WHEN fighting for the first time back in 2013, Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte were not unlike any other heavyweight prospects, fuelled as they were by youthful pride and a perhaps delusional belief that they would change the course of heavyweight history and become legends in the sport. So early were they meeting in their respective careers, in fact, many were of the belief that this would be the beginning of a long-running rivalry, with one or maybe two more fights to come once they had gone on and won world titles and ensured any rematch was even more lucrative than the original.
Now, eight years on, Joshua (33) and Whyte (36) do indeed meet again, though not as planned, and not the way either of them likely envisaged it. Now, rather than colliding once more with one, or both, on top of the heavyweight pile and a horde of world titles on the line, Joshua and Whyte will instead meet on August 12 at London’s O2 Arena with the aim as simple as this: win to salvage your career.
That’s not to say either man is on their way out necessarily, nor that one or the other is showing obvious signs of regression at this stage. But certainly, when compared with how this plan was originally drafted all those years ago, there can be no escaping the fact Joshua and Whyte reunite not as world champions but as two contenders who are both equally wounded, humbled, and in need of a return to square one. They both need to go back there for numerous reasons, one suspects, but chiefly it is there, at square one, when staring across the ring from each other on August 12, they will be able to reconnect not just with an old foe but with the heavyweight they used to be.
“I’ve been clear that my plan is to be active this year,” said Joshua as per today’s announcement. “August 12 is the date; I’ll be ready to fight. I look forward to dealing with business.”
Short and to the point, as well as painfully uninteresting, that vanilla statement would indicate Joshua is going to be all business second time around. It also suggests he will not be dragged into a slanging match with Whyte, with whom he shared countless heated moments ahead of their first encounter in 2013.
Whyte, for his part, was no more enthusiastic when it came time to express his joy at the Joshua rematch being made. “I’m looking forward to returning to the O2 on August 12 and going to war,” said Whyte. “It’s 1-1, so this is the decider!”
That much is true, of course, although critics might in turn argue that the settling of this particular score is not something anybody was necessarily screaming for. Not only that, with the news that the fight will cost a whopping £26.99 to watch on DAZN PPV (already a subscription service) in the UK, one wonders how the event will do both at the gate and in terms of pay-per-view buys.
The names involved remain significant and well known, especially in Great Britain, which means the promoters can expect plenty of interest in the pair coming together for a second time. Yet whether that ultimately translates into people shelling out money to watch it is another thing altogether.
“I can’t quite believe this fight is happening and there was absolutely no stopping either man,” said Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, the promoter tasked with selling this fight to the public. “The rivalry runs deep and there is something about these two where they will never back down from each other. At times it may have looked like a game of bluff but now we are set and with everything that’s on the line this is an absolute must win for both. Just like the first time at The O2, get ready for fireworks August 12 and a huge night of boxing live on DAZN.”
When considering the other names linked with Joshua for this August date, Whyte, 29-3 (19), would appear not only the sensible option, but also the most appealing. Because clearly, when taking into account a UK audience, as well as pure entertainment value, this is a far better fight than any involving Joshua and Agit Kabayel, Jarrell Miller and Otto Wallin, all of whom were touted as potential Joshua opponents in recent weeks. Whether Whyte in the end has enough to make things competitive remains to be seen, but if he has anything at all left at this kind of level it is surely someone like Joshua, a rival he has never particularly liked, who will bring it out of him.
Similarly, Joshua, 25-3 (22), is someone who needs a statement victory following a pedestrian one against Jermaine Franklin in April. That night, when afraid of another loss and therefore understandably reticent, Joshua cut an unusually pensive figure; someone who looked far removed from the heavyweight who, circa 2013, cut Whyte down to size in round seven having been wobbled badly in the second. The hope now, of course, with Joshua once again in the company of his London rival, is that the mere sight of Whyte prowling in the opposite corner on August 12 will reignite something in the former world heavyweight champion his doubters believe was extinguished for good in back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk.
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