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He Said, He Said: Who is at Fault for the Collapse of the Fury-Usyk Fight?

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  • He Said, He Said: Who is at Fault for the Collapse of the Fury-Usyk Fight?

    The last undisputed heavyweight champion was Lennox Lewis who held the WBA, WBC, and IBF belts after outpointing Evander Holyfield in their rematch at Las Vegas in November of 1999. (The WBO was around in those days, but didn’t have their finger in the pot. The upstart organization, whose first “world heavyweight champion” was Francesco Damiani, had zero credibility among serious fight fans, many of whom still balked at ingesting the IBF.)

    Lewis’s reign as the undisputed champion lasted only five months. He was stripped of his WBA diadem after bypassing John Ruiz in favor of Michael Grant for his next fight. Ergo, twenty-three years have elapsed since boxing had a unified heavyweight champion and a Fury-Usyk fight would have produced the first fully unified heavyweight title-holder in the four-belt era.

    There was talk that Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk would meet on Dec. 17 of last year in Saudi Arabia on the day preceding the final game of the World Cup in neighboring Qatar. More recently, there was talk that they would meet at Wembley Stadium in London on April 29.

    A week ago, representatives of Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk appeared close to finalizing a deal, but negotiations hit a snag and, for the moment, the fight is dead.

    Yesterday (March 27), Yahoo combat sports columnist Kevin Iole posted a story that was harshly critical of the Gypsy King. “The blame for this goes squarely on the broad shoulders of Fury,” he wrote.

    Iole noted that Team Usyk acquiesced to Fury’s demand for 70 percent of the purse, notwithstanding the fact that the Ukrainian held three-fourths of the meaningful belts. Referencing Ali-Frazier I, the “Fight of the Century,” Iole noted that this iconic event would have never happened if the larger-than-life Muhammad Ali had attempted to leverage his popularity with “grotesque financial demands.” (The purse split was reportedly 50/50.)

    Gareth Davies, the most well-known boxing scribe in the UK and something of a celebrity himself, had a somewhat different take. In a widely-circulated television interview, Davies noted that it was actually Team Usyk that pulled the plug. The sticking point, by all accounts, was the percentage splits to be built into a rematch clause.

    Davies did not reproach Usyk for walking away from the negotiation table. His remarks were seemingly meant to shelter Fury, his British countryman, from the scathing rhetoric directed at him.

    Assuming that the window for rekindling negotiations is shut tight, Oleksandr Usyk is expected to fight England’s Daniel Dubois next. Dubois is first in line among Usyk’s mandatory opponents. It has also been reported that deep-pocketed investors in the Middle East are interested in pitting Usyk against Deontay Wilder; a most delicious match-up indeed.

    Former U.S. college cheerleader Joe Joyce is expected to be Tyson Fury’s next opponent assuming that he gets by Zhilei Zhang on April 15. Joyce is a heavy favorite in the match at London’s Copper Box arena. However, Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn still holds out hope of luring Fury into a match with Anthony Joshua. By Hearn’s reckoning, this is the biggest fight out there for the Gypsy King; bigger even than Fury-Usyk.

    Anthony Joshua returns to the ring this Saturday at the O2 in London with U.S. import Jermaine Franklin in the opposite corner. It will be Joshua’s first fight under the tutelage of new head trainer Derrick James.

    In the meantime, boxing continues to shoot itself in the foot by failing to produce the fights that fans are most desirous of seeing.