Are Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder Doomed To Repeat The Mistakes Of Boxing’s Past?

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

This witty maxim is often unsubstantiatively attributed to Mark Twain, however regardless of it’s origin the phrase has an enduring aptness within the world of boxing.

Last month we discovered that the WBA ordered Anthony Joshua to finalize a deal with mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin after failing to agree terms with WBC titlist Deontay Wilder for a potential super-fight involving all versions of the heavyweight belts. With the official announcement expected next week, the fears of many in the world of boxing have been realised.

Yet again a highly anticipated bout between two high profile boxers has fallen through due to protracted negotiations ultimately leading nowhere.

These fears arise in all of us around fights of this nature, it likely comes as an evolutionary by-product of the disappointment from boxing’s many near misses in the past. From the days of the color line being used to prevent the best fighting the best on the basis of racial differences to the modern day frustration of desirable match-ups breaking down as fighters incessantly bicker over contract details.

We need not look too far into the past to trace the rhymes which foreshadow the saga which is currently engulfing heavyweight boxing. AJ and The Bronze Bomber are not the first UK and US heavyweights to engage in a public war of words without actually meeting in a ring.

On 13th November 1992 Riddick Bowe became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in one of the greatest heavyweight contests the sport has ever produced. Meanwhile, Lennox Lewis had propelled himself into the number one contender position for the WBC crown with a two round destruction of Donovan Ruddock in October of that year.

The two men entered into negotiations for a showdown, the details of which became public, however ultimately they could not reach an agreement. Lewis initially declined several offers including a $3 million cut of the $32 million purse and then a $2 million offer to fight on a Bowe undercard with a promise of being next in line.

The plans were initially scuppered when Bowe infamously binned his WBC belt on December 14th, one month and a day after claiming it, and the organisation made Lewis their champion. There were further negotiations which became more convoluted and proved continuously fruitless.

The fight never materialized, not helped by Bowe losing a rematch to Holyfield in 1993 and Oliver McCall winning a stunning upset over Lewis in 1994. In early 1997 Riddick Bowe retired after winning two punishing and controversial fights with Andrew Golota via disqualification.

This may have been a querter of a century ago however it is not difficult to draw parallels when looking over the details of the contract disputes between Joshua and Wilder.

In recent years, the boxing landscape was utterly consumed by the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ ordeal played out by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The stakes were even higher this time with the numbers involved dwarfing the mere $32 purse offered by HBO for Lewis and Bowe.

The boxing world suffered an agonizing five year delay and several failed negotiations between the two consensus #1 and #2 ranked pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Finally a watered down version of Mayweather vs Pacquiao came to fruition in 2015 and a 38 year old Mayweather cruised to a boring decision over his 36 year old foe in what is the greatest anti-climax in sporting history.

Now, it seems, Joshua and Wilder are carrying on this tradition as the fight lies dead in the water after months of very public negotiations.

At least, for now, as it has emerged today that Joshua intends to sign a contract to fight Wilder in April as part of his two-fight deal at Wembley in hopes of continuing the negotiations with the WBC champion. That would of course depend on Joshua getting past the obstacle of Alexander Povetkin fresh off a brutal stoppage victory over David Price and also on Wilder winning on his return to the ring this fall.

The dangers of this are surely apparent to both men just as they will be to fight fans who watched Oliver McCall upset Lewis all those years ago and who watched Pacquiao and Mayweather grow older and older trading verbal barbs with each other in the media rather than trading fists in the ring.

It remains a likely prospect that by the time April 2019 is upon us, the boxing world will be discussing the impending showdown between the two hard-hitting pugilists. However, given the all to familiar circumstances surrounding the fight, everyone involved would do well to take heed of the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.

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