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Are We Any Closer to Wilder-Joshua After Deontay’s Latest Knockout?

Deontay Wilder is the best show in boxing and a Wilder-Joshua showdown would be the biggest fight in the sport. But will we ever see the day?

NEW YORK – My 12 thoughts on the Showtime-televised card headlined by Deontay Wilder’s first–round knockout of Dominic Breazeale:

1. Deontay Wilder is pure entertainment. Put simply: The right hand that ended Breazeale was nasty. Wilder had plenty of emotion coming into his matchup with Breazeale, a mandatory challenge, courtesy of the WBC, which manipulated its rankings to freeze the more deserving contender, Dillian Whyte, out. His history with Breazeale—which dates back to a scuffle at an Alabama hotel, in 2017—coupled with countless questions about his willingness to fight Anthony Joshua had Wilder frothing for this fight, and he unleashed all his pent up frustrations on Breazeale, a serviceable heavyweight but not one with the power to hurt Wilder or the chin to hold up to a relentless assault. He hurt him twice with clean head shots before the knockout blow whistled through Breazeale’s guard like a missile and sent him careening to the canvas.

2. Don't read into the ratings. Popularity is often judged through the lens of ratings, and Showtime ponied up a lot of money—Wilder was reportedly paid $20 million, through Showtime and his advisor, Al Haymon, who doubles as the head of Premiere Boxing Champions—to keep Wilder on premium TV. But don’t put too much stock in the ratings when they come out. Wilder-Breazeale was up against a compelling NBA playoff game. It didn’t have a very good lead-in. And ratings for fights like this tend to rise as the rounds go on—Wilder-Breazeale didn’t get out of the first.

Bottom line: Regardless of what the ratings say, Wilder has become must-see TV.

3. Is Wilder the biggest heavyweight puncher—ever? It feels kind of reflexive to declare Wilder the hardest hitter in boxing history, but when you add his size (6'7") to his incredible knockout percentage (41 of his 42 wins have ended early), you have to at least consider it. I put the question to Steve Farhood, the excellent Showtime analyst and boxing Hall of Famer, via text over the weekend.

“Got to rank him very high,” Farhood replied. “Maybe in with Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano. Have to see what he does from here on in.”

That last part makes sense. The knock on Wilder’s knockout percentage is that most of them have come against low level opposition. His most impressive knockout, by far, was against Luis Ortiz. He knocked down but couldn’t knock out Tyson Fury last December, and he has not faced anyone else at a high level. If Wilder’s competition improves in the coming years—and he keeps delivering these types of spectacular knockouts—he will have a strong case to be called the most fearsome puncher to ever live.

4. So about that competition … Right. So the biggest fight to be made in boxing is Wilder vs. Anthony Joshua, and there really isn’t a close second. Wilder and Joshua are two undefeated heavyweight titleholders with frightening powers and chins just shaky enough to leave you with no idea how the fight plays out. A Wilder-Joshua fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship is the kind of fight that would draw in thousands, millions of mainstream sports fans starved for this type of event. The two fighters have been circling each other for the last year, with promotional and network affiliations stalling negotiations.

So are we close to seeing the fight happen? Wilder didn’t sound optimistic at his post fight press conference. He avoided directly answering a question about Joshua being next, while his co-manager, Shelly Finkel, listed Joshua among three finalists for Wilder’s next fight, along with Tyson Fury (whose alignment with Top Rank and ESPN makes that fight this year a non-starter) and Luis Ortiz, who climbed into the ring after Wilder’s win, ostensibly to begin promoting a rematch of last year’s compelling fight.

5. Eddie Hearn isn’t optimistic about Joshua-Wilder being next, either. On Sunday, I called Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, to get his read on the situation. It’s no secret that Hearn and Finkel have had their issues, but Hearn, like Finkel, is seeing the number of viable opponents for his heavyweight dwindle. Hearn said he was impressed with Wilder and praised him for being a compelling fighter to watch. But he believes an Ortiz rematch is all but locked in for Wilder for the fall. Hearn told me he placed a call last week to a member of Ortiz’s team to gauge their interest in facing Joshua later this year, a fallback if a Wilder fight fell through. According to Hearn, he was told that the Ortiz would be fighting Wilder.

“It was disheartening,” Hearn said.

Hearn said he understands that delaying this fight could—emphasis on could—increase the pot of money available to Joshua and Wilder down the road, as it did for Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who drove boxing fans mad for six years before finally meeting in 2015, with each collecting nine-figure paychecks for their efforts. But, said Hearn, “how greedy do you want to be?” Hearn said he was willing to negotiate more with Wilder’s team, but said that all the negotiations to this point have been one-sided (“It’s all one-way offers, emails, phone calls, approaches,” Hearn said) and he said continuing to go back to Wilder “only weakens our hand.”

While the offers made to Wilder have been very public—DAZN offered Wilder a four-fight deal that would have guaranteed him two fights with Joshua in a financial package worth $120 million—some of the issues on Wilder’s side have come from the uncertainty with how much Joshua would make in the fight. Hearn said that while he does not believe Wilder deserves a 50-50 split, he said Joshua could decide to agree to a 50-50 split, if it closes the deal.

“This is a fight that would resonate in every territory, worldwide,” Hearn said. “Overnight these guys would just become superstars. Wilder is a great salesman. He carries himself exceptionally well. It really saddens me to think the fight might not happen.”

