With Jarrell Miller fight looming, Anthony Joshua continues to call out Deontay Wilder

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
British boxer Anthony Joshua listens during a news conference Tuesday in New York to promote his upcoming fight against Jarrell Miller. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
British boxer Anthony Joshua listens during a news conference Tuesday in New York to promote his upcoming fight against Jarrell Miller. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The three men who sit atop the suddenly intriguing heavyweight division — IBF-WBA-WBO champion Anthony Joshua, WBC champion Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury — have a combined record of 89-0-2 with 79 knockouts.

Luis Ortiz leads a group of solid contenders, with highly regarded prospects such as Joe Joyce, Daniel DuBois, Tony Yoka, Efe Ajagba and Guido Vianello behind them. The heavyweights are poised for a return to glory that could rival the early 1990s.

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But if all the talk of Joshua, Wilder and Fury is about business and not about their relative merits in the ring, their talent is for naught.

Anthony Joshua looking past ‘Big Baby,’ wants Deontay Wilder

Joshua, who will make his U.S. debut on June 1 when he defends his titles against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller at Madison Square Garden in New York in a bout streamed live on DAZN, wanted to make sure his message is not being lost in translation.

Not having fought in the U.S. previously also means that Joshua doesn’t have a relationship with the U.S. media, and so his point of view isn’t always disseminated correctly, if at all.

After the media tour to promote ticket sales for the Miller fight, Joshua made it a point to engage American reporters. And the message was unmistakably, resoundingly, clear:

I want Deontay Wilder.

Yahoo Sports asked Joshua during a telephone interview on Thursday if he had a chance to fight either Wilder, who holds the WBC title, or lineal champion Tyson Fury, for the same amount of money, which one would he take?

Without hesitation, he said Wilder.

“Wilder has the other belt and that would be a more historic fight,” Joshua said. “If it were up to me, that’s what I would want to do next.”

For boxing to have its best chance at success, few dispute that the heavyweight division needs to thrive. And never does it thrive more than when there are elite heavyweights who are actively fighting each other.

A heavyweight title unification bout between Anthony Joshua (L) and Deontay Wilder has been discussed for years. (AP Photo)
A heavyweight title unification bout between Anthony Joshua (L) and Deontay Wilder has been discussed for years. (AP Photo)

It’s why boxing needs Wilder versus Joshua and Joshua versus Fury and Fury versus Wilder. It can’t be all about business, or the fan base will tune out.

With all of the chatter from promoters, managers, television executives, sanctioning body heads and advisers of all sort about venues and contracts and purse splits, the message from the men who are most important in what should happen next in boxing has gotten lost. The back-and-forth and finger-pointing about terms suck the life out of the sport and turn far too many fans away, often for good

Wilder responds to Joshua’s call-out

Joshua said he wants to fight Wilder. After speaking to Joshua, Yahoo Sports reached out to Wilder, who emphatically made the point that he wants to fight Joshua.

“Be a man, step up to the plate and fight the best,” Wilder said to Yahoo Sports about Joshua. “People get tired of that. All this time, he’s saying he’s the A-side and he wants to fight in England because England deserves it. I listen to this, and I heard him say Tyson Fury is not a champion and he didn’t want to fight him, but here he is fighting Jarrell Miller, who is not a champion. He’s coming to America to fight Jarrell Miller, but listen: We all know ‘Big Baby’ is a C-class, maybe D-class fighter, that’s all.

“So look, they’re just full of contradictions. They don’t want to fight to prove they’re the best. It’s always been a business. He’s taking his model from [Floyd] Mayweather. You follow that business model, what you’re saying is you want to be a smart businessman and not a risky one. In this time and this era, finally, the heavyweight division is lit, and I’ll be damned if I’ll just let him sit around and try to operate the division by trying to make money off of easy fights and not fighting the best. I’ll be damned if I stand around and let that happen.”

But in this strange spot that boxing finds itself in 2019, with three television networks and two streaming services controlling a large part of what happens, simply having two boxers saying they want to fight each other doesn’t mean they’ll fight anytime soon.

Joshua: Unifying the heavyweight titles is a top priority

For well over a year, Joshua and Wilder have gone back-and-forth about whether offers made for a fight were real, or whether they were made at all. Each has accused the other of not wanting the bout. Joshua told Yahoo Sports on Thursday his team spoke to Wilder about a fight on April 13; Wilder said he knows nothing about it.

