It’s officially fight week! Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia represents another fork in the road moment for the former heavyweight champion. On the eve of a potentially career-altering fight, The Sporting News looks back on the four biggest moments that have come to define the former heavyweight champion’s career and ponders “what if?” with the 32-year-old boxing superstar.
Welcome to the Anthony Joshua multiverse.
On November 28, 2015, Tyson Fury ended Wladimir Klitschko’s nearly decade-long reign as heavyweight champion with a dominant, albeit uneventful, unanimous decision to become the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and The Ring heavyweight champion.
Fury was stripped of the IBF title just 10 days later because his rematch clause with Klitschko would preclude him from facing Vyacheslav Glazkov, the mandatory challenger for the IBF title. Four days after that, Joshua would stop Dillian Whyte in the seventh round and set himself up for his first crack at a world title.
The paths of Fury and Joshua nearly collided with Fury scheduled to face Klitschko on July 9, 2016, and Joshua knocking out Charles Martin — who acquired the vacant IBF title by stopping Glazkov — in the second round to win his first world championship.
It appeared that Joshua could eventually find himself in the ring with the winner of the rematch at some point. However, Fury canceled the rematch and stepped away from boxing due to substance abuse and depression. We wouldn’t see Fury in a boxing ring again until 2018.
MORE: Join DAZN to watch Usyk vs. Joshua 2
Meanwhile, Joshua went on to capture the WBA (Super) and IBO titles when he faced Klitschko in an epic war on April 29, 2017.
But what would have happened if Fury didn’t need to step away from the sport and went through with his rematch with Klitschko as planned?
If Fury somehow managed to keep his personal demons in check, it’s possible that “The Gypsy King” would have turned back Klitschko in the rematch and remained a unified champion. However, that also would have robbed us of the epic encounter between Joshua and Klitschko in April 2017 that took place in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Klitschko and Joshua fought only because the Fury fight fell through.
But what if Fury and Klitschko did end up fighting and Fury retained the titles?
It’s very likely that the Fury-Joshua fight would have already happened by now rather than fans still waiting to see if it will ever go down. After all, there was too much money on the table not to make the fight happen.
Fury may not have been as popular as he is today with American audiences due to his deliberate plan to establish himself in the United States heading into his first encounter with Wilder. He also may not have ended up being as great as he is today if he didn’t take time away from the sport.
MORE: Will Joshua finally face Fury if he beats Usyk?
There’s also a scenario where Fury would have made it to his fight with Klitschko but his lack of motivation and personal demons prevented him from being at his best and Klitschko would have regained the titles. A disappointed and depressed Fury would have stepped away and it’s highly likely that we would have ended up seeing Klitschko-Joshua in 2017 or 2018.
Interestingly enough, both of these scenarios may very well have found Joshua as the unified heavyweight champion, just like he was heading into the Andy Ruiz Jr. fight. There may not have been much of a difference in the result of the Joshua-Klitschko fight and it’s hard to believe that Fury would have shaken off his mental health issues long enough to be in top shape for Joshua. However, what may have been determined is that Joshua would have been widely recognized as the greatest non-American heavyweight of all time by putting the likes of Fury, Klitschko and the rest behind him.
The one thing that wouldn’t have been determined is an undisputed heavyweight champion as the WBC title remained on American soil.
Deontay Wilder won the WBC heavyweight title in January 2015 when he went the distance with Bermaine Stiverne and made seven consecutive defenses of that title until he ran into a returning Tyson Fury in 2018. If things had broken Joshua’s way, it would have been difficult to see a fight with Wilder for the undisputed heavyweight champion not taking place in 2019.
USYK-JOSHUA 2: PPV & ticket prices | Purse & prize money | How to watch
Obviously, it’s not a given that Joshua would have won these fights. But what we do know is that his career trajectory was altered drastically by Fury’s “retirement” from the sport.
Stay tuned for Parts II, III and IV in our weeklong ‘what if?’ series involving Anthony Joshua heading into Saturday’s fight.