“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

This, a famous Michael Corleone quote from The Godfather Part III, could be associated with any boxing fan whenever they hear talk of a huge heavyweight fight potentially taking place. Because, sadly, in what has so far been a barren year for the division, we still live in hope that at some point the most famous weight class in the sport will get its mojo back.

For months the prospect of Anthony Joshua fighting Deontay Wilder has grown into something that looked more reality than fantasy. Interviews here, there, and everywhere with Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, as well as all-important soundbites from the two main protagonists, were more than enough to have us start thinking we may finally see two mainstays of the heavyweight division fighting one another.

Sure enough, with the Middle East looking like a probable and profitable destination, and everything appearing to be rosy, all we have been waiting for in recent weeks is an official announcement. And yet, just as our excitement arrived rather fittingly with light summer nights, now, with dark nights on the horizon, comes the very real possibility that Joshua vs. Wilder may not in fact materialise until early next year.

Boxing News spoke to Hearn last week and the Matchroom promoter said, “We have agreed our number with Saudi Arabia, but it’s still got to get papered, it’s got to get done properly and there will be a time where you run out of time, and we’ll just fight in December. We’ve got a few weeks to try and make that happen.”

So, if Joshua is not back in the desert for his next fight, where will it take place and, more importantly, who will it be against?

BN looks at five possibilities.

Andy Ruiz, 35-2 (22)

Four years ago, Joshua and Ruiz fought one another twice and for a total of 19 rounds. The craziness of Madison Square Garden, when the seemingly inferior Ruiz ruined both the seemingly invincible Joshua and his American debut, will never be forgotten. That defeat was then avenged by the Brit with method not madness in their Middle East rematch. However, there is typically always a trilogy fight when the score is one apiece, which leaves the door open for Joshua and Ruiz to meet once more. Then again, if it does happen, it likely won’t come cheap.

Andy Ruiz Jnr (Harry How/Getty Images)

Martin Bakole, 19-1 (14)

Having sparred together, Joshua and Bakole are hardly strangers, and there appears to be a mutual respect there as well. Five years ago, Bakole lost in the final round to Michael Hunter but has since then rebuilt, along the way outpointing Tony Yoka over 10 rounds in May 2022. No fight with Joshua can ever be described as a “tough sell” given the star power the Londoner carries and, after entertaining Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius of late, a fight against Bakole could be considered a step up in opposition. If nothing else, Joshua vs. Bakole would provide evidence of where the careers of both are heading.

Martin Bakole (Getty Images)

Luis Ortiz, 33-3 (28)

Ortiz may have just enough left to give the current version of Joshua some problems to work out with trainer Derrick James (in what would be their third fight together). Five years ago, remember, Ortiz was a few punches away from beating Deontay Wilder and winning the WBC heavyweight title. The Cuban southpaw is still a top-15 heavyweight and may satisfy the curiosity for those wondering what Joshua has left to offer.

Luis Ortiz shadowboxes (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Agit Kabayel, 23-0 (15)

The unbeaten record would help the promotion, but the truth is, the aggressive, big-swinging German doesn’t look like he belongs in the same ring as Joshua. Or does he? Thirty years of age, fearless, fresh, powerful and with nothing to lose, Kabayel may present more problems than we think. It appears a long shot at this stage, but, if Team Joshua run out of options or another opponent fails a drug test, Kabayel may very well come into the picture.

Dereck Chisora

Kabayel in action against Dereck Chisora (Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom)

Filip Hrgovic, 16-0 (13)

The Croat is included on this list simply because Eddie Hearn has floated his name as a possible foe for Joshua in December. However, despite Hearn mentioning his name, it is hard to imagine the unbeaten 31-year-old risking his status as IBF mandatory challenger against someone like Joshua, even if, as some fear, the Brit is no longer the fighter of old. Heavyweight boxing at the top table means big bucks and Hrgovic, not yet a star, may be tempted by a huge payday and the opportunity to potentially end the career of Joshua.

Hrgovic looks on during his fight against Zhang last year (Francois Nel/Getty Images)