Joe Joyce is being lined up to dispute the WBO interim heavyweight title with Oleksandr Usyk, clearing the way for Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua to fight for all four major world heavyweight titles in their next fight.
Joyce (12-0, 11 KOs), 35, knocked out English rival Daniel Dubois last month and is now No. 2 in the WBO rankings behind Ukrainian Usyk, the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion.
Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs), 34, who beat Joyce as an amateur in 2013, preserved his status as mandatory challenger for the WBO belt with a points win over Derek Chisora, another English heavyweight, in October.
One of the potential stumbling blocks for WBA-IBF-WBO champion Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs), 31, facing English rival Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), 32, the WBC champion, in a clash to decide the undisputed champion with all four major titles on the line for the first time ever was the prospect of Usyk enforcing his mandatory right to fight for the WBO title next.
But Adam Morallee, who along with Sam Jones manages Joyce as part of S-JAM Boxing, told ESPN the Ukrainian is in talks to face Joyce next for the WBO interim title.
"It looks like a fight for the WBO interim title is what will happen next, and securing a fight with Usyk is our priority," Morallee told ESPN.
"I think Usyk should be Joe's next fight and in terms of timing I think it happens in the second quarter of this year. I understand the WBO has stipulated they have to fight in five to six months.
"Joe's ambition is to become undisputed champion and if he beats Usyk, he would then fight Joshua or Fury, and if he doesn't fight either of them next he would fight for the WBO title.
"The WBO want their titles active and that's why they want to order Usyk-Joe for the interim title, and it will get upgraded to the full title if Fury or Joshua don't fight the winner [of Joyce versus Usyk]. Our promoter Frank Warren is liaising with the WBO and Usyk's people, and it's a fluid situation. I'm hopeful we can get it done."
Contract talks between the promotional teams of Joshua and Fury are also expected to advance this week, with a venue in the Middle East likely.
S-JAM Boxing, founded in 2017, worked with UK promoter Frank Warren, who also co-promotes Fury, for Joyce's last fight.
"Joe is contracted with Frank, and the contract is due to expire," Morallee added. "We want Joe to stay with [UK broadcaster] BT Sport and we want him to be their No 1 boxer, but he's 35 and we need to get him the best deal of his career."
Both Usyk and Joyce are Olympic medallists. Usyk won gold at heavyweight at the London 2012 Games, while Joyce earned a silver at super-heavyweight at Rio 2016. Usyk has had two fights as a heavyweight, after holding all four world titles at cruiserweight.