After Deontay Wilder retained his heavyweight world title by brutal 10th-round knockout of Luis Ortiz in a fight of the year contender on March 3, he again called for a unification bout with Anthony Joshua.
Four weeks later, Joshua unified three of the four major belts by decision against Joseph Parker and said in the ring he wanted Wilder next for the undisputed world title.
Their showdown looms as easily the biggest heavyweight fight in years, and it is, along with the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez middleweight title rematch, the biggest fight boxing has to offer. But after months of talks between the camps for a fall fight, not to mention bickering over myriad issues -- some big, some small -- the fight has been pronounced dead for 2018.
Golovkin-Alvarez II, contentious as the negotiations were, was finalized. Not so for Joshua-Wilder.
Instead, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said Wednesday that he will move to finalize a fight between Joshua and the dangerous Alexander Povetkin, one of his mandatory challengers. He said that's because Wilder co-manager Shelly Finkel failed to return the contract with comments that was sent a week ago, causing the WBA to tell Hearn it was out of patience and time waiting for the Wilder fight to come together, so it ordered Joshua-Povetkin.
"We're fighting Povetkin in September and we're looking at multiple venues and dates," Hearn said. "We have a deal with Povetkin agreed to, but it's not signed yet."
Povetkin's camp confirmed that to ESPN.
Hearn said the fight will take place Sept. 22 or Sept. 29 at one of London's major stadiums, Wembley, Twickenham or London Olympic Stadium.
Hearn said DAZN, which will soon launch a sport streaming service in the United States and in May finalized a long-term deal to carry Matchroom Boxing cards in the U.S., was making a "major play" for Joshua and that if they make a deal the fight will kick off its slate of boxing events. Hearn said he'll also talk to HBO, Showtime (whose deal with Joshua expired in March) and Top Rank/ESPN.
Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs), 32, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, likely will move on to a fall fight, possibly against Joshua knockout victim Dominic Breazeale (19-1, 17 KOs).
Wilder took to Twitter early Thursday morning to express frustrations with the Joshua camp's move to fight Povetkin, calling the British heavyweight boxer "not a stand up guy."
"We're disappointed, but we're not surprised," Finkel, who turned 74 on Wednesday, said about the deal falling apart. "Deontay and I thought about this, that they weren't going to do the fight. We're disappointed. We wasted a lot of time."
Should Joshua, (21-0, 20 KOs), 28, and Wilder both win, Hearn said he'd like to still make the big fight for April 13 at Wembley Stadium, where Joshua drew a British-boxing record crowd of 90,000 for his 11th-round knockout of former longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko in the consensus 2017 fight of the year.
This brings an end to the arduous efforts to make Joshua-Wilder for the fall, though each side has accused the other of not really wanting to make the fight.
Hearn initially offered Wilder $12.5 million to fight Joshua in the United Kingdom. Wilder's camp made a counter offer of $50 million -- the figure Joshua publicly said he wanted for the bout -- for the fight to take place in the United States.
Hearn never responded but then raised the Wilder offer to $15 million. Wilder agreed to the money and to fighting Joshua in the UK. Finkel received a contract late last week that said he would return it to Hearn with comments Friday, which drew Hearn's ire.
"I immediately thought what a load of bulls---. I spoke to my dad [Matchroom boss Barry Hearn]. He said, 'They're playing games.' When Finkel said, 'We'll get it back to you on Friday -- six days later -- the WBA said enough's enough. Shelly knew the WBA was calling me every day. Tuesday, I spoke to Joshua and he said, 'We're not getting into any purse bids, losing any belts, we'll fight Povetkin and then Wilder.' ... If you have a so-called manager that received a contract and you want the fight so bad for $15 million and the undisputed title, and you don't read that within 24 hours and have it back within 48 hours, you're doing your fighter a disservice."
