The betting for a heavyweight superfight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua is just another fascinating angle to an event which the British boxing public craves.
It’s a sub-plot which has already taken a number of twists and turns, and furyjoshua.com recounts the story so far and looks ahead to what may be yet to come.
"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognise the opportunity.”
These words were famously spoken by John F. Kennedy, but have clearly been taken on board by the various power brokers involved in the Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua negotiations. Negotiations which have dominated the boxing landscape so far this summer after news broke on June 10 that the pair had ‘agreed in principle’ the financial structure for a two-fight deal.
During the current health crisis produced by COVID-19, promoters, broadcasters and two British heavyweights at the absolute peak of their powers have thankfully recognised an opportunity. And what an opportunity it is. There has not been a bona fide, unified heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis more than 20 years ago. The stakes could not be higher as history could be made by either of these two champions, with no heavyweight fighter ever previously holding all four (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) belts at the same time.
We are told it is going to happen. From a financial standpoint it surely has to happen. And should Fury and Joshua eventually meet inside the ropes in 2021 it will, unquestionably, be a happening. Talks are ongoing for what would be the biggest fight in British boxing history and a bout that should easily rake in revenue of more than nine figures.
However let’s not sugar-coat it. There are myriad obstacles still to overcome if ‘The Gypsy King’ and ‘AJ’ are to meet for the undisputed crown. The good news for both protagonists and fight fans across the world however is that if anything at all ever goes to plan in the crazy world of professional boxing, it’s usually down to cold, hard cash.
Talking of money, the latest betting has Fury as an odds-on betting favourite (best price 4/7) for any fight between the pair, with Joshua priced up as a 6/4 chance by Sky Bet for the win. If those odds were had been offered by the bookies 15 months ago, gamblers and boxing casuals would no doubt have been queueing up to smash into AJ.
There’s a perception now among those in the boxing community that Fury is a worthy favourite to topple his biggest British rival. Legends such as Ricky Hatton, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman are just a few of those to have gone on record stating they fancy Fury in any all-British superfight, while ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson has also backed his namesake to become the undisputed boss of the heavyweights.
Fury’s renaissance, and the shift in public opinion about him, has been astonishing. Just a few short years ago Joshua's stock was higher than ever before at a time when Fury’s career looked dead in the water. However, this beguiling, bald behemoth from Manchester has turned it all around and if pushed to call it, most boxing connoisseurs would now seemingly back him to win any battle with AJ.
What’s just as intriguing is that there is every chance the once controversial Fury now walks to the ring against AJ to a hero's welcome. And such is the fickle nature of sport and celebrity in the 21st Century, Joshua is odds-on to enter to a chorus of boos from certain sections of the paying audience. This reversal of roles would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.
However, despite an increasing number of experts now leaning heavily in favour of Fury, the actual fight odds don’t truly reflect this new, seemingly cast-iron confidence in the WBC, Ring magazine and lineal world heavyweight champion.
While not exactly pick ‘em, odds of 4/7 suggest Fury is a fairly tepid favourite for the win despite a growing number of industry insiders and former pros waxing lyrical about the belief he will have too much for AJ.
For a bit of context, Joshua was a -2500 betting favourite in Vegas for the first Ruiz Jr fight, meaning you’d have to bet $2,500 to win $100 (one hopes there were not many who took the plunge). In this scenario Fury is a mere -175 with some US sportsbooks to have priced up the bout, with punters having to lay down $175 to win $100 backing Tyson.
Clearly a school of thought remains that recent form aside, Joshua could do a job on Fury, who let’s not forget has been put on his back several times as a pro. The Watford colossus (23-1) is so powerful, so relentless and so athletically explosive that he simply can’t be ruled out despite the Fury bandwagon gathering some serious recent momentum.
The gradual evolution of the betting story behind this fight is also noteworthy.
Way back in 2016, when Joshua was poised to box for his first world title against IBF ruler Charles Martin and Fury was gearing up for his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko, Boxing News polled its readers, asking who would triumph in any future fight between Fury and Joshua?
At the time AJ had yet to win a world title while Fury had toppled Ukrainian legend Klitschko the previous November to annex the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts in Dusseldorf. Both men were unbeaten, yet the public were unable to split them with 50% of voters going for Fury and the other 50% going for AJ.
However, the career trajectories of both men then went in entirely different directions. There would be no Klitschko rematch for Fury, who battled mental health issues which kept him out of the ring for almost three years in total. In that time Joshua lit up the sport with a series of devastating victories to cement himself as a champion of real substance.
Fury would shed almost 10st and hit the comeback trail in 2018 against Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta, but even after his controversial draw with Deontay Wilder (in a fight many had him winning) the odds makers on both side of the pond were keeping Joshua firmly onside in pricing up a proposed clash with ‘The Gypsy King’.
