Anthony Joshua’s world title rematch did not go quite to plan but the Briton has vowed to come back stronger and fight again later this year.
The 32-year-old missed out on a chance to regain the WBA (Super), IBF and WBO belts after a second successive defeat by Oleksandr Usyk, this time on a split decision in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Before the fight, some pundits and former fighters – including Carl Froch – suggested Joshua should retire if he was beaten convincingly.
But 11 months after losing by a unanimous decision to Ukraine’s Usyk, Joshua showed signs of progress in a closer encounter although he again fell short against one of the sport’s most gifted fighters.
“Come one, come all. Whoever wants it, can get it. I don’t mind,” he said.
Joshua is not one to shy away from a challenge, but with three defeats in his last five bouts, the next fight could be crucial to his future in the sport.
Is the Fury fight dead?
Our hopes of seeing WBC champion Tyson Fury face Anthony Joshua have clearly taken a blow.
Had Joshua been victorious against Usyk, the Fury fight would have been iconic, history-making, one which would define the current era of British heavyweight boxing.
It was a super-fight which nearly got made last August. Fury said he had agreed to face Joshua in Saudi Arabia, but Deontay Wilder successfully appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Fury was instead ordered to face the American for a third time.
Fury-Joshua is still a blockbuster affair and cannot be ruled out. The Gypsy King says he has retired, although not everyone believes him – including his co-promoter Bob Arum – and the undefeated champion himself hinted on Saturday evening that he could return to the ring.
If Fury does continue, he will most likely pursue an undisputed clash with Usyk.
Whyte rematch will always be an option
One match-up which will always be an option for Joshua is a second professional fight with rival Dillian Whyte.
Whyte beat Joshua in the amateurs, before ‘AJ’ gained revenge with a knockout to win the British heavyweight title in 2015.
There is authentic animosity between the pair. They have mellowed and shared mutual respect in recent years, but it would not take much to relight that fire.
Whyte has improved vastly since their first meeting, but is coming off a devastating stoppage defeat by Fury earlier this year.
The narrative for Joshua-Whyte II would be simple; winner stays on, loser most likely retires.
A ‘who lands first’ barnstormer with Wilder?
Wilder is arguably one of the hardest-hitting boxers in the history of the heavyweight division. Joshua – certainly in the past – has been an explosive finisher.
In 2019, when both men were undefeated champions, boxing fans were clamouring for them to fight.
Boxing politics and finances, as they so often do, got in the way. The personalities of Wilder’s manager Shelly Finkel and Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn clashed, with both men often airing their grievances in public, and the fight could not be negotiated.
Wilder has two losses on his record, both to Fury. After taking some time out, he returns to the ring against Finland’s Robert Helenius on 15 October.
Should he win, it is wholly possible we see Wilder-Joshua, perhaps in 2023. It has all the ingredients to capture the public’s imagination. Two former world champions. The brash Wilder taking on the philosopher Joshua. Two men who have shown vulnerabilities and, most significantly, love a tear up.
It is a fight which, you feel, would not go the distance.
A decider with Ruiz Jr?
There is no shame in losing consecutive fights to pound-for-pound star Usyk, but undoubtedly Joshua’s lowest point in professional boxing occurred at New York’s Madison Square Garden in June 2019.
It was Joshua’s American debut, but Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jr – a late replacement – ruined the party when he stunned the boxing world by knocking out the champion and capturing the unified world titles.
Joshua regrouped, reflected and took the rematch six months later. He stuck to a game plan and cruised to a points win, earning many plaudits for his disciplined performance.
Ruiz Jr is in a tough battle against Luis Ortiz next month. Should he overcome the Cuban, a decider with Joshua may be mooted. But with the one-sided nature of AJ’s victory last time around, it is unlikely to be a rematch which would please boxing fans.
Joyce, Dubois and other contenders
Undefeated Joy Joyce – who is on the cusp of world level – may believe now is the time to face Joshua and catapult his own career, which has slightly stalled in recent years.
The 36-year-old is ranked number one by the WBO but faces New Zealand’s former world champion Joseph Parker in Manchester on 24 September.
Joyce and Joshua know each other well, having clashed as amateurs. There is a storyline there which could be built. A win over Joyce could propel Joshua back into world title contention.
There are other options. Londoner Daniel Dubois – who was beaten by Joyce in 2020 – holds the WBA (Regular) belt, while Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic – who won his IBF title-eliminator against China’s Zhilei Zhang on Saturday – may fancy his chances against AJ.
Whoever is next, the manner of Joshua’s defeat by Usyk means he is not yet done. Despite the blemishes on his record, he is still a big draw in British boxing – a crossover star who has transcended the sport.
There will be a queue of fighters who will welcome a lucrative opportunity to face the two-time world champion.