Heavyweight boxing is on the brink of entering another golden age and it could soon be regarded as the marquee division of the sport once more. A thrilling sense of unpredictability abounds, fierce rivalries have sprung up and four colourful characters are now vying for supremacy. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. are all circling one another and we should expect fireworks when they finally lock horns.
The division spent nearly two decades in the doldrums as the clinical Klitschko brothers routinely dispatched challengers of dubious provenance and pedigree. Yet that all ended when first Fury and then Joshua toppled big Wladimir and blew the division wide open. His downfall created a power vacuum that nobody has managed to fill.
A bout between Joshua and Wilder a year ago would have yielded a unified world champion, but they were kept apart and chaos has since reigned. Joshua’s stunning upset at the hands of Ruiz turned the division on its head, while Fury’s controversial draw with Wilder muddied the water even further. All four men now have a shot at emerging as the dominant force within the division, and we should now be able to look forward to some exhilarating bouts in the next 12 months, if the various promoters can agree terms.
That is a big if. Wilder, Fury and Joshua have all signed lucrative broadcast deals with rival companies, making negotiations complicated. Instead of heading straight into a rematch with Wilder, Fury was pitted against German challenger Tom Schwarz on his Las Vegas debut in June. It was a ridiculously one-sided fight, as Fury ripped him to shreds in front of a baying crowd. Dillian Whyte responded to the result by declaring that his mum could have knocked out Schwarz and saying that Fury ought to be ashamed.
Video Highlights: That amazing fight between Fury and Wilder. Was the draw decision correct?
You might argue that Whyte should have been more focused on the substances he was putting in his body than on developments in Sin City, but he made a good point. Fury and Schwarz looked woefully mismatched and it was clearly not the fight that fans wanted to see. Now he has booked a date to take on Otto Wallin, described by promoter Bob Arum as “a big Swedish kid”, and after that he might finally get back into the ring with Wilder.
For his part, Wilder will take on Cuba’s Luis Ortiz next, despite knocking him out when they met last year. He floored Fury with a monstrous blow in their clash back in December, but most commentators feel he was extremely lucky to escape with a draw after Fury landed plenty more punches and dominated the fight. Both men remain unbeaten, and it will be thrilling to watch them tangle once again, but they both need to navigate their upcoming matches first.
When Ruiz shocked Joshua and world boxing!
Meanwhile, Joshua’s fall from grace has been pretty spectacular. He was expected to wipe the floor with Ruiz, a late replacement for the fight after Jarrell Miller failed a drug test, but he was clearly underprepared and he took the threat of Ruiz too lightly. He was the overwhelming favourite, as noted on this spread betting blog at the time, but he was dropped four times en-route to one of the biggest surprise defeats in boxing history.
Promoter Eddie Hearn is now thrashing out the conditions for the rematch, which Ruiz is contractually obliged to accept. Joshua is the odds-on favourite once again to win the fight. If he can pull it off and regain his belts, he will have to go on and prove himself against either Fury or Wilder. If Ruiz wins, he should get into the ring with whoever prevails in the Wilder-Fury rematch to decide who is the world’s greatest heavyweight.
It will be a travesty if these fights do not take place within the next 12 months. The heavyweight division has a great opportunity to establish itself as the biggest draw in boxing once again, and it cannot afford to waste it. “Each of these guys are having an interim fight for whatever reason I can’t fathom,” said Top Rank boss Arum when discussing Fury and Wilder. “Hopefully they get by, they win their fights. Then we have a date already and we have two networks that are going to participate in this event. Everything is set but one of these could end up losing.”
That is what happened with Joshua, and the division could actually become even more entertaining if Wallin pulls off an upset against Fury. However, after watching him take Schwarz apart, you would not want to bet on it. The time has come for the big draws within this division to stop avoiding one another and to lock horns in a bid for the ultimate glory.
It is now 19 years since we had an undisputed heavyweight champion, and the division desperately needs one. It would inject credibility into proceedings, and it would then allow the various challengers to step up to the plate for a shot at immortality. We can only hope that the various power brokers can resolve monetary and political issues and make it happen.