Indeed in the hours before Joshua’s unfathomable loss to Andy Ruiz Jr, the Watford star was a 4/7 shot with several bookmakers to win any fight against Fury.
That was on June 1 2019 of course and within just a few short weeks of that seismic upset in New York, the bookmakers’ confidence in AJ taking care of Fury had seemingly been eroded forever. For just a couple of weeks after Joshua lost for the first time as a professional against the barrel-chested Ruiz Jr, Fury was lighting up Las Vegas with a dominant TKO victory over Tom Schwarz to cement his return to boxing’s top tier.
By the end of summer 2019 all major bookmakers had Fury as an odds-on favourite to beat Joshua, with some firms offering 6/4 against now about the Londoner beating ‘The Gypsy King’. Joshua briefly touched 7/4 with some firms in the weeks which followed Fury’s demolition victory over Deontay Wilder in February with the market then settling down during lockdown, with 4/7 Fury, 6/4 Joshua and 25/1 the draw now seemingly the mathematical consensus among the layers.
Many may see the value in backing the man who struck gold at the 2012 London Olympics, and who it is worth remembering has never entered the ring as a betting underdog as a professional. To see a plus sign next to his odds will be all the incentive some punters need to steam in.
Athletic, charismatic, dedicated and extremely dangerous, he has all the qualities the public wish for from a world heavyweight champion. Yet there are still question marks about what actually went wrong at Madison Square Garden against Ruiz Jr, along with nagging doubts as to whether he will ever regain his previous aura of invincibility.
Conversely, Fury was an underdog in both of the Wilder fights yet is still unbeaten with a 30-0-1 professional record and, put simply, has never looked better than he did on February 22 2020 when he blitzed the American to a sensational TKO defeat inside seven rounds. Going into that fight, many were heralding Wilder as the ‘hardest-punching heavyweight of all-time’ and he certainly looked the part as he made his way into battle in that remarkable costume with the cold, cruel demeanour of a Dickensian gravedigger. However when the talking stopped and the bell rang, his seemingly indomitable will and focus were soon scrambled by a ‘Gypsy King’ who had adopted his own ‘seek and destroy’ mentality.
Fury's new strategy of walking Wilder down and making him go backwards all but took the fight away from his American rival. He jabbed brilliantly and with variety, disrupting any rhythm Wilder tried to establish early on. Not only that, Fury began to make full use of his natural gifts as he planted his feet and let his shots go with bad intentions to both head and body. It was a performance for the ages and while Joshua admittedly showed another side to his game in the Ruiz Jr rematch in Saudi Arabia, as he boxed to orders from range to regain his belts, on current form it’s difficult to make a case for Fury not starting as a betting jolly against AJ.
How either fighter would approach any proposed fight is also interesting. Would Joshua bulk up to deal with Fury’s sheer size, thus sacrificing stamina? Does a Fury mindful of Joshua’s power revert to a more defensive game plan, or show his cojones with another Kronk-inspired knockout strategy under coach Javan ‘SugarHill’ Steward?
There are plenty of hurdles still to negotiate however, not least clearing up the mandatory situations of both combatants. Fury has the Wilder (42-1-1) trilogy fight to negotiate and then maybe Dillian Whyte (27-1). ‘The Body Snatcher’ is number one contender with the WBC and refuses to be ignored any longer.
For his part Joshua has IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev (28-1) next and then maybe WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk (17-0) after that. And any loss by Fury or Joshua along the way obviously sinks the financial agreement which the men who matter insist is now in place.
Sky Bet have Joshua as a 1/8 shot to beat Pulev in a fight which now appears likely to happen in the UK later this year. As the odds suggest, AJ would be expected to do the business against the 39-year-old Bulgarian, but as Ruiz Jr proved there are no formalities at this level. If he was also then forced to take care of business against WBO mandatory Usyk, the layers feel that would be a much closer fight. Joshua is 1/2 with Sky Bet to beat the brilliant 17-0 Kiev star, meaning that cumulatively Joshua is around an 8/11 shot just to get to Fury next year via the Pulev and Usyk route.
Fury has been chalked up as a 2/7 jolly with Sky Bet to win a third fight with Wilder, while should he also need to get past Whyte (who has been the mandatory challenger for the WBC heavyweight crown for some 1000 days now) then Sky Bet have him as a 1/6 chance against Brixton powerhouse. So according to the bookies, Fury is a 1/2 shout to reach any Joshua fight if he first has to go through Wilder and then Whyte. As the odds suggest, though the biggest fight in living memory might now be visible on the horizon, even picking the winner of those proposed interim fights is by no means a cakewalk.
Let’s have it right. There remains a lot of road to cover. But for the good of the sport and for boxing to thrive in these post-pandemic times, the road to undisputed is a road worth travelling.
Meanwhile at the same time it would provide a spectacle for the ages, and one of the biggest and most fascinating betting events in British sports history.
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