The same week that EU representatives issued a last call to the UK over Brexit, another ailing transnational negotiation finally collapsed when Deontay Wilder walked away from a deal with Anthony Joshua and Eddie Hearn. Back in March, both Joshua and Wilder had followed their separate title defenses against Joseph Parker and Luis Ortiz by affirming their enthusiasm for fighting each other. But after weeks of protracted negotiation, they’re heading in separate directions.
Still, unlike his country’s increasingly humiliated emissaries, for whom a decision fueled by post-imperial nostalgia and economic discontent has transmogrified into an inescapable nightmare, Joshua has quickly been able to source other options. Alexander Povetkin, who was last seen caramelizing David Price on Joshua’s undercard, appears set to step into the breach left by Wilder later this year. Cynics will suggest that this was always Joshua’s likeliest next option: Povetkin is a WBA mandatory whose not inexpensive introduction to British fans against the hapless Price was hardly accidental. Moreover, one of Joshua’s USPs is the authority of his three belts: as Wladimir Klitschko showed for so many years, it pays to hang on to them. Another heavyweight titlist doesn’t necessarily water down the product but it does mean leaving money at the table—Joseph Parker was able to extract far more from Joshua’s promoter through the VAT of a title belt than he could have otherwise managed.
On the other hand, Wilder appears to have gambled on the logic of a popular saying of the UK’s beleaguered Prime Minister: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” In the case of Brexit, the UK’s current project of national self-sabotage, any number of economic and political forecasters insist that this is certainly not the case. For Wilder, it remains to be seen. Although the American suggested in a baffling submission to Twitter that he was prepared to take “the lowest offer in boxing history for a unified title bout,” he’s since blamed inadequate provision for a rematch as well as overreach by Hearn for the failure to make the fight. Joshua, whose Twitter posts oscillate between faux-zany lifestyle advice and Under Armour product placement, has been mostly silent.
Dear boxing fans pic.twitter.com/VGhU4DHxQ6
— Deontay Wilder (@BronzeBomber) June 28, 2018
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For Joshua, Wilder is undoubtedly the best fight that can be made in terms of competition; yet on the financial side, a difference in degree is not really a difference in kind. After reportedly earning between £13 million and £20 million against Parker, who arrived in Cardiff with no one predicting an upset, Joshua is already guaranteed life-changing money against whomever he fights next. Wilder’s options, by contrast, are comparatively poor. Despite legitimizing his claim to be a serious heavyweight by deboning Luis Ortiz in scintillating fashion in the tenth round of their fight in March, Wilder’s relative sporting marginality reflects the increasing wilderness in which American boxing finds itself. Barry Hearn, the entrepeneurialist chairman of Matchroom Sports, was not wrong when he ventriloquized the American’s predicament this week on Sky Sports News: ‘“I’m the biggest name in America but I’m earning less than a tenth of what Anthony earns per fight.”’
As Hearn knows, this makes their meeting on April 13 next year more likely than not. Still, in a sport with as many variables as boxing, prevarication is never without risk. Fighting Povetkin increases the chances that a Wilder bout is banjaxed, not diminishes them. Although the Russian probably possesses a higher reputation than his talents warrant—the robotic Marco Huck, by no means anyone’s idea of a heavyweight, was unfortunate not to sneak a decision victory over Povetkin as long ago as February 2012—he is both a decent puncher and not without guile. While the lackluster Price is no way to warm up for a bout with Joshua, even if the Liverpudlian certainly proved game on the night, Povetkin showed considerable agility in getting inside his taller opponent, before terminating the bout in gruesome fashion.
Once again, moreover, Joshua has to get up for a night on which the stars will shine nowhere near so brightly as they did in 2017 when he fought Wladimir Klitschko. Since marmalizing the Ukrainian at Wembley in unforgettable style, he’ll have been matched with Carlos Takam, Parker, and Povetkin – hardly bad fighters, but by no means either a murderer’s row or household names. Although Joshua’s brand of revamped nineties-style Cool Britannia precludes admitting to regret or vexation—“You know I don’t believe the hype,” Joshua reminded his Sky Box Office interlocutor almost immediately after his unremarkable points win over Parker—it’s hard to feign coolness when the fights are really less interesting. The bouts with Takam and Parker were characterized throughout by a general lack of tension; by not whetting Joshua’s appetite sufficiently, the chances of him being suddenly shocked go up, rather than down. It’s difficult to be overenthused about Povetkin, but he’s very much a live underdog.
Until then, fight fans can only hyperbolize about a bout that will likely look even more cartoonish than its negotiations. Although Joshua has strayed from his usual habitus of seek-and-destroy in recent fights, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll have any other option against Wilder, whose particular gift it is to marry an almost total lack of fundamentals with enormous physical potential and a monstrous right cross. Against Takam and Parker, unmoved by the fire that came back at him, Joshua was sufficiently uninterested as to tarry; against Wilder, who is lethally scattergun, that isn’t really an option. Before that, however, Joshua must take care of business against Povetkin. At least he’s more likely to succeed than Brexit.