The first question unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk will be asked when he arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to defend his titles in a rematch with Anthony Joshua will presumably be about how he intends to defeat Joshua a second time. After that, Usyk and Joshua are going to hear a lot of questions about Tyson Fury, the WBC champion who ended a short-lived retirement on Tuesday by announcing he'd return to fight Derek Chisora later this year.
Fury curiously said he wanted to return to make history by being the first heavyweight champion to fight two trilogies. He’s fought a trilogy with Deontay Wilder, scoring two knockout victories and a split draw. He’s defeated Chisora twice.
But neither of the Chisora bouts were for the heavyweight title. Evander Holyfield fought three compelling heavyweight bouts against arch-rival Riddick Bowe, with their 1992 battle one of the greatest heavyweight championship matches ever staged. Holyfield also fought John Ruiz three times in dreadful bouts for the heavyweight title.
So Fury’s recall of history isn’t exactly correct. Muhammad Ali fought trilogies with Joe Frazier (two for the title) and Ken Norton (one for the title), as well. So it’s hardly history Fury’s creating if and when he steps into the ring to fight Chisora.
None of that really matters, however. What matters is that he’s back and the Usyk-Joshua winner will almost certainly end up fighting Fury, assuming he gets past Chisora, sometime in early 2023 for the undisputed title.
If Joshua is able to avenge his loss to Usyk, a Fury-Joshua fight for supremacy at heavyweight would likely turn out to be the second-richest fight in boxing history in terms of gross revenue generated. It has little chance to surpass the 2015 bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao that grossed over $600 million and earned each boxer purses in excess of nine figures, but it would be a massive bout with worldwide appeal.
The storyline would be too good. A pair of giants — Fury is 6-foot-9 and has fought in excess of 270 pounds, while Joshua is a chiseled 6-foot-6 and fights around 245 pounds — from the same boxing-mad country would go at it for the biggest prize in the sport.
Fury drew over 90,000 to Wembley Stadium in London for his April 23 bout against Dillian Whyte. While that crowd was inflated because the bout was promoted as Fury’s swan song, a Fury-Joshua bout could draw the same number of people, except with a much higher ticket price.
It wouldn’t be as big if Usyk wins because Usyk’s English is limited and will hamper his promotional efforts. He’s from Ukraine and so doesn’t have the natural rivalry with Fury that Joshua poses. And while he’s far from a small guy at 6-3, 220, he’ll be dwarfed by Fury and there will be plenty who discount his chances solely for that reason.
Usyk, however, is one of the greats — though most unheralded — fighters of this generation. He’s got a lively, fun personality with a great sense of humor and near-perfect comedic timing.
If he were American and did what he’s done, he’d be the biggest star in the sport.
He won the undisputed cruiserweight championship, beating four quality opponents to win each of the belts. He won the WBO title by beating Krzysztof Glowacki, then entered the eight-man World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament, that was designed to find an undisputed champion.
He beat ex-champion Marco Huck in the opening round. He added the WBC belt by defeating Mairis Briedis and then blew out unified champion Murat Gassiev to add the IBF and WBA belts. He then knocked out Tony Bellew in a title fight to successfully defend them.
He moved up to heavyweight and after a get-acclimated win over Chazz Witherspoon in which he admittedly did not look great, he defeated Chisora and then rolled past Joshua to claim the titles.
Usyk is hardly a pushover and while Fury would be favored against him, it would be far from a slam dunk. Usyk would be undefeated with two wins over Joshua at that point and that would help create another big event.
You won’t be able to tell the story of Usyk-Joshua 2 without talking about Fury, though. Had Fury stayed retired, as he so adamantly had insisted he would, Fury would have been a much smaller presence in the promotion.
Fury’s return undoubtedly will invigorate the promotion and raise the stakes for both men. A bout against Fury could wind up paying the Usyk-Joshua winner in excess of $100 million for a bout for the undisputed championship. And even in these days of outsized guarantees, that would be a remarkable payday that would even attract Mayweather’s interest.
Fury’s likely to remain in England for the fight, but his presence will very much be felt in Jeddah.