Boxing debate: Who’s next for Tyson Fury, if not Deontay Wilder? Is Fury-Wilder 3 really doomed?


Tyson Fury said he wants to fight again this year, but it doesn’t appear that Deontay Wilder will be his next opponent.

Fury was expected to have a trilogy fight with Wilder at Allegiant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, on Dec. 19, but plans seem to have fallen apart.

So, what’s next for the WBC and lineal heavyweight champion, who punished Wilder for seven rounds in their second meeting in February and won by TKO? Will he take a tuneup fight for a possible world title unification bout with Anthony Joshua in 2021?

Wilder, meanwhile, is contractually entitled to a trilogy fight with Fury. What should Wilder do if the two sides can’t organize that bout?

ESPN’s expert boxing panel of Ben Baby, Steve Kim, Nick Parkinson and Cameron Wolfe examines those topics and more.

Who is your preferred opponent for Tyson Fury and why?

Baby: Top Rank and Fury have the tough task of trying to balance activity with risk when it comes to finding Fury’s next opponent. Fury needs some work ahead of a potential 2021 fight against Anthony Joshua. However, he can’t risk someone who will cut him or cause complications when it comes to a Joshua megafight.

Iceland’s Robert Helenius could be a perfect option. Helenius became more recognizable after he knocked out Adam Kownacki in March. But more importantly, Helenius is an orthodox fighter with similar measurements to Joshua. If Fury is going to take another fight this year, it might as well be someone who will help him get ready for AJ.

Kim: While everyone would prefer a live body for Fury, there is a reality in this situation. If this is a stay-busy fight for Fury, which then leads into a bout with Anthony Joshua, Fury’s handlers won’t be taking too many chances. A guy who makes sense is Agit Kabayel, who is rated by the WBC (at No. 15), has an unbeaten record (20-0, 13 KOs) and, while credible, is still relatively safe. He’s also co-promoted by Top Rank. Again, my preference is that Fury and Joshua fight straight away, but that simply isn’t going to happen at this moment in time.

Parkinson: It’s likely Fury will face a keep-busy fight if he is not fighting Wilder in December, and due to coronavirus restrictions the opponent will likely be from the U.K. or Europe. Fury’s promoters will not want anything too risky, so forget a fight against someone like Daniel Dubois. Germany’s Agit Kabayel might be too dangerous too, but France’s 39-year-old Johann Duhaupas, France’s Carlos Takam (defeated by Joshua in 2017), Finland’s Robert Helenius and the Netherlands’ Ricardo Snijders (recently beaten by Dubois) might be on a short list.

Wolfe: Given that we expect Fury to select an opponent instead of a top-10 heavyweight, I’ll give a few names that could create some interest: Efe Ajagba, Carlos Takam or an Otto Wallin rematch.

A Fury fight might be too soon for Ajagba, a 25-year-old Nigerian prospect (14-0, 11 KOs), but if his team is willing to take the risk, it could create some storylines given Fury’s past taunts of Anthony Joshua and Nigeria. Remember, Fury wore a Nigeria mouthguard in the last Wilder fight to mock Joshua. Ajagba is a respected heavyweight, but he would be a significant underdog. Takam (39-5-1, 26 KOs) gives a veteran option who has fought Joshua, Dereck Chisora and Alexander Povetkin. Takam is entertaining and is on a four-fight win streak.

Both Ajagba and Takam are promoted by Top Rank, so those would be easy fights to make. Finally, Fury would earn a lot of respect by giving Wallin — who gave him his toughest fight over the past two years — a rematch.

Will Fury ever face Deontay Wilder a third time?

Baby: Yes, but not any time soon. Wilder was beaten so soundly in the rematch that he needs another fight to get his mind right and get accustomed to a new trainer after he fired Mark Breland following the loss to Fury. If we’re being honest, there are very few fights for Fury and Wilder that would be as profitable as a third fight in the trilogy. From a financial standpoint, it’d be foolish for both men not to accept that bout.

Kim: Hard to say, but in talking to Wilder’s adviser, Shelly Finkel (who had no comment on Monday about the current situation), it’s clear that he feels that they have a contract for a third bout. The reality is this: Although nobody else might want to see Fury-Wilder III, what is laid out for that bout probably surpasses the financial terms of any other potential fight for Wilder, at the moment. That more than anything is why some factions yearn for a third chapter — it’s the most money, without risking a loss beforehand. I believe that if they do indeed have a contractual right to a third go-around, it will eventually be executed.

