“In the burning heart. Just about to burst. There’s a quest for answers. An unquenchable thirst.”
Anthony Joshua entered Saturday’s bout with Kubrat Pulev to lyrics from Survivor’s Burning Heart, a song boxing fans hold dear given its place in Rocky IV.
There is indeed now an unquenchable thirst for his next move to provide the answer all fans want. Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury – who reigns supreme?
Fury, unpredictable and controversial, against Joshua, refined and thoughtful. They offer contrast outside of the ring. The Britons hold the four world heavyweight belts – Joshua three and Fury one – to share champion status in it.
Fans jab questions back and forth. Who has the ‘biggest’ wins on their record? Many favour Fury.
Who has the greater number of ‘respected’ names on their record? Many favour Joshua.
What does history tell us?
Boxing’s biggest promoters are adamant the path is clear for their fighters to march towards an iconic occasion in 2021. The truth is the path contains the kind of hurdles that have tripped marquee events up in the past.
Shortly after Mike Tyson had beaten Frank Bruno in Las Vegas in 1996, a respected boxing money man told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Steve Bunce that making Tyson v Lennox Lewis was plain sailing.
“I can get around all the obstacles, no worry,” he said. Lewis and Tyson did fight, six years later.
A lengthy delay this time around, in an on-demand age where social media spreads frustration in seconds, could prove hugely damaging for boxing.
What stands in the way?
Money – or at least a percentage split of the amount that will ultimately be on the table – is said to be agreed for two fights between the pair in 2021.
News of this apparent deal broke in the summer. It is worth remembering that boxing was paused at the time because of coronavirus and promoters were keen to drum up publicity by any means. Real detail on the agreement never really surfaced.
In truth, little detail could surface because there is no clarity on how much money can be split. There is no venue in place. And there is no certainty as to when a venue could be filled during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
When Fury met Deontay Wilder in February, the gate alone was worth $17m (£12.8m), a figure which underlines why this heavyweight showdown will only take place in a packed-out setting.
Rival promoters will need to work in harmony. Eddie Hearn – who guides Joshua – was due to sit down for lunch with Frank Warren – who guides Fury in the UK – this summer. Their meeting was seen as a watershed moment given the decade of animosity between them. It never happened.
But Hearn, Warren and and Fury’s US promoter, Bob Arum, have all said a deal can be finalised.
They will need to bring together four broadcasters. Sky Sports and DAZN work with Joshua; BT Sport and ESPN are aligned with Fury. Deals like this have been done before – but they are complex and show just how many voices, beneficiaries and agreements are needed in this fight puzzle.
Then there are opponents in waiting. Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk is mandatory challenger for Joshua’s WBO belt. Either he or the WBO will need to be convinced to let Joshua proceed in the short term. Joshua could give up the belt, though a fight against Fury would then not be the first in history for all four heavyweight titles – a key selling point.
Wilder could also have something to say. The American – beaten by Fury in February – had a contract in place to face the Briton for a third time. Whether that deal is honoured is being debated, though there are murmurings Fury’s team feel they can move on.
Then there are the multitude of items that have become issues for fights in the past. Whose name goes first on the poster? Who walks to the ring first? Who has to fulfil certain media obligations?
All told, there will be egos to manage, rivalries to suppress, obligations to dodge and fine details to iron out.
But let us, for a second, believe they will be.
Overseas venue a likely compromise?
A lucrative fee paid to host at least one fight between the pair is likely be delivered from overseas – perhaps from the Middle East. UK fans may feel short changed but would the loss of the bout to a British venue be a price worth paying to see it take place?
Picture the contrasts.
Before facing Ruiz in Saudi Arabia in December, Joshua strode to the ring down a walkway decorated with instructions he hoped to execute in the ring. In February, Fury was carried to the ring to face Wilder while singing on a throne.
Joshua is often decked in slick, high-end labels and acts as a fitting ambassador for the brands he represents. Fury delivered a message to Joshua via social media on Saturday night wearing a striking Christmas jumper with his own face as its centrepiece.
Away from the ring, Joshua is structure while Fury is chaos. Joshua typically looks for the right words; Fury uses whatever words he wants and lives with the consequences. There are fans who love one, the other – or even both.
In the ring, they both continue to evolve. Joshua’s past two outings have shown he can add movement and patience to his unquestionable power, while Fury’s most recent bout saw him move from an evasive style to pressure fighter against the dangerous Wilder.
What a gift it would be to see them clash both inside and outside the ring.
“Everything is set now for one of the greatest sporting occasions Britain has ever known,” BBC Radio 5 Live’s Mike Costello said moments after Joshua saw off Bulgarian Pulev.
Those seconds that exist before a fight, as money men and officials leave the ring while two rivals are left to stand and stare at one another, are perhaps the most charged in all of sport.
As Survivor sang during Joshua’s ring walk: “Bravely we hope.”
We are closer to seeing hopes fulfilled. There is work to be done.