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WBA clears path to Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight showdown

After weeks of uncertainty, the WBA on Tuesday disclosed how it will handle its heavyweight situation, which was thrown into uncertainty when unified world champion Tyson Fury, dealing with alcohol, drug and mental health issues, vacated all of his belts last month.

In the most significant development, the WBA said it would sanction a spring 2017 showdown for its "super" world title between Anthony Joshua, who also holds the IBF belt (which he would have to retain against Eric Molina on Dec. 10) and former world champion Wladimir Klitschko, who lost his belts to Fury in a huge November 2015 upset and had his Oct. 29 rematch canceled when Fury pulled out to deal with his personal problems.

When that happened, the Joshua and Klitschko camps tried to make the fight for Dec. 10. However, with time running short to promote such a major fight, Klitschko suffering a minor calf injury, and the WBA still not having sanctioned the fight, they elected to put it off until March or April, probably in the United Kingdom, Joshua's home country.

Klitschko manager Bernd Boente repeatedly told ESPN during the talks for the Joshua fight that having a WBA title on the line was a deal-breaker for Klitschko.

Now Ukraine's Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs), 40, who has not boxed since the loss to Fury and will remain idle until the spring, has his wish; Joshua (17-0, 17 KOs), 27, will have a chance for a huge fight; and boxing fans will get perhaps the most anticipated match in the heavyweight division, provided the sides can finalize a deal, which both have said they do not believe will be an issue.

"Team Klitschko is very happy about this WBA resolution," Boente told ESPN on Tuesday night. "Wladimir always was a proud and committed WBA 'super' champion and now he wants to regain his title. From the beginning, Wladimir made clear how important it is to him that the WBA title is on the line in his next fight.

"Hopefully, Anthony Joshua wins his upcoming fight against Molina and then we have a mega event, a promoter's dream fight coming true in March or April. Two Olympic super heavyweight gold-medal winners fighting each other, the young lion challenging the old lion. This is a fight each boxing fan around the world wants to see."

Eddie Hearn, Joshua's promoter, earlier on Tuesday announced Joshua's fight with Molina, and suggested that things were on track for the Joshua-Klitschko showdown next year.

"Although the plans are for a major unification [fight] in the spring, this fight requires Anthony's full focus," Hearn said.

In addition to agreeing to sanction Joshua-Klitschko for its "super" title, the WBA also said it would sanction a fight between Australia's Lucas Browne (24-0, 21), 37, and 44-year-old Shannon Briggs (60-6-1, 53 KOs), a former two-time titleholder from Brooklyn, New York, for its vacant "regular" title as part of a legal settlement with Browne. Also, the winner of Browne-Briggs, a fight that was ordered to take place by Dec. 31, must face mandatory challenger Fres Oquendo within 120 days of the bout.

Oquendo (37-8, 24 KOs), 43, of Chicago, won a case in U.S. federal court to force a WBA heavyweight title bout in the wake of his majority decision loss to Ruslan Chagaev for the vacant "regular" belt in July 2014. Oquendo had a rematch clause in the contract but Chagaev's team attempted to set up another title defense first. It got even uglier when Oquendo claimed he was not paid for the fight, and the Chagaev team claimed Oquendo failed a drug test.

Oquendo's team sued in federal court to force the rematch and won an injunction to stop Chagaev from defending the belt against anyone other than Oquendo. But Oquendo has been idle since because of a shoulder injury that required surgery in November 2015, and even though Chagaev has retired, the WBA is still obligated to give Oquendo a title shot based on the court order. But since Oquendo is not available, Browne was ordered to face the leading available WBA contender, Briggs.

Since absorbing a wicked beating at the hands of Vitali Klitschko in a 2010 world title fight that put him in the hospital for about two weeks, followed by a four-year retirement, Briggs has won nine fights in a row since his 2014 return, although he has faced extremely low-level opposition, hardly the kind of opponents that would ordinarily put a boxer in position to fight for a world title.

As part of its ruling, the WBA also stripped Luis "King Kong" Ortiz of the interim belt for his failure to face mandatory challenger Alexander Ustinov after Ustinov's team won a recent purse bid.

"Failure to comply with the purse bid obligations or other WBA rules will result in a loss of [title] recognition," the WBA champions committee wrote in its ruling, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN. "Ortiz has therefore relinquished the interim title."

WBA president Gilberto Mendoza Jr. is in the process of ridding the organization of multiple world titles per division -- super, regular and interim belts -- and while it is not ideal to continue having multiple titles in the heavyweight division, Mendoza told ESPN that he remains committed to whittling each division down to one titleholder. But he said that Tuesday's resolution was the only one the organization had for its heavyweight title because it wanted to help facilitate the much-anticipated Joshua-Klitschko fight while also living up to its obligations to Browne and Oquendo.

"Initially my plan was to approve Klitschko versus Joshua for the WBA title," Mendoza said. "The rest [I wanted] to have a box-off to earn the mandatory spot. Unfortunately, the justice system had a discrepancy with WBA new policy."

As part of the WBA ruling, it said that Fury submitted a report from his psychologist "confirming his clinical depression. The psychologist estimated that Fury would be fit to return to competition no earlier than late February 2017."

The WBA went on to say that when Fury is prepared to fight again the organization will consider placing him back in its rankings and making him eligible to fight for its world title.