilder drop one belt - either lose it in an actual fight or relinquish it due to these mandatories. If that happens, the vision of having an undisputed heavyweight champion soon will remain a vision.
Who Is Better?
Surely, Wilder’s win over Luis Ortiz has increased his stock. It’s even looked at as the better win as compared to Joshua’s victory over Joseph Parker. Make no mistake, Joshua is the better boxer than Wilder and that’s by a mile. But Joshua didn’t look extraordinary against Parker.
Yes, sometimes the fans forget that Parker was undefeated and a world champion. He was no easy opponent for Joshua and wouldn’t have been any easier for Wilder. Still, it’s the drama and excitement that fans want. They got that from Wilder against Ortiz. They didn’t get it from Joshua vs Parker.
Joshua’s camp and Wilder’s critics have pounced on Wilder’s thin resume as his chief weakness. They talk about Wilder fighting bums and that Ortiz is the only legitimate name in his resume. And Luis Ortiz is 40 years old already.
But what about Anthony Joshua? Didn’t he fight bums too before fighting Wladimir Klitschko? His supporters say that he is the universally recognized heavyweight champion because he beat one of the greatest in Klitschko. But wasn’t it Tyson Fury who first beat Klitschko?
And was Klitschko already unable to pull the trigger against Fury? Anthony Joshua may have beaten Wladimir Klitschko. But wasn’t Wlad already 41 too and just a shell of himself when he scored a knockdown against AJ and took the Brit to 11 rounds?
Both camps can say what they want about their fighters. But given Joshua’s skill and Wilder’s power, this is a pretty even match-up. Wilder has the skill of a sparring partner, that’s for sure. But he’s got the heart of a lion and the punching power of a god. If there’s one man out there who can beat Anthony Joshua, it’s Deontay Wilder.
Joshua beating Wilder is easy. If AJ can fight at a distance and avoid Wilder’s power, the American is no match for him. Wilder would be lucky to win a round against Joshua, knockouts aside. But the thing is, Wilder is so wild that he’s going to land. And remember, this is heavyweight boxing, all it takes is one punch.
Will It Happen?
Given these factors and obstacles, making the Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder fight is a lot easier said than done. Politics alone has made this fight almost impossible to make. Personally, I don’t think that it’s a matter of it being held in the U.K. or the United States. Wherever this fight takes place, it’s going to be a hit.
But just like in any sport, home court advantage is important and in this case, it may be one of the most crucial factors for both fighters. AJ loves to fight before 70,000 screaming Brits. Wilder wants to be nearer to home as possible. What champion would want to fight on hostile territory?
As for the financial side, Wilder’s camp should be more realistic. Even Conor McGregor took a backseat to Floyd Mayweather Jr. And look how much McGregor made. So being the B-side may mean earning lesser than the A-side. It doesn’t mean though that you’re going to earn peanuts. Just ask McGregor.
If Mayweather vs Pacquiao finally happened after eons, there is no doubt that this one is going to happen too. But let’s hope that this doesn’t happen when one belt has been taken away or one of them is no longer champion. It’s got to be champion vs champion. Someone’s ‘O’ has got to go type of fight. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
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