The heavyweight division is in a state of limbo. Plans for a WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight title rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk could very well be in jeopardy due to Usyk returning to Ukraine to bear arms against the current Russian invasion.
On February 24, the Ukraine State Border Guard Service announced stated that men aged 18 to 60 were prohibited from leaving the country. The decree came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy enacted martial law following the invasion and attack by Russia.
As a result, it is unknown when the 35-year-old Ukrainian champion would be ready for a rematch with Joshua following his upset of the former British champion back in September 2021. Understandably, boxing is not on Usyk’s mind as he focuses on helping defend his country.
Usyk told CNN in an interview, “I really don’t know when I’m going to be stepping back in the ring. My country and my honor are more important to me than a championship belt.”
Usyk made his boxing debut in 2013, primarily fighting out of Ukraine. A former undisputed cruiserweight champion and one of the world’s top-ranked pound-for-pound fighers, Usyk claimed the WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles with his fall win over Joshua.
The current heavyweight champion is one of several fighters (current and former) that have put boxing on hold to fight for Ukraine. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have taken arms to defend Ukraine. Vitali, the mayor of Kyiv, and Wladimir recently sent a message that they are standing in solidarity “against Russian aggression.” Former lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and Bellator welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov are also fighting in Ukraine.
Joshua is willing to wait to fight Usyk, no matter how long it takes. To stay active, however, there have been talks about an interim heavyweight title fight. Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour in early March that an interim fight may be possible.
“He can have the time that he needs, we don’t want any fight other than Oleksandr Usyk,” Hearn stated, via talkSPORT. “So whether there’s a delay to that fight and we have an interim bout – I guess that’s subject to the situation with Oleksandr Usyk and how much time that he needs. It’s a very emotional and personal time for the people of Ukraine, so we respect them and we’ll give them all the time.”
Joshua stated in an interview with Behind the Gloves that he would take an interim fight. What is the best matchup for Joshua if something like this happens? The Sporting News looks into several interim bouts that makes sense for Joshua.
At 31, Otto Wallin has come out of nowhere to become a true contender in the heavyweight division. A former WBA Continental heavyweight champion, Wallin’s biggest test was against Tyson Fury in 2019.
Fighting for the WBC heavyweight title, Wallin almost won the fight in dramatic fashion. Fury required 47 stitches after the bout but still won via unanimous decision. Following that loss, Wallin has won three in a row, beating Travis Kauffman, Dominic Breazeale, and Kamil Sokołowski.
Promotor Dmitry Salita believes Wallin has what it takes to match well against Joshua.
“Otto is a Southpaw like Usyk,” Salita told Sky Sports. “Numbers don’t lie and according to the stats he landed more punches than anyone against Fury, including (Fury’s first against) Wilder and (Wladimir) Klitschko put together. I believe Otto has all the skills, confidence – and with the last fight – the experience of fighting on UK soil to beat Joshua. If the fight with Usyk does not happen Wallin vs Joshua is the most intriguing fight in the heavyweight division.”
Frank Warren recently told iFL TV that he believes fans would be interested in a fight between Joshua and Joe Joyce. The bout would be intriguing considering Joyce’s fair standing in the heavyweight division.
A man with a 92% knockout-to-win percentage, Joyce won silver in the 2016 Olympic games. The 36-year-old beat the young Daniel Dubois via knockout to win the British, Commonwealth, and European heavyweight titles in 2020. His last fight was a TKO win over Carlos Takam in July.
Joshua recently responded to Salita’s recent interview regarding Otto Wallin. He brought up Wallin and Joyce, stating, ”Lol ok … I’ve shared this ring with most people you see in the heavyweight division today! I boxed Otto Wallin twice as youngsters & I boxed joe and stopped him in 1 round. I’d do the same thing today! Ain’t nothing changed.”
Lol ok … I’ve shared this ring with most people you see in the heavyweight division today! I boxed Otto wallin twice as youngsters & I boxed joe and stopped him in 1 round. I’d do the same thing today! Ain’t nothing changed. https://t.co/L3dYMJFD8L
— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyjoshua) March 9, 2022
Rising in the heavyweight division, Joyce could become a compelling opponent against Joshua.
This is a fight that makes the most sense from a storyline perspective. Hearn has shown interest in this fight, as has Joshua.
“I’ll fight no problem. I’ll fight whatever, no problem,” Joshua told Behind the Gloves. “I’ll smoke him as well. It don’t matter. But listen, I’ll fight Joseph Parker. Do you know what it is? My record shows, it’s a fight at the end of the day, what do you want me to do? I don’t give a f—, I’ll fight whoever, whenever, it’s only a fight.”
Parker, a former WBO heavyweight champion, faced off against Joshua in 2018. In a unification fight, Parker lost the title to Joshua via unanimous decision. After losing to Dillian Whyte following the Joshua bout, Parker has gone on a six-fight win streak. He beat Derek Chisora twice in 2021, with his last bout being a unanimous decision win in December.
Training alongside John Fury, Parker is looking for a fight against Joe Joyce. The New Zealander believes he is ready for a Joshua rematch as well, and momentum would be on his side.
“I think I have more of a chance now, because I back myself,” Parker said to talkSPORT. “I think with that fight, [I was] too defensive, and I didn’t take the risks that you would take in these fights. “I’m more aggressive. In the last fight [against Chisora] I showed [that].”
The Sporting News will continue to monitor the events in Ukraine and subsequent impact on any previously scheduled fights.