Alan Hubbard

Back in the day, April 140 BC to be precise, a young warlord named Joshua led his army of Israelites blowing their trumpets loud and long enough to bring down the walls of the great Dead Sea city of Jericho, which they were attacking. Or so we are led to believe in Biblical lore.

Now there has been more noisy trumpet blowing in the region of the Middle East by a latter-day Joshua, better known as "AJ", in this year of 2021 AD. But it is not the walls of the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, which have come tumbling down but plans for the biggest fight of this or any century that was due to be staged there this August.

For months now Anthony Joshua and his London-based legions have been telling us that it was all systems go for the all-British world heavyweight title showdown to be staged in Saudi Arabia on either August 7 or 14. However this now appears to have been something of a mirage in what has become an oasis for the Saudis to hang their sportswashing out to dry.

The flight has been KO’d by a legal left hook from the United States that the Joshua encampment obviously did not see coming. The move is typical. Of what Lennox Lewis so aptly described as pugilistic "politricks".

Lewis, the former Olympic gold medallist and undisputed world heavyweight champion, knew enough about the machinations of big-time boxing to declare it was riddled with that phrase, so he will not be surprised that such politrickry has put paid to the summer's second biggest sporting highlight - temporarily at least - the momentous match between Joshua, a fellow former Olympic champion, and the unbeaten giant Tyson Fury, to unify the current world heavyweight championship.

Anthony Joshua won an Olympic gold medal at London 2012 ©Getty Images
Anthony Joshua won an Olympic gold medal at London 2012 ©Getty Images

It was to be the biggest boxing extravaganza since Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier I, now 50 years ago when the announcement that each would receive $2.5 million (£1.7 million/€2.1 million) brought a sharp intake of breath from around the world. We were told that Joshua and Fury would trouser $100 million (£71 million/€82 million) each so where was the money coming from? Global box office TV of course plus funding from a generous host, in all probability. The nation of Saudi Arabia, so keen to present a purified image and put itself on the spotting map.

It was hinted, money really did go grow on palm trees in the form of unlimited petrodollars. But after months of drum-banging -plus of course that trumpet playing - not of cent materialised in the form of up-front dosh.

It seems that like every other country on Earth, the Saudis were feeling the pinch of the pandemic.

Even so Joshua's ever-active mouthpiece, Eddie Hearn, now Matchroom's head honcho, repeatedly insisted it would all happen in August, come what may.

Muhammad Ali, left, and Joe Frazier were each guaranteed $2.5 million for the
Muhammad Ali, left, and Joe Frazier were each guaranteed $2.5 million for the "Fight of the Century" ©Getty Images

Interestingly the Fury camp kept the brakes on the hype about a summer slugfest in Saudi. They were aware of course that Deontay Wilder could always take up the option of insisting on a third meeting between himself and Fury. However it was thought that the time in which he could do this had elapsed. Not so apparently.

Last week came the judgement that they must fight again and that Fury-Wilder III took precedence over anything else.

Another reason, I believe, why the argument between the battling Brits would not be settled this summer would be because it is too hot weatherwise - a sizzling 125 degrees Fahrenheit - for anything of a major sporting manner to be held in August anywhere in Saudi.

Moreover, Joshua‘s long-term trainer, Robert McCracken, is the national coach to GB Boxing and, should the Olympics happen, would be fully occupied with the squad.

Of course the fight could still happen if both combatants elected to relinquish their titles but would it have the same cachet if no belts were at stake? Highly unlikely. The danger is that the situation could deteriorate into the sort of stalemate which saw Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao wait for five years before their eventual showdown. By then much of the fascination of the pairing had worn off and the actual contest was anticlimactic, an extravagant afterthought.

Tyson Fury's superfight against Anthony Joshua will have to wait ©Getty Images
Tyson Fury's superfight against Anthony Joshua will have to wait ©Getty Images

However my guess is that assuming they both win their respective upcoming belts - and this is by no means a given - the fight can still take place next spring probably with less money on the table and with Wembley Stadium looking a more logical venue.

Oleksandr Usyk, a dangerous and unbeaten cruiserweight champion expected to now face Joshua, could put a Ukrainian spanner in the works.

Promoter Bob Arum believes a showdown between Fury and Joshua could be arranged "in the winter" if they win their respective fights this summer.

Joshua holds the World Boxing Organization, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation belts, meaning a bout with Fury would have been the first at heavyweight for all four world titles.

"I don't think it will be difficult after they both win, if they both win, to renew talks," Arum said.

"We have been through it, we know all the ins and outs and it will come together quite quickly. At least that is my hope." And so say all of us.