Joshua said promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport is going to reach out to Wilder’s team yet again for a fight in the second half of the year after the Miller fight because he said unifying the titles would be his top priority.

“Yes, I want to [unify] and I’ve said that so many times,” Joshua said. “Eddie’s going to start a conversation with Wilder’s people because these fights take a long time to arrange. Even with Jarrell Miller, it took 15 weeks. I want to get ahead of the game so we can get this done and properly tell the story. We might need double the time it took to put together the Miller fight. I want to get to work because I feel the sooner [we fight], the better.”

Talks to make the fight have been so disjointed and the trust between the sides has been eroded to such a point that Wilder questions whether Joshua even wants the fight.

Joshua noted that the three are signed to different broadcast outlets, which complicates the talks. Joshua fights on DAZN; Fury is co-promoted by Queensbury and Top Rank and has broadcast deals with BT Sport in the U.K. and ESPN in the U.S. Wilder said Thursday that he is a promotional and broadcast free agent.

“It seems to me that the broadcasters need to put their differences aside to work together to put these fights together, because I believe the promoters want to do it,” Joshua said. “The broadcasters at this point are the ones who carry the power and they’re the ones who need to put aside their differences and make things happen. The fighters are missing out and of course the fans are missing out.”

Wilder dismissed that and said he believes Joshua doesn’t want to fight him, Fury or Ortiz.

May 18 still on the table for Wilder-Fury rematch

Hearn told Yahoo Sports he believed that Fury’s deal with Top Rank, which broke on Monday, makes it easier to put together a Joshua-Wilder fight. Wilder, though, said Hearn “is sadly mistaken” and said he believes the rematch with Fury will now be easier, not harder, to finalize.

Promoters had targeted May 18, and Wilder said there is still a chance the Fury rematch could occur on that date.

“Tyson signing with Bob Arum, if anything, makes it much easier to finalize [the rematch],” Wilder said. “And I’m a free agent. I can go anywhere I want. That ain’t going to be a problem at all. Me and Fury, we will fight. We will be fighting. There will be a fight between me and him. It’s just a matter of time. We’ve just got to get the details done, but the fight is going to happen. [Hearn]’s sadly mistaken if he believes anything other than that.”

Tyson Fury lies on the canvas after being knocked down by Deontay Wilder during the 12th round of their WBC heavyweight championship boxing match in L.A. The bout ended in a draw. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Tyson Fury lies on the canvas after being knocked down by Deontay Wilder during the 12th round of their WBC heavyweight championship boxing match in L.A. The bout ended in a draw. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Wilder said he had “a hell of a fight with that man,” referring to Fury, and added “the buzz is still loud, the energy is still there and the electricity is still in the air.”

Wilder suggested Joshua may not want to fight because of his punching power, though he did not directly say that. But Wilder said he punches so hard that he often injures himself.

He said he broke his hand during training for the Fury fight, but never considered withdrawing. He said he has had seven surgeries, which he said all were due to the stress on his body from his power.

“Look back at the men I’ve fought, they’re not the same after they’ve faced me,” Wilder said. “The brain is not meant to be shook, and that’s a simple fact. Each and every time guys get knocked out, they’re creating something in their heads that’s not going to be healthy for their bodies. The brain is not meant to be hit. I know how devastating I can be when I hit guys, and I’ve seen it over and over. I’m so strong, I’m so powerful that when I hurt these guys, I also hurt myself.

“That’s why I’m fighting the best of the best. I don’t have time to mess around with other guys when I’m putting this on my body. I already have had seven surgeries on my hand, broken arm, broken biceps, all these things. It comes from the force of the punches I’m throwing. I’m so powerful that I hurt two people with one punch: The guy I’m fighting and myself. So I need to get these fights in because I want to make my mark on this sport and to do that, I want to fight all the best and beat all the best and leave no doubt. There’s no time for the D-class fighters because I’m damaging my body and at some point, I ain’t going be able to do this no more.”

Joshua doesn’t speak in such emotional and outraged terms, but in his own way, he made himself loud and clear.

“I understand what the people want to see,” Joshua said. “Who is the best? Who will be the last man standing? Will I knock them out or will they get me? I am ready for that and I want to prove that. I want Wilder next, because that fight would be the most significant and the most talked about, but I’m going to fight them all. Believe that when I tell you. I’m going to fight them all.”

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