With the implosion last week of an immediate rematch between heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, Wilder has been ordered to face mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale next.
The fight was already in the works even before the order, following the disintegration of Wilder-Fury II, with it expected to take place May 18 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. On Wednesday, the WBC made it even more likely.
"WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder shall fulfill his mandatory obligations by fighting Dominic Breazeale next," WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said in a statement. "This order constitutes the start of the free negotiations period. If no agreement is reached between the camps, the WBC shall conduct a purse offer ceremony on April 4, 2019 at the WBC offices in Mexico City, Mexico."
Shelly Finkel, Wilder's co-manager, told ESPN he hopes to wrap up a deal for the fight with Breazeale shortly.
"We're hoping to get it done. Hopefully, it will happen this week or next week and hopefully it's done. At this point it's not done," Finkel said. "But I think (Breazeale) is a competitive and viable opponent."
It is unlikely there will be a need for a purse bid because both fighters are tied to Premier Boxing Champions.
Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs), 33, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who will be making his ninth title defense, versus Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), 33, of Eastvale, California, would be a fight between former U.S. Olympians. Wilder claimed a heavyweight bronze medal at the 2008 Games and Breazeale was the 2012 Team USA super heavyweight.
Wilder and Breazeale have a history, at least outside the ring. In February 2017, Wilder retained his title by fifth-round knockout of Gerald Washington and Breazeale knocked out Izuagbe Ugonoh in the fifth round on the undercard. Following the card, in the lobby at the fight hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, Wilder, younger brother Marcellos Wilder and Breazeale and their teams were involved in an altercation. Earlier, Marcellos Wilder and Breazeale had argued at the arena. Police were called following the hotel incident but no arrests were made.
Wilder and Fury fought to an exciting draw on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles. Fury outboxed Wilder for long stretches, but Wilder also scored two knockdowns, including a seemingly fight-ending one in the 12th round that Fury somehow survived.
Both fighters spoke forcefully about doing an immediate rematch this spring, which the WBC approved and later ordered, leaving Breazeale to wait a bit longer for his turn. When it appeared as though Wilder and Fury were close to making a deal, the WBC on Feb. 26 ordered Breazeale to face England's Dillian Whyte for the vacant interim belt, with the winner of the bout getting the next shot at the winner of the Wilder-Fury rematch.
But then Fury surprised everyone by signing a co-promotional deal with Top Rank to fight exclusively on ESPN platforms. Fury and Top Rank decided that Fury would fight an interim bout, probably in June, before seeking to make the rematch with Wilder in the fall.
Top Rank made an offer to Wilder's side to have him also do an interim bout on an ESPN platform followed by the guarantee of a rematch in the fall, if they both won, but Wilder and his team opted against making a deal with Top Rank.
So with no Wilder-Fury rematch upcoming, the WBC rescinded its order for Breazeale-Whyte and ordered Wilder-Breazeale instead.