With plans for Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua to meet for the undisputed heavyweight championship on Aug. 14 in Saudi Arabia unraveling this week due to a Deontay Wilder ruling, Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua’s WBO mandatory challenger, is making a forceful push. He wants Joshua to either fight him next or for the belt to be either vacated by Joshua or stripped from him.
Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion, has been the WBO mandatory heavyweight challenger since June 2019. He agreed to step aside to allow Joshua to first meet Fury for the undisputed title, with the WBO allowing Usyk to fight Joe Joyce for the vacant interim belt.
But the Usyk-Joyce deal has not been finalized. In fact, there have been significant issues over the purse split for weeks – and now Usyk is seeking to fight Joshua instead or fight for the vacant full title in the wake of Fury-Joshua falling apart on Monday.
That happened when former heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs), 35, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, won his binding arbitration case against Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), 32, of England.
He brought the action because he exercised his contractual right to an immediate third fight with Fury after losing by knockout in their February 2020 rematch of a previous draw. Still, Fury moved ahead with plans to fight Joshua instead (24-1, 22 KOs).
Fury-Wilder II was in the planning stages for various dates last summer and fall but moved multiple times. This scenario is mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic and the inability to have a live gate. Eventually, Fury’s side said the time by which the bout had to take place had expired, so he moved on to making a deal to fight Joshua in a unification fight for the undisputed title.
But with arbitrator Daniel Weinstein, a retired judge with vast experience in boxing cases, ruling in his nine-page opinion that Fury must face Wilder again by Sept. 15 — unless they agree to a date extension.
It opened the door for Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs), 34, of Ukraine, to revisit the quest for the WBO title shot he is owed since it appears as though Joshua won’t be facing Fury next.
On Tuesday, longtime boxing attorney Patrick English, representing Usyk, sent a strongly worded letter to the WBO asserting Usyk’s rights to the next WBO heavyweight title fight.
It comes in light of Fury-Joshua seemingly falling apart.
In addition to sending the letter to WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel and WBO attorney Gustavo Olivieri, Fury co-promoters Bob Arum of Top Rank and Frank Warren of Queensberry Promotions, Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, Top Rank attorney Jeremy Koegel, Deontay Wilder co-manager Shelley Finkel and Fury attorney David Moroso were also copied.
“Mr. Usyk has been the mandatory WBO contender since June of 2019, approaching two full years,” English wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by World Boxing News.
“The last WBO mandatory was in September 2018. Yet Mssrs. Fury, Joshua, Wilder (perhaps), and those associated with them along with the WBO are simply ignoring Mr. Usyk’s rights.
“Mr. Fury and Mr. Wilder have been in arbitration for a very extended period. The arbitrator has now ruled, granting injunctive relief. Therefore requiring that the Fury side honor a contractual commitment to Wilder. While the Fury side professes surprise at this, the result follows the principles laid down in a case I was intimately involved in.”
English cited the 2001 Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman federal court case he was part of. Like Deontay Wilder, Lewis forced Rahman, who had upset Lewis for the heavyweight title.
Rahman didn’t want to give him his contractually obligated rematch, to either give it to him or sit idle for 18 months.
“We believe that the (Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder) contract, which the arbitrator upheld, did not require that the WBO belt is at stake,” English wrote. “This takes us directly to the rights of Mr. Usyk. You cannot have a mandatory lay fallow for years on end.”
English went on to detail past court rulings related to the rights of mandatory challengers.
“This brings us to the WBO’s enforcement of its mandatory,” English continued in his letter. “Through numerous letters and emails, my colleague John Hornewer (another lawyer also representing Usyk) has been attempting to get Mr. Usyk’s mandatory rights observed. The WBO President told me that if a binding contract for a Fury/Joshua bout were not produced by the end of last week, the WBO would order the Joshua(-Usyk) mandatory.
“We did not write this letter prior because we never expected there to be a binding contract. So its existence was relevant only in the sense that when not produced, the threat of litigation would be moot. However, it is apparently not moot. Clearly, no binding contract exists. As yet, the WBO has not directed the Joshua/Usyk mandatory.
“We do not care if Mr. Fury fights Anthony Joshua. We do not care if he fights Deontay Wilder. We do care if either fight impairs in any way the right of Oleksandr Usyk to the next WBO title bout.”
At that point in the letter, English made the wishes of their side clear.
“We, therefore, demand that the WBO respect the rights of Oleksandr Usyk and immediately direct Joshua to fulfill his mandatory obligation or to give up the title,” English wrote. “We demand that the promoters and managers of Mr. Fury, Mr. Joshua, and Mr. Wilder cease immediately in any actions which could further delay Mr. Usyk’s mandatory title opportunity.”
DEONTAY WILDER RULING
Hearn said Tuesday in a video posted to Matchroom Boxing’s social media that while he hoped Fury-Joshua could somehow move forward if they could strike a deal between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder to allow it, he acknowledged that Usyk could indeed be next for Joshua this summer.
“I have been focusing on plan A,” Hearn said in his video. “The only fight we had our mind on was Tyson Fury. We hope that that fight can still take place on Aug. 14.
“The game changed (Monday) night, where we have to have a plan B in place and probably a plan C. We have a couple of different options. Of course, the one that springs to mind immediately is the WBO mandatory of Oleksandr Usyk.”
Hearn, who used to co-promote Usyk with Alexander Krassyuk, said he has spoken to Krassyuk about the situation.
“I said, look, Team Fury is trying to solve the issue. If they don’t, there’s a very good chance we could be fighting you,” Hearn said.
“So, if we are all sensible, let’s move forward. Let’s try and look at the options to get that locked in.”