This excerpt first appeared in this week's issue of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which releases each Thursday morning at Fightful.com
As the year comes to a close, we’re looking at multiple unification fights taking place in the heavyweight division in 2018, with Anthony Joshua being the center of attention among the sport’s biggest boxers.
Right now, the biggest heavyweight match would be a unification fight between Joshua, the WBA and IBF heavyweight title, and WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. That fight had been in the making for months now, but the main issue boils down to when the fight could take place, the money given to Wilder and if Wilder would be willing to take a tune-up fight beforehand. Some of these issues have varying degrees of importance, but all have contributed in their own way in preventing that fight from taking place any time soon.
The current plan for Joshua is to unify titles with WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker sometime in March. Nothing has been set in stone, but there is a soft deadline for when the fight should be signed. If Joshua vs. Parker becomes a reality, expect an announcement to come in between mid-December and early January. No venue for the fight has been decided, but some possible candidates include Wembley Stadium, Millennium Stadium, St. James Park, London Stadium and Etihad Stadium. Joshua vs. Parker will likely be shown on Showtime as the network internally prepares for the likely Joshua vs. Wilder fight in the second half of 2018.
Again, this doesn’t mean the Parker fight will be official. If negotiations hit a snag, then there are a couple of contingency options for Joshua to take. Some of these names include Kubrat Pulev and Dillian Whyte. Those names would still be decent fights, but it would seriously delay the chance of four of the five major titles being unified.
I say five titles because there is still the WBA “regular” championship. Manuel Charr won the title by defeating Alexander Ustinov to win the vacant title, putting another layer into the WBA’s heavyweight title mess. The WBA has made it its mission to cut down the amount of world titles per weight class to one. Unfortunately for the WBA, the heavyweight titles can’t be cut to one because Charr has been ordered to defend his title against Fres Oquendo. The WBA has owed Oquendo a world heavyweight title for years, but many issues have prevented Oquendo from getting his title fight.
The WBA’s “regular” heavyweight title has been a complete joke and non-factor for years, but because of the Oquendo situation, that title continues to exist. Despite Joshua having the WBA “super,” WBO, IBF and WBC titles when it is all said and done (or Parker or Wilder for that matter), they wouldn’t be holding all the major world titles. Eventually, one of those three fighters, as the WBA “super” champion has to fight the WBA “regular” champion, about as close to a death sentence for any television network that has to air a fight involving either Charr or Oquendo.
Now the potential wild card in Wilder’s fight future is Luis Ortiz. Ortiz, still suspended by the WBA and no longer in play to fight Joshua, could still fight Wilder if the champion allows it. In a recent ruling, the WBC made its final decision on Ortiz, abstaining from suspending Ortiz and instead giving him a $25,000 fine as well as reinstatement to the WBC rankings. Ortiz remains the biggest name in the WBC rankings for Wilder to take, but given Wilder’s feelings regarding drug testing and cheaters, it’s a bit hard to envision Wilder openly accepting a fight against Ortiz.
But with the fact that Joshua might be fighting Parker next, Wilder has a number of options open for him. The three likeliest names he will fight are Whyte, Ortiz and Jarrell Miller. All three options offer a hard-hitting slugfest for Wilder.
As for the WBO champion, if something were to happen that would prevent Parker from getting his unification fight against Joshua, there is a chance he could take on Wilder in another unification fight. It wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world to see a Wilder vs. Parker fight in the first half of 2018. Back in January, Wilder did say he would have liked to fight Parker at some point to unify the WBO and WBC belts.
One thing seems to be certain: the heavyweight division will continue to unify titles in 2018. Wilder, Parker and Joshua are all set for big fights next year, which will help the revitalization of the heavyweight division in the aftermath of Wladimir Klitschko’s long reign as the unified champion. It’s still a tall order for the WBO, WBA, WBC and IBF heavyweight titles to be unified in just one year, even if it technically takes just two fights. Only six men in history has been deemed the undisputed world heavyweight champion, but none of those champions has held more than three governing bodies’ belts, but with the junior welterweight getting a one, true undisputed champion earlier this year, anything is possible.