Well, that was not part of the script.
Anthony Joshua’s world-title defeat by Oleksandr Usyk in London on Saturday has redefined boxing’s heavyweight landscape – and seems to have put a tantalising all-British match-up with Tyson Fury further away than ever.
Earlier this year, it felt as if we were so close to an official announcement confirming a once-in-a-generation super-fight between Joshua – who held the WBA, WBO and IBF titles – and WBC champion Fury. Britain was finally on course for its first undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era…
But when an arbitration hearing ruled in May that Fury had to fight American Deontay Wilder again, Joshua instead prepared to face his WBO mandatory challenger Usyk.
Both Britons needed to win their fights. But before we could get to Fury’s October meeting with Wilder, Joshua was outclassed by Ukrainian Usyk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
BBC Sport explores what this now means for the heavyweight division – and whether a Fury-Joshua clash could still take place.
Does Joshua need to fight Usyk again first?
Just minutes after being beaten comprehensively on points by Usyk, Joshua was thinking about evoking the rematch clause in their contract.
“The first thing he said in the changing room was ‘I know I can beat him, I know what I need to do’,” his promoter Eddie Hearn told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Boxing Podcast.
When Joshua surprisingly lost to Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019, he avenged the defeat and won back the WBO, WBA and IBF belts six months later.
Usyk, however, provides a different, and arguably more difficult, challenge.
Former world champion Carl Froch does not think a rematch is the most sensible next step for Joshua.
“It’s not one where I think Joshua can’t come back from it – he certainly can – but the immediate rematch, for me, is not the right thing to do,” Froch said.
The extent of the eye injury Joshua suffered on Saturday will dictate if and when we see the rematch, but BBC boxing pundit Steve Bunce believes the two could meet again at London’s Wembley Stadium in April or May.
“I would love to have the rematch at Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev,” Usyk said after Saturday’s victory – although Hearn quickly shut that down, talking about “maximising income” in London.
For a fight with Fury to materialise in 2022, Joshua will want to – and perhaps needs to – reclaim those world title belts.
Fury beats Wilder – then what?
Usyk may have thwarted immediate plans for that all-British super-fight, but Morecambe-based Fury has his own battle to overcome first.
On 9 October in Las Vegas, Fury will defend his title in his third fight against Wilder. The first fight ended in a draw before Fury convincingly won the second via a seventh-round stoppage.
After the one-sided nature of their last encounter, Fury will be the heavy favourite to defend his crown.
Joshua has said he will face Fury even without the belts. But it may not be that simple. Indeed, if Fury beats Wilder and settles that rivalry once and for all, it could push a contest with Joshua even further away.
One stumbling block has always been which fighter is considered the ‘A side’ and deserves a larger chunk of the purse.
Despite his global appeal and following, Joshua no longer has a world title. That makes difficult negations even more challenging.
Fury’s co-promoter Frank Warren is not optimistic the fight will take place.
Warren said: “I don’t see it happening now. If it did happen, what would Tyson have done to him? It wouldn’t have gone 12 rounds. Tyson would have destroyed him.”
Todd du Boef, president of Fury’s co-promoters Top Rank, believes the fight with Joshua could happen, but is reluctant to say when. “I absolutely think there’s a chance we’ll see it,” he told 5 Live Boxing. “People are very forgiving. When we said will we never see Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, it ended up happening. “It may not be in the prime of their careers but it ended up happening.”
What if Wilder beats Fury?
Wilder may not possess Fury’s ring craft or Joshua’s repertoire of punches, but he’s one of the most dangerous knockout artists in the division’s history.
He boast a record of 41 stoppages in 42 wins, with one draw and one defeat – both against Fury.
It is not inconceivable that he could inflict the first loss in Fury’s professional career when the two meet in less than a fortnight.
Yet that could actually bring us closer to a Fury-Joshua contest.
No world titles. Both fighters with blemishes on the records. No ‘A side’ and no egos.
It would just be two fighters scrapping it out to stake their claim as the best in Britain.
As Joshua said: “The road to undisputed [champion] is a nice title to have and chase – but would you still watch it without the belts?
“The main thing is that you have got two competitive fighters in the ring from UK soil that just want to go toe-to-toe.”
Where does Dillian Whyte fit in?
Another Briton in the mix is Dillian Whyte, who is likely to be made the mandatory opponent for the winner of Wilder and Fury.
The Londoner holds the WBC interim heavyweight belt and could finally land his long-awaited world-title shot.
Fury and Whyte have been involved in several social media spats in recent years, and while it may not hold the same prestige as Fury-Joshua, it’s a fight which will attract global attention.
We cannot rule out a rematch between Whyte and Joshua, either.
The two met in a bad-blooded affair for the British title in 2015. Joshua won by a seventh-round stoppage but Whyte has improved significantly since then.
And the battle of words may have started, with Whyte describing Joshua as “gun shy” in the loss to Usyk.
“I don’t know, he lacked ambition in the ring there tonight,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
But Whyte has business to take care of before he can start thinking about Wilder, Fury or even Joshua.
The 33-year-old – who has a record of 28 wins and two losses – will take on tricky Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin at the O2 Arena in London on 30 October.
What about Joe Joyce?
Britain is blessed with many world-level heavyweight boxers, but one perhaps going under the radar is WBO number two-ranked challenger Joe Joyce.
In just 13 professional fights, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist already has some notable names on his records with wins over former world champion Bermane Stiverne, world-title challengers Bryant Jennings and Carlos Takam, and highly rated prospect Daniel Dubois.
Warren, who promotes Joyce through his Queensbury company, believes his fighter should get a shot at Usyk next.
“Number one is Joyce – we’ll be pushing for that,” Warren said.
“The WBO said before this fight if Usyk won, he’d have to fight him. They’re trying now to push it back but we’re not going to stand for that.
“A rematch contract has nothing to do with the organisation. If they say no, it’s a no.”
Who else is there?
Most of the fighters already mentioned are household names, but there are a few who could be knocking on the door in the next year or two.
American Trevor Bryan holds the WBA regular title, while Croat Filip Hrgovic and Frenchman Tony Yoka are both rated highly. All three are undefeated.
Ruiz Jr is looking to get back to world-title contention under the tutelage of new coach Eddy Reynoso, who trains pound-for-pound Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
And 24-year-old Londoner Dubois has bounced back from his loss to Joyce with two knockout wins and is ranked number one with the WBA.
As Usyk has shown this weekend, never write anyone off in the heavyweight division.