Heavyweight boxing must not let a golden era die right before our eyes
Heavyweight boxing is standing on the cusp of greatness, but also on the brink of disaster and some careful steps are required to edge towards the Elysian Fields and away from the abyss.
Looking out across the boxing landscape of our dreams, we see Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, all fighting each other in a series of memorable contests, scrapping to determine the true dominant force at the unlimited weight.
Stare back into the pit and we see these unbeaten behemoths swatting aside below-par challengers like the three they each face this spring. In the vision of hell they are doing this for all eternity, never gaining satisfaction, forced to defeat lumbering, unskilled heavyweights till the end of days.
Nirvana is achievable, the Kingdom of the Damned is avoidable, but it is also very ease to slip into.
For over a decade, heavyweight boxing was a wasteland, ruled over by the scientifically well adapted Klitschko brothers. Wladimir and Vitali were like rattlesnakes who had evolved to survive in the desert, while all other heavyweights were hamsters who had been dropped there from a rural pet shop and had no idea what to do with themselves.
It was easy pickings for the Ukrainians to devour these little rodents, occasionally in brutal and entertaining fashion, but mostly in robotic, predictable tedium. The wins racked up, the viewers turned off and heavyweight boxing became so boring that Floyd Mayweather shoulder-rolling his way to unanimous points decisions actually became the most popular viewing in the sport.
Vitali hung up his gloves while Wlad’s reign continued, allowing the likes of Mariusz Wach, Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai to have a crack at his unified titles.
Dr Steelhammer was finally dethroned by a mesmerising display from Tyson Fury in November 2015 and then firmly put out to pasture in April 2017 as Anthony Joshua bludgeoned him into retirement. The old regime was officially over and a new, more exciting one was to be ushered in.
Joshua has assumed Klitschko’s position at the top of the division, but two men have legitimate claims to the throne – Fury and Wilder. It is a quirk unique to boxing that AJ can be the number one heavyweight on the planet despite there being two other unbeaten fighters in the division who won world titles before him, but that is where we are.
Fury has had his own demons to deal with and that is why the Gypsy King always affecting boxing’s betting odds and is currently without a crown. However, he has put his problems behind him and is ready to challenge for supremacy once again.
Wilder has not had drug addiction or fitness issues to deal with, but he has just not been able to prove his worth due to a chronic case of fighting awful contenders over and over again. Wilder won the WBC heavyweight title in January 2015 and didn’t really fight anyone half decent until he faced Luis Ortiz in March 2018. It was a dreadful excuse for a title reign, until it all seemed to change in December last year.
The two pretenders for Joshua’s crown decided that enough was enough on their side of the equation and it was time to decide who the better man was. A winner could even claim to have the edge over AJ, or if not, at least be the only legitimate contender to take on the Olympic gold medallist.
It was the ideal move for Fury and Wilder, who could get the fans on the side by providing the best possible fight outside of Joshua, while AJ provided a clash with Alexander Povetkin, which didn’t quite catch the public’s imagination.
For setting up a storyline, Fury v Wilder could not have gone any better, and almost no one would have predicted the outcome. The winner was supposed to move on to meet Joshua, but the idea of a draw between the two giants was almost inconceivable. That is what we got, though, and an incredibly exciting draw at that, with some claiming Fury was robbed of a win he deserved.
One of the greatest heavyweight bouts in recent memory and a decision many disagreed with, the rematch was really the only option on the table, unless one of the men could tempt Joshua into a fight.
After Fury vs Wilder, never before had the three men at the top of the division been shining so brightly. A match between any two of them would have been enormous, captivating and almost-certainly thrilling.
Four months on from that bout and we are not getting any of those three potential match-ups. What we are being shown over a four-week period in May and June is Deontay Wilder v Dominic Breazeale, Anthony Joshua v Jarrell Miller and Tyson Fury v Tom Schwarz.
We appear to have gone from a guaranteed heavyweight classic, that would grasp the world’s attention, to three one-sided beatings that many in the UK will not be bothering to stay up till 3am to watch from the States. We have slipped from the brink of the bright new era, right back into the Klitschko regime of unappealing, unrewarding, contests where the favourite goes in at 1/10.
This is all so disappointing because there were clear options on the table. The Klitschkos were unlucky, in a way, because there simply wasn’t the competition so they were forced to take on easy pickings. But now, the challenges are clear, they have simply been avoided.
Even in the choices of contender, the toughest fights have been side-stepped. How Dillian Whyte has not got himself a crack at Joshua, Wilder or Fury is almost inconceivable. Cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk being thrown in against one of the three would have been more compelling, even tempting Klitschko out of retirement to have another crack at one of them.
Instead, we are back to the bad old days. The three kings will swat away the pretenders with ease and we will have advanced not a step in the conversation over who is the greatest. Money will be made, but not one single other thing will be achieved.
Of course, we could then be treated to Joshua v Wilder or Fury v Wilder II by the end of the year and all this will, largely, be forgotten, but what if one loses? This is heavyweight boxing, where one punch can end things at any time. Some of the bookies were covering this event wel with Betfred customer promotions being one of the nicest lists arround for some competitive odds that were right up there with the best. If one of the top dogs is caught by an underdog then they will be thrown out into the wilderness, barking but unable to bite. It is unlikely, but a genuine risk, which does not warrant the reward.
As mentioned, if by the end of 2019 we are seeing two of the big three fighting each other, then complaints will be forgotten, but if we don’t then boxing needs to take a step back from the greed, politics and self-righteous posturing and see it from the fans’ perspective.
Fights are not made due to promoters and TV executives haggling over money and letting egos get in the way. Whichever way any fight between Fury, Wilder and Joshua is sliced, everyone involved will be making millions. The winner will go on to make untold riches against the other man of the three, in a rematch, or even going back to splatter another B-Level fighter.
It has been a long time since three genuine superstars sat atop the heavyweight division and it would be one of the greatest crimes in the history of the sport if these stars were allowed to burn out.
For the British boxing fan, especially, we are transfixed by the heavyweights right now. Elsewhere there are good fighters, but not global stars to get the country excited. Callum Smith and Josh Warrington are superb world champions, but the man on the street does not know who they are. Joshua and Fury are household names that need to be treated as such with the biggest fights possible.
As ever, it is not the fighters who are getting in the way of the big fights. But after the upcoming spring farce the three men are about to put us through, it is down to their promoters to produce something a lot more meaningful before the end of the year.
If 2020 rolls round and there has been no bout between the big three, then boxing truly has taken a step into the abyss.
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April 11th, 2019 by Simon A