Hearn said he had already staved off WBA president Gilberto Mendoza for nearly six weeks by getting extensions in order to finish the Wilder deal before Mendoza ran out of patience and said he would order the Povetkin fight days before Finkel said he would return the contract.
"Forget the fact that six days later they haven't come back with any comments," Hearn said. "When Finkel sent the email on Sunday he knows the points they want to raise, yet they tell us they'll send us the comments on Friday. On what planet does that make sense to anybody? Shelly says, 'They made a bulls--- offer and we decided to accept. He didn't want to do the deal. This deal is not expired, though. This deal is available to sign today, tomorrow, next week, probably in a month. So for all the bulls--- about how we're running, why don't you call our bluff and sign a contract, and I will sign quicker than your ink will dry [for an April fight]."
Said Finkel: "If he said I have to have it back by Wednesday he would have had it back."
Hearn said he contacted Wilder directly on Tuesday night about the situation.
"I sent a personal email to Deontay and I said to him I'm very disappointed your team did not come back to me with comments on the contract. We hope we can get this fight over the line and we look forward to receiving a signed contract or comments as soon as possible [to fight in April]."
Hearn said he offered Wilder two options in the email.
"I said I will give you $5 million to make a defense of your title in America in September or October on DAZN before entering the Joshua fight in April. Therefore, it was a two-fight deal for $20 million," Hearn said. "But I told him you don't have to take two fights. You can do your own thing in the fall and then go right into the Joshua fight in April."
Finkel said he was concerned that even though there was talk swirling in the media about an October or November date for the fight in the UK, no specific date or location was included in the contract. He also was surprised that rather than a two-fight deal for a fall fight and a rematch, there was only language in the agreement giving Joshua the right to a rematch if he lost but with no consideration to Wilder if he lost.
"I have never heard of a rematch clause one way for this kind of fight," Finkel said. "This is a monster fight and we expected the contract to be like the Klitschko contract [which had mutual rematch considerations]. If Eddie wanted to make the fight he would not have put a one-way rematch clause in there. And to send a contract without a date and site? When I asked on Sunday, he never gave it to us. To me, that's how you do things if you don't want to fight. There was no deadline [stated for the Povetkin fight], otherwise we would have gotten back to him sooner.
"I'm not talking about what I said or he said. I have the paperwork, the emails to show what he said. He makes up whatever he wants at the time because he has Joshua and he thinks it gives him credibility and people want to believe him."
Said Hearn: "Only if Anthony Joshua loses is there a rematch, and it would be in America with a 50-50 split. That was in the written terms."
Finkel, who has brokered dozens of major fights involving Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Manny Pacquiao, Klitschko and others, continued, "Here's the bottom line -- in March, Joshua fought. He said, 'I'm fighting Deontay next, period.' Couple of weeks later he said publicly, 'Give me $50 million and I will sign tomorrow.' We give him the $50 million [guarantee] and he said, 'Prove to me it's real.' I said, 'Send us your lawyer's number and we will call him and prove it.' Eddie said to send a contract and we said accept the deal and we will send the contact. They never said they accept the $50 million. Then they send us this lowball offer. We sent them a term sheet that gave all the details of the $50 million and they never responded."
Hearn said even though Joshua will be favored, he's worried about the fight with Povetkin (34-1, 24 KOs), 38, a 2004 Russian Olympic gold medalist. Povetkin, twice caught using performance-enhancing drugs, only lost by decision to Klitschko in 2013.
"Massive danger. I don't like the fight," Hearn said. "I think it's a mad fight to take with the Wilder fight at the door, but that's AJ. He thinks him and Povetkin is a great fight, a great statement and he's one of the best heavyweights. He's not taking easy touches waiting for Wilder. By fighting these guys, Wilder can't say he's afraid to fight him.
"It's in the hands of Deontay Wilder. So every Instagram video he posts saying Joshua doesn't want the fight, shut up. Come back with the comments on the contract and we'll work it out [for April]."
Said Finkel: "Eventually, Joshua's going to have to fight us."