Anthony Joshua won’t have much time to enjoy the heavyweight world title belts he reclaimed on Saturday in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, with a masterful near-shutout decision against Andy Ruiz Jr. to avenge the monumental upset seventh-round knockout Ruiz authored on June 1.
Joshua regained three major belts, and with those titles come mandatory defense obligations. Two of them are due, and unless Joshua’s team makes a deal with one of the organizations to allow its mandatory defense to be delayed or one of the mandatory challengers agrees to step aside to allow him to make the other mandatory first, Joshua could be forced to vacate one of the titles or be stripped.
The orders have begun. On Wednesday, the WBO formally ordered Joshua to face the organization’s No. 1 contender, Oleksandr Usyk, in a fight that is supposed to happen within 180 days.
The WBO sent a letter via email to Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua and co-promotes Usyk, as well as to Joshua, Usyk and Usyk co-promoter Alexander Krassyuk of K2 Promotions, formally ordering the bout.
“The WBO World Championship Committee hereby orders the parties herein commencement of negotiations for the above-mentioned WBO heavyweight mandatory championship contest,” the WBO wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN. “Please be advised that the parties have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to reach an agreement. If an accord is not reached within the time frame set forth herein, a purse bid will be ordered pursuant with the WBO regulations of world championship contests.”
The WBO set $1 million as the minimum bid for the fight, but if it goes to auction with the sides unable to make a deal, the bout likely would command tens of millions of dollars.
The WBO also said that “any of the parties involved may request a purse bid procedure at any time during the negotiation process.”
It would be surprising if the fight went to a purse bid because Hearn promotes both fighters. But it will be up to Joshua to decide what direction he wants to go in if neither sanctioning body or mandatory challenger will budge.
Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), 30, of England, also owes Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs), 38, of Bulgaria, the IBF’s mandatory challenger, a title shot. Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), 32, of Ukraine, the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion, vacated those titles and moved up to heavyweight, where he won his debut in the division on Oct. 12 by knocking out Chazz Witherspoon in the seventh round in Chicago.
The Usyk and Pulev camps are both pressuring their respective sanctioning bodies to insist that they get the next shot.