Anthony Joshua looks like an immovable force at present. The list of men chasing his belts is a long one, but Bulgarian heavyweight Kubrat Pulev has reason to desire a title shot more than any other contender.
Pulev had the perfect opportunity in 2017 to dethrone the champion Anthony Joshua, and realise his dream of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. Due to injury, it was not to be, but after being given notification on 3 April of a mandatory eliminator with Dillian Whyte, Pulev is now just one fight away from an overdue IBF title shot against Joshua. Whyte, also has a firm agenda, as he aims to avenge his defeat to Joshua in December 2015.
However, the winner of Pulev v Whyte may find his legacy complicated by what are, for now, isolated rumours of a defection to MMA for Anthony Joshua.
Although beating Deontay Wilder and unifying the belts is immovably Joshua’s first priority, there is no smoke without fire. Even if the winner of Pulev v Whyte beats Joshua in a shock title win, some cynics may more readily point to Joshua being distracted by future plans, should the MMA defection rumours survive in the longer term.
Dillian Whyte has ‘done everything’ to warrant a shot at vengeance. Now he is one fight away from a rematch with old foe Anthony Joshua.
2018 has already spoiled boxing fans worldwide, and with the development of Pulev v Whyte already underway, the spring promises to be a blockbuster. To use a metric other than PPV buys, it is also telling that a number of key upcoming bouts, such as the WBO title fight between Terence Crawford and Jeff Horn, have also gained above-average levels of interest. Specifically, that interest has come from those aiming to make the most of matched bonuses listed on the likes of Oddschecker currently associated with Horn v Crawford. However, in the event that Joshua does defect to MMA and identify a first opponent, his fight will eclipse all others on social media and in betting circles, if not in terms of a PPV buy rate.
Mayweather v McGregor (branded #MayMac on several social media channels) is an obvious precedent to the rumours linking Joshua to MMA. The bout was a (near) record-breaking success, and not as tediously one-sided as many expected, but any move for Joshua would carry its own inherent risks. With boxing being just one specific form of fighting, it would take an exceptional athlete to sustain the highest boxing and MMA titles for a period of years. There are numerous elements to be learned in the cage that all take time and dedication, with the wrestling and submission element separating the great from the good.
In 1993, boxer Art Jimmerson became the very first fighter under the UFC brand to suffer a submission defeat, serving as a warning to any professional boxers entertaining a defection to MMA.
The identity of Joshua’s first opponent would also be a major issue. What Joshua would need is a name that is known to boxing fans, who could generate the huge amount of money needed to justify the actions of White and Joshua in this hypothetical situation. For instance, a fighter in the mould of former WWE star Brock Lesnar, as Joshua’s first opponent, would threaten even the PPV draw generated by #MayMac in terms of numbers. Again, however, Joshua would need to learn much about the ways of the octagon to make it more of a fight than a formality.
For now, at least, Joshua has opponents lined up in boxing who will earn him similar money to that which he would yield in the octagon. Potential future fights against the likes of Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury are enough to keep him a prominent figure for the right reasons.
Though money will always be a base reason for anyone persisting with their calling in life, Joshua’s head will be near-impossible to turn in the short term. It has been a generation since the United Kingdom last had such a colossal heavyweight to boast. Yet, UFC boss Dana White is an ambitious man. The 4.3m generated by Mayweather v McGregor last August is testament to White’s abilities, and if anyone can make Joshua’s head turn towards the octagon, it is him. Exactly what White’s plans for Joshua would be remain unknown, but the prospect of seeing the 6’6 Joshua raising hell in a cage is always going to be an intriguing one, whether or not it ever comes to realisation.