6. So who is at fault here? Last year, Wilder held the high ground in these negotiations. He publicly accepted a low ball offer from Joshua’s team; he publicly accepted every offer from Joshua’s team, really. But Hearn wasn’t ready to make the fight last year, not with his deal with DAZN just beginning and his need to make Joshua a tentpole part of it. Now, things have flipped. Wilder said he wanted to fight Joshua, he was offered two fights with him. He said he wanted generational wealth, he was offered $40 million per fight, staggering money that comes without the risk of pay-per-view. He passed. It’s his world and he has the right to believe he should be compensated more—last week, Wilder suggested he should make $100 million to fight Joshua—but it’s hard to look at the facts and say anyone but Wilder is holding the fight up.

7. What about the networks? In a perfect world, Joshua and Wilder agree to a two-fight deal, one aired by Showtime PPV and another on DAZN. But a deal like that seems unlikely. For starters, both networks would want the first fight. If they fought the second fight in the UK—which Joshua will undoubtedly insist on—neither would want that one. A UK fight would likely be an afternoon show in the U.S., which means lower viewership/subscribership/pay-per-view buys than the one aired on prime time in the U.S. It’s just hard to see a deal like that being struck.

And for those asking about a joint event, like HBO and Showtime did for Pacquiao and Mayweather, forget it. The DAZN and pay-per-view view business models are too different. DAZN is trying to attract monthly subscribers. PPV is a one-off that serves more as a cash grab. It just doesn’t work.

(This is where I point out that I am part of DAZN’s boxing broadcast team. It’s also where I say that they could put that fight on the Food Network, as long as it happens.)

8. DAZN could make Wilder an offer he simply cannot refuse. Finkel said at the press conference that he planned to speak with John Skipper, DAZN’s Executive Chairman, about Wilder. DAZN made a hard run at Wilder earlier this year and will undoubtedly make another push with Joshua scheduled to make his U.S. debut on June 1, at Madison Square Garden, against Andy Ruiz, a late replacement for Jarrell Miller. When the press conference wound down, I asked Finkel if there was an offer DAZN could present that he would accept to make the Joshua fight next. He said yes, while declining to offer specifics.

9. Wilder should show up at Joshua-Ruiz. Wilder suggested it was possible, and he should. Even if a deal has not been agreed to, having Wilder and Joshua in the same building would be electric. Hearn said Joshua is motivated not just to beat Ruiz, but to do it spectacularly, to keep the fire burning hot for a Wilder-Joshua fight. Hearn said Joshua is completely fixated on fighting Wilder next, and warned that if it doesn’t happen this year the mandatories for Joshua’s three pieces of the heavyweight titles could start to consume his schedule, since Joshua has no intention of surrendering any of his belts.

“I could say to him, ‘don’t fight Wilder now, we’ll go to Dubai, make easy fights, make a ton of money,” Hearn said. “He doesn’t want it. He wants to test himself. He is the kind of guy, he will get bored within six months or a year if he’s not testing himself.”

Hearn told me he very much wanted Wilder to be in the building on June 1, adding that if he is, he should sit down with Joshua one-on-one. The deal for Mayweather and Pacquiao came together, in part, after a chance meeting at a Miami Heat game. Perhaps a planned meeting in New York could move things closer.

10. It was good to see Wilder and Breazeale hug it out. For weeks, Wilder has been suggesting that he would like to kill Breazeale in the ring. It was a bad look, but for whatever reason Wilder continued to double down on it. Minutes after delivering the crushing knockout blow to Breazeale, Wilder made his way to his corner, hugged him and squashed the beef. At the press conference, Wilder said any issues he had with Breazeale were over, and that the two of them may even go out to dinner some time. Boxing is a dangerous game, and bad things can and do happen. Here’s hoping that Wilder doesn’t bring up ending someone’s life anymore.

11. Gary Russell is back. Making his annual return to the ring, Russell demolished an overmatched Kiko Martinez, battering him until the fight was stopped because of a cut above Martinez’s eye in the fifth round. Russell was impressive, but it’s time for him to get busy. He said he wants a fight with Leo Santa Cruz next, and it’s a very makeable fight. If it happens, it’s one of the best fights in boxing. Russell’s history, though, suggests it may not be one we get to see in 2019.

12. Do the right thing, WBC. If you read this space much, you know I have plenty of problems with sanctioning bodies, the WBC among them. It really was absurd that Breazeale, not Whyte, was the No. 1 contender for Wilder’s title. After losing to Joshua in 2016, Breazeale won three fights in a row, against Izuagbe Ugonoh, Eric Molina and Carlos Negron. Not bad. Not great, but not bad. Whyte, meanwhile, has won nine fights since his loss to Joshua, in 2015, a stretch that includes two wins over former world title challenger Dereck Chisora, a win over former world champion Joseph Parker, a win over then-unbeaten Lucas Browne and a win over former top prospect Robert Helenius.

Several of those fights, by the way, were WBC eliminators.

There is simply no way you can look at Whyte’s résumé and Breazeale’s and say that Breazeale was the more qualified challenger.

The WBC claims it wants to see Joshua-Wilder. If so, they can put a thumb on the scale. Recently, the WBC ruled that Vasyl Lomachenko—a titleholder in two other sanctioning bodies, which typically precludes another sanctioning body from ranking them—would fight Luke Campbell for the vacant WBC lightweight title. It was a terrific move; Lomachenko-Campbell is a solid fight, and moves the division one step closer to being unified.

Why not do something similar at heavyweight? Make Joshua the No. 1 contender to Wilder’s title. Order a purse bid. If Wilder won’t go through with it, strip him. If Joshua bails out, there will be a strong argument to be made that he didn’t want the fight. So often the boxing media goes after sanctioning bodies for doing the wrong thing. How about they earn some praise doing something right?

Chris Mannix is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and an on-air boxing analyst and host for DAZN.