Unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua will defend his WBA (Super), IBF and WBO titles against former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London on September 25. While this was a successful showdown, it’s not exactly the fight fans were expecting earlier this year. Rather than a mega fight to determine the undisputed first four-belt era heavyweight champion with Joshua facing WBC champion Tyson Fury, a litany of twists led us to Joshua-Usyk.
How did we get here?
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Usyk switches to heavyweights
After Oleksandr Usyk became the undisputed cruiserweight champion by defeating Murat Gassiev in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight final in July 2018, the Ukrainian pulled off a title defense against Tony Bellew four months later with a KO in the eighth round and effectively cleaned up the division. With nothing more to prove, Usyk decided to jump to the land of giants and chose Chazz Witherspoon as his first opponent as a heavyweight. The fight took place on October 12, 2019 and Usyk dominated his opponent, scoring a seventh round TKO.
Joshua loses and regains unified titles
As Usyk secured his first heavyweight victory, Joshua was back in the gym after suffering his first loss as a professional to Andy Ruiz several months earlier. Joshua would reclaim his titles by avenging his knockout loss with a unanimous decision victory over Ruiz on December 7, 2019, in Saudi Arabia. As for Fury, he was preparing for his rematch with Deontay Wilder after the two fought for a draw in December 2018. Fury defeated Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin in 2019 and the rematch with Wilder was scheduled for the 22nd. February 2020.
Wilder imposes third fight with Fury, suspends unchallenged plans
Following Wilder’s dominant shutdown by Fury, plans for a contractually agreed third fight in July 2020 were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Wilder’s recovery from surgery. This opened the door early in negotiations for an undisputed title fight between Joshua and Fury. On June 11, 2020, Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn announced that Fury and Joshua had agreed to a two-fight deal “in principle” on the condition that Joshua would win his fight against Kubrat Pulev and Fury returning to Wilder’s challenge. But with Wilder’s fight evolving, Fury grew tired of waiting for a new date for the trilogy fight and announced that he had “moved on” after the fight failed in 2020.
Meanwhile, Usyk became Joshua’s No.1 WBO title contender by winning a unanimous decision over Derek Chisora in October 2020. There were questions as to whether Usyk would step down to allow Joshua and Fury to fight for the undisputed title. The possibility of Usyk facing Joe Joyce for the interim WBO title was discussed but never came to fruition.
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Joshua held his end of the bargain by scoring a meteoric knockout of Kubrat Pulev in December 2020. On May 17, 2021, Fury took to social media to announce that the undisputed title fight with Joshua would take place on August 14 in Saudi Arabia. Less than a day after the announcement, a referee ruled in favor of Deontay Wilder to exercise his option for a third fight with Fury. Wilder refused to step aside and forced Fury’s hand to accept the rematch despite the previous extremely one-sided fight.
With no other fights available, Joshua and Usyk turn to each other.
With Fury’s fight up in smoke at the moment, Joshua was forced by the WBO to come to a deal within 48 hours to take on their No.1 contender, Usyk. Details were finally worked out with Joshua agreeing to face Usyk on September 25. As for Fury, the fight with Wilder was originally scheduled for July 2021, but the WBC champion tested positive for COVID and the fight was postponed to October 9.
If Joshua retains his titles against Usyk and Fury closes the trilogy by beating Wilder, there will be no more obstacles on the way to an undisputed heavyweight title fight.
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