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The Fight Corner: Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder has to happen sometime

The Fight Corner: Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder has to happen sometime
Anthony Joshua (Tolga Akmen / Getty Images)

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Unbeaten three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua of England participated in an extended session with U.S. boxing reporters Saturday, saving his biggest point on the most pressing topic for last.

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When will he fight Deontay Wilder, the unbeaten American who wears the glamour World Boxing Council belt of the division?

“The long and short of it is when you’re in the same era, it has to happen. And it’s impossible for it not to happen. And when it does happen, it’ll be massive,” Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) said. “Let’s try and get the deal done.”

Because it’s boxing, with many other agendas (including television allegiances) in play, it’s not that simple.

Wilder (40-0-1, 39 knockouts) is coming off his Dec. 1 draw at Staples Center against Joshua’s unbeaten countryman and former three-belt champion, Tyson Fury, and says the target for his next fight is a Fury rematch.

Joshua is waiting to watch Saturday’s heavyweight bout between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora at London’s O2 Arena, and a victory by Whyte (24-1, 17 KOs) is expected to propel him to a rematch with Joshua.

Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has a hold on 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium in London for April 13.

With the demand for a Wilder showdown peaking, Joshua said he’s content if 2019 takes him to Whyte in April, and then an early fall U.S. debut date, likely against Brooklyn’s Jarrell Big BabyMiller (23-0-1, 20 KOs).

“All fights,” excite me. “It’s a good opportunity for Dillian, my countryman and rival … it’s what the fans are interested in … I’d rather fight a guy in the top 10, not a bum,” Joshua said. Miller “is an interesting fight,” and “could be” in the U.S. “That’s why we’re here, planting the seed.”

With Miller in the crowd, Joshua came to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to watch Canelo Alvarez knock out Rocky Fielding. And speaking on the new streaming service DAZN, he had reverence toward the historic New York arena and the idea of fighting there soon.

He told media outlets, including The Times, earlier Saturday that “I’m here. I’m someone who gets my feet wet before I dive in. I’m getting to know the fans, the culture, the people. It’s good for me to come in and let them get to know me, to speak to them, to get to know you guys … so in the fight, it’s not new. There is a plan to fight here. I have a strategy I want to follow.”

A 2012 Olympic gold medalist whose thrilling victory last year over Wladimir Klitschko sent the Ukrainian fighter to retirement, Joshua, 29, underscored career planning as a crucial difference between him and Wilder.

“It was only a year ago when Wilder was known for fighting bums … he’s been a pro 10 years and he’s finally found the [courage] to fight someone. Now he has confidence,” Joshua said. “With me, I am who I am and I’ve stated that from the beginning of my career. I’m at the top of the pecking order.

“That’s why you don’t see me getting upset. Calculated steps are important. I know what the vision is. When you don’t know and you get the pressure from your manager, the fans and TV, that was Wilder’s issue after 37 fights … there was no real long-term strategy. How long does the man have left in the game? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see what his plan will be for the next five years.

“Ultimately you have to break it down by asking who’s leading the pack? That’s important.”

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Wilder, 33, rejected a $15-million guarantee for Joshua to earn less than $10 million for Fury, and Joshua rebuffed a $50-million guarantee in the first round of talks to make a fight earlier this year.

Hearn now says talks have restarted with Wilder manager Shelly Finkel to explore if an April fight is possible. He characterized the discussion as “better than last time,” and said the divide between Joshua being linked to DAZN and Wilder to Showtime can be bridged simply by who will spend more to show the fight.

“We all talked too much last time,” Hearn said. “We decided this time we’re not going to do that. Wilder’s always said one face is needed as heavyweight champion. “You can’t say that and not take the fight. If that matters to them, these talks will get serious.”

Joshua sought to suppress the idea that his coach, Rob McCracken, objects to fighting the unconventional, lethal-punching Wilder.

“McCracken doesn’t fight for me. He trains me,” Joshua said. “For me, Wilder’s style and boxing ability is not an issue. It’s not about what someone says on my behalf. I say it’s no problem. I’ll fight Wilder and I’ll probably knock him out as well. The main thing is I’ll fight Wilder.”

The question is when, and Joshua returned to his commitment to career strategy.

“It’s not complicated stuff and it’s not about ducking or dodging … it’s about proving to myself I’m the best. I’m competing with myself to become undisputed,” Joshua said. “Of course I’m begging for the fight like he says I am, but the begging is about being undisputed. It’s not about Wilder. It’s for history, to find out who the best in the world is … who will hold the keys to the universe.”

On the road again

The least finicky world champion has to be super-welterweight Maurice Hooker of Texas, who has ventured to the English den of Terry Flanagan and the Oklahoma City home of Alex Saucedo to win and defend his World Boxing Organization belt.

Now Hooker (25-0-3, 17 KOs) is being pointed to the Long Island digs of former welterweight champion Chris Algieri to make a Feb. 23 title defense.

“It doesn’t matter where I fight. I’ll fight anywhere. I just love boxing,” Dallas’ Hooker said in a conversation before Joshua’s talk on Saturday.

“The [opposing] crowd motivates me. When they’re booing, they give me more fire in my tank to shut them up. Once I shut them up, it’s over — I know I’m winning the fight.”

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As the World Boxing Super Series 140-pound tournament with favored Regis Prograis of New Orleans plays out, Hooker is being aimed at finally getting home for a June meeting with former lightweight champion Jorge Linares.

“I like that fight. I won’t have to look for him. I’ll have to outbox him and land some big shots,” Hooker said of Linares. “I want to win all the belts like Terence Crawford and then move up.””

That will require defeating World Boxing Council champion Jose Ramirez and possibly Prograis.

Hearn, who also promotes Hooker, says he’s willing to work with Ramirez promoter Top Rank and ESPN, as he did for the Saucedo bout, to get a Ramirez meeting accomplished.

“I’m not going to hold guys back from a life-changing contract. He went on ESPN when we lost the purse bid [for Saucedo], but we got a big rating, he knocked the guy out in his backyard and it rose his stock considerably. It couldn’t have worked out better,” Hearn said. Hooker’s taking “three fights in backyards before his homecoming and when he realizes how good he is, you may see a shine at another level.”

Hooker is feeling good enough to predict he could knock out lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko if he ever moved up in weight again.

“My boxing IQ’s picking up. I can see punches coming. I can tell when I hurt someone. It’s like playing chess, noticing everything,” Hooker said. “I’ve had a lot of training camps with [Miguel] Cotto, Crawford, [Shawn] Porter … it was like going to boxing school.”

DAZN touts Canelo success

After their first major U.S. card, DAZN officials expressed satisfaction with the amount of interest the streaming service received from new subscribers.

Offering a free one-month trial before a $9.99 monthly fee kicks in, DAZN reported that its free app last weekend ranked as the No. 1 most popular on iOS and Android devices for the first time. It also was a top-10 Google search item and a trending item on Twitter.

“Canelo proved to be the attraction we anticipated and, in fact, went beyond our expectations,” DAZN executive vice president Joseph Markowski said without divulging how many new subscribers were attached to Alvarez’s third-round technical knockout of Rocky Fielding.

“We’re encouraged by Saturday’s warm reception from fight fans and look forward to building on this momentum in 2019.”

In addition to Alvarez and Joshua, DAZN offers Bellator MMA, Combate Americas MMA, the World Boxing Super Series, and will offer MLB in-game coverage starting this coming season.

Until next time

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