Steve Bunce’s 2019 preview what next for Joshua, Fury and the rest?

Boxing


The start of 2019 in British boxing is amazingly bare with so few confirmed fights, so few actual dates and venues announced and at the same time dozens of crucial fights under secret negotiation. The clandestine deals are rampant and there will be a frantic flurry of announcements in the next two or so weeks.

Anthony Joshua is scheduled to fight at Wembley Stadium on April 13 and according to the boxer’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, several men are in contention. They are Dillian Whyte, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. There is also talk of Oleksandr Usyk, the unified cruiserweight champion and unbeaten and noisy American, Jarrell ‘Baby’ Miller.

This fight needs to be made soon and there could be a twist because there is also talk that the April date could become available to another pair of boxers if Joshua fights in America, where Miller would make an ideal opponent, in May. The awful logistics of repeat pay-per-view clashes is something Britain’s two leading promoters, Hearn and Frank Warren, are resigned to. The April and May fights will undoubtedly clash with something else, maybe even more than one fight on any given night.

The proposed and sanctioned rematch between Wilder and Fury will also fall inside the April and May window if both sides keep negotiating and agree terms. Both Wilder and Fury are talking about a second fight and both have been reluctant to discuss an April date with Joshua; in boxing that means the fight is made or has no chance of ever getting made, and that is why the old business remains one of the most infuriating professional sports. It is often difficult for venues, fans and television companies to plan for.

If Joshua does seek American fame then the long overdue Amir Khan and Kell Brook fight is a possible replacement for the April date. Khan and Brook won fights in 2018, both looked vulnerable and their fight, first mentioned four years ago, has to happen soon or the fighters will have slipped from relevance and there will simply not be enough interest to justify their financial demands. The brutal truth is they might not be the best welterweights or light-middleweights in Britain at the moment. However, together they could produce a brilliant fight if they each see sense when the contracts are drafted.

So what we do know is that new British light-middle champion Ted Cheeseman will fight for the EBU title on February 2 at the O2 Arena in London and we also know British super-feather holder Sam Bowen has a fight-of-the-year candidate scheduled against Ronnie Clarke in Leicester on February 23. Bowen will be having just his 11th fight, which is part of a trend in recent years of young and inexperienced British champions learning on the job.

It will also be a busy year for popular lightweight champion Lewis Ritson, who won the British title in his 13th fight and made three defences in 2018 to win a Lonsdale belt outright. They all have men waiting, British boxers convinced they can take the titles; there could be as many as 25 British title fights in 2019.

Cheeseman has been bombarded by abuse from unbeaten Rio Olympian Antony Fowler, who has fought nine times with eight ending quick. It will be a big fight in September. Fowler and Cheeseman with a bit of nastiness and hype and a decent undercard might do 19,000 fans live on the night, which is extraordinary.

However, Liam Williams, who won the vacant middleweight title in December, has threatened to return to light-middle — he once also held the British title at that weight — and a return could undermine Cheeseman’s position. British boxing needs more seasoned fighters like Williams in fights with the inexperienced but highly-rated prospects.

The all-British fight between James DeGale and Chris Eubank Jr. is now firmed up for February 23 at London’s O2 Arena. Both need wins to restore credibility in the their division and the winner would be ideally poised to fight Callum Smith for his version of the world super-middleweight title. It is also likely that Rocky Fielding, beaten by Saul Canelo Alvarez in December, will get a fight against one of the British 12-stone boxers.

There are three or four quality fights at every single weight in Britain that should happen in 2019 and it would be nice if fewer overseas fighters are imported for routinely dull and predictable mismatches. There are absurd numbers of unbeaten British fighters feasting every Saturday on Latvians and Polish boxers, men that arrive in their filthy shorts with records like won six, lost 36 and drawn three.

If an unbeaten boxer, a prospect with eight or nine wins and seven stoppages, meets a man with three quick defeats in his last four fights then the bookies have every right to price the undercard slaughter at 1-250. That is not a fight in any language and should be eliminated from our business.

There should be returns for fallen British world champions Jamie McDonnell, Lee Selby, Liam Smith, Ryan Burnett and Terry Flanagan. Last year was bad for Billy Joe Saunders, relinquishing his WBO middleweight title after a messy doping situation. The British Boxing Board of Control backed Saunders and he should get a real fight by September, possibly for his old title.

Manchester’s Anthony Crolla is convinced he will get a fight against Vasyl Lomachenko. There is a chance Usyk and Lomachenko will both fight in Britain — they did it once before at York Hall when the pair were still amateurs — and that would be an event. There are dozens of quality boxers, the proven champions, all waiting to have dates confirmed.

The Scottish idol Josh Taylor, still unbeaten, is in the semifinal of the WBSS and will meet Ivan Baranchyk. The Belarussian’s IBF light-welterweight title would also be the added prize. However, there are some ugly rumours circulating about the funding of the WBSS and its potential collapse would be a serious loss, especially to Taylor and his trainer, Shane McGuigan.

There are some dream fights between unbeaten boxers in Britain that will, I suspect, not happen for a variety of petty reasons. Anthony Yarde has Joshua Buatsi hovering at his shoulder and at heavyweight Nathan Gorman and Daniel Dubois, both with Frank Warren, could actually take place as both seem determined to have the fight. It might just be the incentive all the other unbeaten prospects need.

Sam Maxwell, Josh Kelly, Ryan Garner, Chantelle Cameron are just a few of the fighters that will need and want a test in 2019. Matchmakers have a harder job making sense of endless easy fights and would prefer to make real fights — it’s time in the British boxing business for the season of competitive fights to start.

At the very end of 2018 in Manchester there was a truly inspired piece of bold matchmaking when Michael Conlan, the Belfast boy with the golden ambition, had to go ten hard rounds with Jason Cunningham. Conlan might get a fight in Belfast in March against the Russian Vladimir Nikitin; in 2016 at the Rio Olympics, Nikitin got a disgraceful decision over Conlan to deny him a medal. A Conlan -Nikitin fight would be massive in Belfast.

If that happens it might persuade a lot of other unbeaten boxers to demand tests and that is what 2019 needs. The year needs to be about more than just Joshua at Wembley and Fury fighting Wilder in a rematch in Las Vegas. There will be romance and grit when Josh Warrington returns triumphantly to Elland Road. It could be a very special year indeed.



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