Parkinson: If Fury is contractually obliged to face Wilder again, then yes, and perhaps in the first quarter of 2021. Or, Wilder might agree to take an interim fight as long as he is guaranteed a shot at the winner of Fury-Joshua late in 2021 … if Fury-Joshua ends up getting made. We will have some clarity on the confusing situation by mid-December, after Joshua’s next defense of his WBA, IBF and WBO versions of the world heavyweight title.

Wolfe: If both continue to win, it feels inevitable. If Fury becomes the unified heavyweight champion next year, Wilder will be at the top of the list as the best and most financially fruitful matchup. Wilder is still a very popular fighter in the United States, and a few knockout wins would help him regain some of the prestige that Fury stole from him in their February fight. So yes, I do think we’ll get Fury-Wilder III, but it might not be until 2022 or later.

How do you see a Fury-Anthony Joshua fight playing out?

Baby: I like Fury via knockout. Joshua looks the part of a big heavyweight, but as we saw with the first fight against Andy Ruiz and the win over Wladimir Klitschko, he occasionally becomes too easy to hit. Fury has the power and the ring acumen to give Joshua fits and eventually land a power shot that can flip a fight for good. But it will be a wildly entertaining bout that will be properly billed as a megafight. Hopefully we’ll get to see it with a full U.K. crowd within the next 18 months.

Kim: Fury’s advantages in movement, fluidity and boxing IQ give him an advantage over Joshua, who looked like a much more tentative boxer in his rematch with Andy Ruiz last December. Confidence is a big part of this sport, and Fury has never lacked in this department, while there are still questions about Joshua. Right now, the pick is Fury by clear decision or late stoppage.

Parkinson: I would like to see how Joshua looks against Kubrat Pulev on Dec. 12 before making a proper judgment, but based on their previous outings, I favor Fury on points. Fury showed against Wilder in February that his boxing ability, range, movement and ring intelligence mark him out as the pick for most people. Joshua was a bit cautious in his points win against Andy Ruiz last December to reclaim the titles, after looking vulnerable in a stoppage defeat to Ruiz earlier last year. If Joshua can show an improvement in confidence and a return of his explosive power against Pulev, he might make me and others think again about the outcome.

Wolfe: Fury knocks him out. I’m still not convinced that first Andy Ruiz Jr. fight was a fluke, and Joshua being exposed in that matchup gives Fury enough weakness to prey on. I’m not sure Joshua has many advantages over Fury that he can hang his hat on. Fury is on a mission since he returned to boxing, and his quick unorthodox style should allow him to pick apart Joshua in their fight(s).

Where should Wilder go from here?

Baby: Wilder needs to find a trainer he trusts and rebuild his confidence after getting demolished by Fury in their rematch. When Wilder switched trainers, it was a sign that Wilder felt he needed a significant shift in order to get back to the top of the heavyweight division. It could be the move that Wilder needs to find his groove again. After all, Fury left Ben Davison, his longtime trainer, after he notched a draw in the first fight. Regardless, it’s foolish to write Wilder off after the loss. Even with all of his flaws, he’ll always be in a fight as long as he has that thunderous right hand.

Kim: If the third fight with Fury isn’t happening next, Wilder really has no choice but to take a tuneup fight in the interim. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given how the last bout with Fury played out back in February. The PBC has a stable of heavyweights to choose from (from guys like Charles Martin to Gerald Washington), or it can go outside and pick and choose another relatively safe body to keep Wilder busy before facing Fury again.

Parkinson: The best option, to underline his credentials for a shot at either Fury or Joshua in 2021, would be to face the winner of Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte, who face each other again on Nov. 21 after Povetkin’s upset KO in August. Beating Povetkin or Whyte would strengthen Wilder’s case for a WBC title shot. However, if Wilder needs a U.S.-based opponent, what about Charles Martin?

Wolfe: Wilder has to get his fear back. It’s what led him to becoming such a terrifying heavyweight, and it’s gone now. You get your fear back by knocking people out, quickly. So I’d suggest Wilder get one or two fights where he can do such, then work his way into destroying non-Fury heavyweight contenders. So even though his pride is likely hurt, Wilder should forget about Fury again, put together three or four consecutive wins (and knockouts) and then try to get his revenge in the trilogy. If Wilder is looking for a non-Fury opponent who would garner some respect in 2021, Andy Ruiz Jr. and Joseph Parker both make sense in the second half of the year, and both would sell.

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