A heavyweight title showdown between Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, probably the most attractive matchup boxing can offer right now, took a giant step toward becoming a reality on Thursday when representatives for both sides met in a midtown Manhattan restaurant.
Shelly Finkel, a co-manager of Wilder, the WBC champion, said he came away “optimistic’’ after speaking with Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, that the fight would take place on 2018, and perhaps as soon as March.
“It was a good meeting. I was pleasantly surprised,’’ said Finkel, who has engaged in contentious banter with Hearn over the past few weeks regarding the bout, most recently via telephone on a boxing podcast Monday night.
As late as Wednesday night, Finkel was accusing Hearn of not being serious about wanting to match his heavyweight, who is 20-0 with 20 knockouts, with Wilder, who has knocked out 38 of his 39 opponents.
“I am just not confident that he really wants to do this,’’ Finkel said. “I think that we’re meeting because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed by not even trying.’’
However, the meeting went better than expected, according to Finkel. Hearn, a London-based promoter who is in New York to promote Saturday night’s card at the Nassau Coliseum headlined by middleweights Daniel Jacobs and Luis Arias, expressed a desire to get the fight done sometime in 2018, and was receptive to having it be Joshua’s next bout.
“We’ll either meet in a direct match in March of 2018, or they’ll each have an interim fight designed to raise the profile of both,’’ Finkel said.
The latter would be along the lines of a doubleheader in which Wilder and Joshua would fight different opponents on the same card to set up anticipation for a fight between the two of them later in the year. Possible opponents for the two include WBO champion Joseph Parker, unbeaten Brooklyn heavyweight Jarrell (Big Baby) Miller, English heavyweight Dillian Whyte and Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz, who was ruled out of a match with Wilder after failing a drug test but is expected to be reinstated soon.
In place of Ortiz, Wilder fought a rematch with Bermane Stiverne, from whom he won his title in 2015, and scored a first-round knockout at the Barclays Center on Nov. 4. Joshua defeated Carlos Takam on a 10th-round TKO in Cardiff, Wales on Oct. 28.
Absent a rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, a Wilder-Joshua fight is expected to be the most lucrative match boxing can currently offer. More than 78,000 fans turned up to watch Joshua fight Takam, and his knockout of former champion Wladimir Klitschko in April drew 90,000 fans to London’s Wembley Stadium.
But although the Joshua camp would prefer to fight in the UK, Finkel said Hearn was agreeable to fighting in the United States, where a Las Vegas casino was likely to outbid any UK venue, with the site fee expected to approach $20 million.
“I think this would be enormous at the Garden or at Barclays because it’s easy for the British fans to come over. I would expect that 5,000 to 7,000, at least, would make the trip,’’ Finkel said. “But as always, it would come down to the dollars.’’
Hearn was at a Manhattan news conference for the Jacobs-Arias card and not immediately available for comment. According to Finkel, Hearn said he would present the options to Joshua, who is travelling in Dubai, and the two sides would meet again to determine their next move.
“I really feel like we might just get this done,’’ Finkel said. “And I haven’t felt that way in a while.’’