Hauser: The Fights that Weren’t, the Fight that Was, and Boxing’s PED Dilemma

EIGHT years ago, Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte met in the ring at the O2 Arena in London as undefeated young fighters on the rise. Joshua scored a seventh-round knockout and went on to extraordinary fame and riches. Whyte has had his share of paydays since then and became a useful heavyweight, good enough to beat solid fighters but not elite ones. Joshua and Whyte were scheduled to fight at the O2 Arena for the second time on August 12. But this time, they were fighters on the decline.

Then things got complicated. On August 5, promoter Matchroom Boxing sent out a press advisory that announced, “Today, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) informed Matchroom, the Association of Boxing Commissions and the British Boxing Board of Control that Dillian Whyte had returned adverse analytical findings as part of a random anti-doping protocol. In light of this news, the fight will be cancelled, and a full investigation will be conducted.”

On August 8, Robert Helenius was announced as Joshua’s new opponent. Very few people were surprised when AJ knocked him out in seven rounds. Let’s look at how we got to where we are today.

Joshua is 33 years old and six years removed from the high point of his career – an eleventh-round knockout of Wladimir Klitschko. In his most recent six fights, he’d lost three times (a knockout defeat at the hands of Andy Ruiz and two losses by decision to Oleksandr Usyk). Even in the fights he won, AJ had looked tentative and vulnerable.

Whyte, now 35, had engaged in four fights since 2019 and been knocked out in two of them. Joshua-Whyte II wasn’t the fight that boxing fans wanted. Initially, there had been talk of Joshua vs. Tyson Fury.

On September 5, 2022, Fury posted a letter on social media challenging AJ to fight before the end of the year. The following day, Tyson and promoter Frank Warren said they’d offered Joshua a 60-40 purse split for a fight to be contested in December. On September 13, Joshua’s management company announced on Twitter that it had “accepted all terms presented to us by Fury’s team” for a fight on December 3.

Fury-Joshua held out the hope of quick redemption for AJ but also the very real possibility of further ruin. Meanwhile, the contract remained unsigned. On September 24, Fury proclaimed, “I was optimistic about three weeks ago, but it shouldn’t be taking this long to sign a contract. If it is not done by Monday [September 26], I’m moving on. I’m not waiting around for some guy who has lost three of his last five fights. He’s lucky that I’m giving him a world title shot.”

That led Eddie Hearn (Joshua’s promoter) to respond, “The conversations have been decent and are moving in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. There is no way this contract gets signed on Monday because there is still a lot to be done. So if you want to walk away from that while we are all trying to make it, off you go.”

On September 26, Fury announced in an Instagram video, “Well, guys, it’s official. D-Day has come and gone. It’s past five o’clock Monday. No contract has been signed. It’s officially over for Joshua. He is now out in the cold. Idiot! Coward! Shithouse! Bodybuilder! Always knew he didn’t have the minerals to fight.” Then, changing his mind (as he is wont to do), Fury extended the deadline for receiving a signed contract. But Fury-Joshua still couldn’t be made. That was followed by Hearn and Bob Arum (Fury’s American promoter) playing a blame game. “He [Hearn] wanted to kill it,” Arum told Sky Sport on October 4. “Even as late as yesterday, if he’d have said, “Let’s all get together and sit in a room and get everything finalised,’ it could have been done in a couple of hours. The first issue was, well there’s different networks involved. So, there was a meeting held and all the networks signed off and they found a way to do it. Once the percentages were decided, there were no real issues. You could sit in a room for three hours and get everything finalised. But Hearn refused to do it. I knew that Eddie would find a way to sabotage the fight. Eddie Hearn has nothing left really in his stable and he is clinging to AJ as his only potential attraction.”

The first half of 2023 was dominated by talk of Fury fighting Olexsandr Usyk, possibly in Saudi Arabia. There was also talk of Joshua facing Deontay Wilder on the same card as part of a double-header. But the necessary funds from Saudi Arabia weren’t on the table. That left Joshua in need of an opponent. Enter Whyte who, like AJ, had beaten Jermaine Franklin in desultory fashion in his most recent outing. Eloquent as always, Whyte was asked during an interview on IFL-TV about the possibility of a rematch against Joshua and responded, “These cunts don’t wanna fight. Joshua’s a cunt. Joshua’s a cunt. Joshua’s a cunt. He wants to fight my leftovers and then talk shit They’re cunts. They’re cunts. They’re cunts. They’re cunts. They’re just cunts. They’re cunts.”

Elaborating on that theme, Whyte told The Sun, “These people are spineless. There’s a long list of opponents I can fight next. Joshua isn’t the golden goose anymore.”

On June 5, Hearn told BBC Sport that an offer for an August 12, 2023, rematch between Joshua and Whyte had been sent to Dillian. This followed a June 3 Instagram post by Joshua that read in part, “I don’t know about any talks to fight Dillian Whyte. Everyday, AJ this, AJ that, AJ’s hairline’s going way back, but [quoting the rap song WickedSkengMan 4] I’ll still fuck your girl, go retweet that.”

Ticket prices for Joshua-Whyte II ranged from £40 to £800. In the United States, the fight was to be included as part of DAZN’s monthly subscription package. In the UK, it was to be on pay-per-view at a cost of £26.99 (more expensive than Whyte’s 2022 fight against Tyson Fury which had been for the heavyweight championship of the world). Joshua was a 5-to-1 betting favorite.

This was AJ’s second fight with Derrick James as his trainer. Joshua-Franklin had been the first. Prior to that, AJ had trained with Rob McCracken and Robert Garcia. In an interview with Matt Christie, Joshua talked about his evolution as a boxer after being knocked out by Andy Ruiz. “I completely changed my styles,” AJ said. “Let me try to build on and understand the fundamentals of boxing. Stick, move, hit and don’t get hit. Even though it doesn’t quite look right to everyone, I’m content in my process.” But Joshua acknowledged, “With Franklin, it was shit. I know it wasn’t as good as what it could be. I need to get my fighting spirit back. I need to get my warrior spirit up. Yeah, it’s going to be tough.”

Meanwhile, Whyte was looking on the dark side of things, saying, “If I beat him, they’re gonna say, ‘Oh, he was diminished. He was losing his mind. He was this, he was that.’”

Then the Dillian Whyte PED bombshell hit. There will be more on that later in this article. Suffice it to say for the moment that Joshua (as AJ later told the media) took the position, “I wouldn’t fight him on drugs. No way!” And Hearn seemed to distance himself from Whyte, which was very different from the way Eddie had handled earlier PED controversies involving Whyte, Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr, and Conor Benn.

On Tuesday, August 8, Matchroom announced that 39-year-old Robert Helenius would be Joshua’s opponent. Rather than streaming the event on pay-per-view in the United Kingdom, DAZN said the card would be included as part of its regular subscription package. Refunds would be available from the original point of purchase for ticketholders who wanted their money back.

Helenius had beaten faded versions of Lamon Brewster, Samuel Peter, and Siarhei Liakhovich more than a decade ago. More recently, he’d stopped Adam Kownacki twice (which put him on a par with Joe Cusumano who knocked out Kownacki earlier this year). But Robert had been knocked out by Gerald Washington and Johann Duhaupas and lost a decision to Whyte. Worse,…

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