2018, October 14. Something special is happening in boxing and many fans may not even be aware of it. The extent of its significance in a historical context should not be understated and fans would be well advised to appreciate what we are witnessing because eras like this one don’t come around very often. Getting caught up in the ‘hype’ surrounding big fights – whether that be the fighters or promoters bickering and slagging each other off, can lead us to focus on trivial details without looking at the big picture. The reality is that we, as fans, can consider ourselves lucky to be able to watch and be part of a great era of boxing, most notably of heavyweight boxing, and importantly are able to watch it unfold in real time.
For many reading this, boxing will have only been a subject of interest in the last few years as the sport’s profile has ballooned. But for those of us who have been watching the sport for a while now, we know all too well that golden eras come few and far between. The last great era was one that starred Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson. That era peaked more than two decades ago. Prior to that, was perhaps the greatest of golden eras featuring names like Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and of course, Muhammed Ali. Whether or not this era will be looked back upon as one comparable to those that have preceded it will be determined once the dust has settled. However, Tyson Fury’s dethroning of Wladmir Klitschko, Anthony Joshua’s rise and accumulation of popularity and belts, not to mention Deontay Wilder’s knock out ability, can lead us to assume that we are well and truly in the middle of a great era in the sport. There is a large class of capable fighters in their prime as well as younger challengers who are complimenting the quality of the division too. If it looks and smells great, it probably tastes great too. The best part of it all is that in less than two months from now, Wilder fighting Fury will kick start a series of fights in which the big three names will all go head-to-head. Regardless of what we hear from the promoters, all three will almost certainly fight each other over the coming years and more than likely on more than one occasion. There is too much money and kudos at stake for them not to. The delight of it all is that we have just entered the part of the plot where things really get interesting. We’ve witnessed Fury go from ridiculed fighter to becoming the man that beat the man. We’ve seen ‘AJ’ go from Olympic golden boy to real-deal unified champion, and we’ve seen Wilder KO opponent after opponent. Let’s not force ourselves to pick our favorite and then find reasons to criticize the other two. All three of these fighters have sterling records, huge heart, bundles of character, and masses of boxing ability each in their own unique form.
So where are we in the saga? If we were to analogize the state of boxing to a meal, we would have just finished the appetizer and are about to start the main course at a Micheline star restaurant. We should consider ourselves lucky. For me personally, the Lewis-Holyfield-Tyson era is now a distant memory, and the Ali era before that is something akin to folklore. No matter how many films you see or books you read, unless you live in it, you will never be able to fully appreciate the significance of something. This not unique to boxing, it goes for anything in history.
You will no doubt devour hours of video interviews, countless social-media posts, not to mention pub-time banter in the lead up to the big fights that will be made from here on out. But if I may, a quick word on the upcoming clash between the Bronze Bomber and the Gypsy King. Should Mr. Wilder do to Tyson Fury what he has done to all of his other opponents, he will have far better leverage on Joshua when they re-enter negotiations. Unfortunately for him though, should he beat Tyson, people will inevitably make the case that he has done nothing more than beat a rust-ridden ghost of Christmas past, a former version of the real Tyson Fury, a man who spent a long time out of the ring thus turning the splendor of a Wilder victory into a soggy mulch. This, I feel would be unfair but nevertheless understandable. His style is not exhilarating on the eye but if Fury where to go to America and beat Wilder on home soil against all the odds, I can’t help but feel he would have cemented himself as one of the greatest heavyweights in the history of the sport. The weight issues, the long stint out, the drug problems, the dreadful quality of opponent since the comeback, and so on and so forth. If you were a betting person counting reasons why Fury shouldn’t win the fight, you would run out of fingers to count on before giving up and staying away from making the bet. But given the Gypsy King’s boxing pedigree and predisposition to overcoming odds stacked against him, would you really feel comfortable betting against him?
Then there is Anthony Joshua. The young Brit has come under some criticism for how the negotiations played out with Deontay Wilder. The fact of the matter is that no-one has presented conclusive evidence to suggest that he was dodging the fight and so we can only make assumptions based on how he acts, the challenges he has taken in the past, and his record. It would seem ridiculous to believe that the Wilder fight didn’t happen because Joshua was scared. More likely, negotiations broke down on how the revenue should be split. It is easy and understandable for fans to be frustrated by this and to be suspicious over a fighter’s willingness to fight in such situations. But money talks, and the reality is that each fighter will have their own opinion on the value they bring to the table. Both Wilder, Joshua, and their management, clearly lack consensus on the matter.
One other point to make on the fighters before I wrap this one up. It’s hard not to admire Tyson Fury for where he has come from and what he has achieved and overcome. But from a fans perspective, it can also be hard to align oneself to someone who can often come across as unnecessarily disrespectful, chaotic, and often bitter. I have no doubt that Tyson’s heart is in the right place, which is all the more reason why his outbursts and manner are disappointing to witness. On a recent interview he gave to an American radio show, he came across as a warm hearted, empathetic, and loving individual. That feels like who the real Tyson Fury is. He is someone we should look up to, but he simultaneously gives us so many reasons to stray away from doing so. And this is why you can only sit back and admire Joshua. He has many characteristics that make him likeable. Apart from being formidable, friendly, good-mannered, handsome, and a champion, I still can’t help but think that his biggest attributes are his humility and determination. Is he the best technical boxer in the world? Absolutely not. Is he what you would call ‘gifted’ in the art of boxing? Unlikely. But he himself knows that and has publicly expressed that sentiment before. Joshua has also largely resisted the temptation to trash talk, something very refreshing from a fans perspective. Boxing is not wrestling, we don’t invest our time and money into following the sport so that we can watch theatrics. These are the reasons why AJ is a real star. He has the humility to admit that he isn’t a perfect boxer but yet is willing to put in the effort to overcome that. We all have times in our lives when we look around and feel that we probably lack what the competition around us possess. Joshua is a role model because he shows that trying and hardship can get you around that. The fact that he can do that with dignity and majesty and still stay silent when others around him sling unfounded accusations at him – that shows character. That ability to inspire and give hope, not just to the youth but to most people he encounters is deserving of real credit.
Watching these three men develop and go through their careers is as interesting from a human perspective as it is from a sporting perspective. They have all ascended the mountain together and now they have approached the top. To reach the peak, and claim the rights to be considered the greatest of their generation, they will have engage in a good old fashioned showdown. Years from now, I hope we can look back and discuss how great an era it was. For now, let’s sit back and enjoy it as it all unfolds before our eyes.
Photo credit: @anthonyfjoshua