May 17th, 2016
The heavyweight division in boxing has, historically speaking, been the premier division within the sport, the class by which boxing itself and its popularity has been defined by throughout past eras. Thoroughbred boxing fans will be the first to come forward in protest to this kind of flawed account and point in the direction of all the other great prizefighters in all of the other divisions at any given point in history.
It can be argued that you need look no further than the biggest fights of the last decade and the weight divisions they took place in and conclude that boxing is not reliant on the big boys to sustain interest. But like it or not, the heavyweight division has been the de facto representative of the fight game. As such, when the heavyweight division has gone through a recession of interest, stocks of the entire sport have fallen on the trading floors of public popularity. The division has been a wounded animal for a long time now but recently, and especially since Tyson Fury’s shock defeat over Wladimir Klitschko towards the end of last year, the sore eyes with which people have looked at the division with have changed.
In terms of excitement, Fury’s victory was one of the dullest changing of hands of the heavyweight title in recent memory, but it was the spark that led to considerable interest being bellowed into the division. This, along with the new kid on the block – Anthony Joshua, the popular American WBC champ Deontay Wilder, the return to the ring of David Haye, and finally the on-a-roll Luis Ortiz, all have noticeable stake in the reason behind the resurgence.
Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, and Joshua himself have been very vocal about this renaissance and, for understandably selfish reasons, have been among the first to attempt to propagate seeds of interests in the minds of the public. And, maybe we should be excited. On the surface there is good reason to be. Anthony Joshua is pleasing on the eye, has an endearing story of leaving crime for boxing, comes across as a polite, modest, and humble gentleman, and is knocking out everyone he finds himself in the ring with. Wilder is similarly young, energetic, and vicious in the ring. Fury, despite his questionable persona, is the jester who managed to take the crown from the king in his castle after his remarkably long reign. Haye too, is full of confidence and apart from not taking Klitschko’s belt in 2011, has had an impressive career. Ortiz is a juggernaut and like Wilder, Fury, and Joshua, is also undefeated.
But here is the flip-side. Klitschko undisputedly has an exemplary record but even if he defeats Fury next month, he is 40 and will surely be out of the game before long. Of the rest, however, all of the above have question marks in some shape or form over whether they are, or will be, truly top-class and sustainable champions in future. Ortiz, despite is emergence and substantial presence on HBO is now 37. On top of this, he doesn’t look to getting in to the ring with one of the others any time soon. If he does get this chance, it may be all be a little too late for the Cuban. With Wilder, although he is strong and athletic, his boxing skills and technique haven’t been critic free. Whether or not he will be able to out-box a smarter fighter of higher pedigree remains to be seen. Since his inevitable comeback, Haye hasn’t got in the ring with anybody that matters – or even anybody has heard of for that matter. The fact he already had an opportunity and didn’t take it against Klitschko, and the fact that the Fury seems adamant not to give Haye a fight as he feels he feels he was previously maltreated by Haye, puts him in a difficult spot. As for Joshua, out of all the above he is the one who arguably has rights to both being designated as the fighter with most potential and at the same time fighter with the most uncertainty hanging over him. This is primarily due to the fact that he is young, doesn’t have a great number of fights under his belt, and hasn’t been tested by a proven top-class fighter yet. Dillian Whyte and Charles Martin are by no means insignificant opponents but will likely be different in contrast to future opponents.
With a couple of these fighters closing in on the final stages of their career, and others still with question marks over their heads, it would be premature to say we have entered a great new era for the heavyweight division. It would also be pessimistic to write-off its potential. The only way we will get closer to understanding the quality of the imminent future of the division is if the fighters and promoters make the fights that need to happen, happen. Making these fights would be the glue to keep intact the momentum needed to elevate interest amongst the fans. If this happens, we may be nearer to being able determining just how real the current hype actually is.
Photo credit: matchroomboxing.com