Joshua 'desperate' for date in December

Anthony Joshua is “desperate” to fight in December, according to his promoter Eddie Hearn.

Since his stoppage victory in August over Robert Helenius – Helenius replaced Dillian Whyte with less than a week’s notice after Whyte failed a drugs test – his next move has remained uncertain, largely owing to negotiations regarding a potential fight with Deontay Wilder coming to little. 

His rival Tyson Fury on Saturday fights the mixed martial artist Francis Ngannou in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and has also since agreed to fight Oleksandr Usyk, even though a date and venue for their undisputed heavyweight title fight is still to be confirmed.

Suggestions persist that if Fury beats Ngannou as convincingly as expected he will fight Usyk on December 23, which would rule the 34-year-old Joshua out of fighting on that same date. Joshua also cannot fight on December 9 or 16, owing to Matchroom promoting Regis Prograis-Devin Haney and Jesse Rodriguez-Sunny Edwards on those same dates.

It remains unlikely that Fury-Usyk will take place as early as December 23, owing to a collective desire to build that into as big a fight as possible, and Hearn also recognises that if they instead take that date against a likely fringe contender that they could encounter a similar challenge, but he hopes to near a decision once Fury-Ngannou has taken place.

“He’s on me to fight in December,” the promoter told ProBox TV. “Non-stop. He’s desperate to fight in December. It’s not for the money – he feels like he’s got really good momentum at the moment. He’s enjoyed the last couple of fights. He knows there’s massive fights coming in 2024, and he just wants to get himself 100 per cent ready for those fights.

“We’ve got Conor Benn and ‘AJ’ – both want to fight ASAP. So, someone could fight December 23rd; someone could fight in January; they could both fight in January. A lot depends on what happens with Usyk-Fury. Obviously, if they go December 23rd – which I really can’t believe they will, but I guess it’s just about what the people paying the money want – then we won’t go December 23rd. But the problem is, if it’s a massive fight, you’re running out of promo time for December 23rd. 

“Josh won’t be in a massive fight on December 23rd, so effectively, if we find out next week that they’re not going on the 23rd, AJ could go on the 23rd. Probably a similar level [of opponent] we were looking at previously – [Agit] Kabayel; [Otto] Wallin; maybe [Filip] Hrgovic. We haven’t really looked that deeply, because we’re kind of waiting on what happens with Fury-Usyk, and we won’t know that until after the weekend.

“The original plan from Skills Challenge was Fury against Usyk, AJ against Wilder, same night. AJ against Wilder is a bigger fight than Fury-Usyk – certainly it’s arguable. Is it a double header? Obviously one’s an undisputed world championship, so I get it, but we can hold that fight wherever we want, really. Whether that’s in a site deal in the Middle East; if that’s Vegas; if that’s Wembley; we would be interested, ‘cause that was the original deal. Then it changed. We don’t know, but certainly open to that as well.”

At a time when Joshua is also working under Fury’s former trainer Ben Davison, while away from the Texas-based Derrick James in what remains a relatively new yet by no means small team, Hearn was also asked about who the leading decision-maker is in Joshua’s career, and about his four days spent in a darkened room for therapeutic purposes at a cost of £2,000.

“Always AJ,” he responded. “Always AJ, via advice. He’s the one that will always make the decision, and he’s the one that’s always made the decisions. It’s just who he takes his advice from. He’ll gather that advice, he’ll do his own research, and he’ll make his own decision. He’ll talk to me; he’ll talk to Freddie [Cunningham, his commercial manager]; he’ll talk to 258 [Management, his agency]; he’ll talk to Derrick James, and then he’ll make the decision. But his decision right now is ‘I want to fight in December’.

“He sent me a voice note about [his retreat]. I haven’t spoken to him at length but I asked him out of curiosity what was it like, and he said it was brilliant. He talked about the ability to actually get away from the pressures of the world, and actually get real, deep rest. 

“You know if you go on holiday – you go for a rest. Are you actually resting? I mean when I go away, I’m on the phone the whole time – I’m doing Zooms; I’m thinking about this. When you’re in a dark room and you don’t have access to anything… I’ve got to be honest, I was listening thinking ‘I fancy a bit of that’.”