Boxing needs Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury to slug it out
It has been a pretty good year for boxing, but it was made all the more special by Tyson Fury's return at the close of the year against Deontay Wilder at heavyweight in another controversial feast for fans of the sport to debate. Truth is, heavyweight boxing delivers like no other division.
Battles between 18 stone men, knockouts and power, are the lifeblood of the big nights, big paydays, and draw mainstream interest.
Say what you like about any number of fights involving the likes of Ukrainians Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, or brilliant Mexicans and even some of the best scraps ever seen in the lower weights, but the thrill of the best versus the best in heavyweight boxing is the breath-snatcher, the must-see.
The division is hot right now. There is an argument that any one of the three top heavyweights - Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder - has a claim to the throne. But we need validation. We need the fights. But boxing is never that simple. It runs to its own irregular beat.
Without Wilder-Fury late in the year, boxing would not be bulging with such anticipation for 2019. But if the world gets to witness Anthony Joshua defend his three belts against one of those two other huge names in the sport, to crown an 'undisputed' king of the blue riband division, that would make it a vintage year.
The combat arena is not just about the heavyweights, of course, and there is even the prospect of Mexican star Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez coming to the UK to face Callum Smith, the world's No 1 super middleweight, at Anfield - as teased by promoter Eddie Hearn - but there are two fights next year, above all others: Wilder-Fury and Joshua against either Fury or Wilder.
The Wilder-Fury teams, of course, are locked in discussions for a rematch next year after the controversial draw on December 1 in Los Angeles. But it would certainly be a travesty if Joshua-Wilder, or Joshua-Fury stretched into 2020.
Unfortunately, if egos, television companies, trainers, promoters and money men see it that way, we could face such a miserable extension.
Frank Warren told me a fortnight ago that he hoped the Wilder-Fury fight would be signed in January, and there is already talk of the fight's date challenging the April 13 booking of Wembley Stadium when Joshua is expected to fight next, opponent TBC. There are even whispers that the date, and venue, of Joshua's next walk to the ring could indeed change.
"It's imperative [that Joshua fights Wilder or Fury] in 2019," said Hearn on Friday, revealing that options would stay open for Joshua. For six months, talks for Joshua-Wilder this year broke down. "It takes two to tango. I mean these guys [Wilder's team] have done a great job pretending that Anthony Joshua doesn't want to fight them. Anyone who knows Anthony Joshua knows it couldn't be further from the truth. But if they don't want to fight him, there's not much we can do.
"We're willing to talk about the fight, we're willing to negotiate, but they're not even willing to do that. So, it's frustrating. Anthony isn't the type of fighter who will go on Instagram and moan all day about how someone doesn't want the fight. Maybe that's to his detriment, sometimes, because it's not his style. Does Wilder want to be the undisputed heavyweight champion? He keeps saying one face, one name, one champion [of the heavyweight division]. Well then, sign against us and fight for the undisputed championship."
The likely path, though, is Wilder-Fury No 2, in the spring. If Fury defeats Wilder when they meet again for the WBC title, Hearn is adamant that an all-British heavyweight clash would be their objective. "Of course, Fury will be the target. We're not chasing Wilder, we're fighting for the undisputed championship. Whoever has that WBC belt is a target for Joshua.
He has three belts. He wants to unify the four belts. He doesn't care if it's Fury. You never know, we might even have a better chance of making the fight if it's Fury."
It would be a major failing in 2019, Matthew Macklin, former world title challenger and manager to several boxers, told The Telegraph. "It would be very disappointing if we don't see the two huge heavyweight fights involving the best three, in 2019. Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are the three top heavyweights. That's undisputed. We don't really know who is the best. For me, Fury won the fight against Wilder. And on the other boot, Joshua has done everything asked of him, so we can't knock him.
He stopped Klitschko in a really exciting fight. But we definitely need to see Joshua fight one of those two in 2019."
Former world heavyweight champion David Haye agrees with Macklin, but sees another scenario. "For me, it depends on whether Wilder and Fury do actually have a rematch.
"Right now, the No 1 on paper is Anthony Joshua. He has the majority of the world belts, he has no draws, he's undefeated and he's hungry. October or November is realistic. They said for many years the Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson fight couldn't happen because they had different broadcasters. One was on Showtime and one was HBO. But they figured it out and showed the fight on both networks. It can be done. No matter the obstacle. If both fighters and both teams want it, it can be done."
The biggest lesson Hearn says that he carries from 2018 into 2019, after talks rumbled on and disappeared over the cliff, is that "boxing is a mad man's business" but that next year "we have to make more bigger fights than ever".
That means champions meeting champions. "We want more unified fights, we managed to make one undisputed fight in 2018 which was Usyk-Tony Bellew.
We'd like to make another one in 2019 which is Joshua-Wilder."
Or Joshua-Fury. Both fights would be the most lucrative fights in British boxing history. But don't bank on it. Boxing has a nasty habit of delivering the unexpected. And not always in the right way.
Sunday Indo Sport