The heavyweight division has been somewhat mired over the past six months – since we last checked in on the race to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world – with two-belt world champion Tyson Fury seemingly retiring, and strong contender Alexander Povetkin failing two drugs tests, one cleared so far. But it’s also set the stage for the ‘Super-Fight’, in which Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua will bout for the Englishman’s IBF World heavyweight belt and the vacant WBA World heavyweight title.
No one heavyweight boxer has ever been the undisputed champion of the world since boxing took on the WBO as a major belt. The last to achieve the feat, when there was only the WBC, WBA and IBF available, was Englishman Lennox Lewis, who owned the prestigious title from November 1999 to April 2000, defeating Evander Holyfield for the unification of all three titles.
So, how is this generation of heavyweight boxers squaring up in the race to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world?
Six months ago, all four world title belts were owned by superb boxers. Tyson Fury had just shocked the world to take Wladimir Klitschko’s WBA and WBO titles, Anthony Joshua was successfully defending his IBF crown, and Deontay Wilder was doing the same with his WBC, but the former front-runner’s wheels fell off as he became submerged in problems outside of the ring. So, here’s how the title holders stand now.
The young New Zealander has been simmering in his homeland for a couple of years now, with many fans waiting in anticipation of him making the step up to the big stage. In December 2016, he was given the chance to fight Andy Ruiz for the vacant WBO title – left by Tyson Fury’s retirement – in Auckland.
The two undefeated boxers (Ruiz 29-0-0, Parker 21-0-0) went all 12 rounds in a closely contested bout, with Joseph Parker winning by majority decision. Parker is the youngest boxer in the top-20 ranked heavyweights, per BoxRec, at just 25-years-old. Whilst he is a world champion right now, few can compare him to the likes of the other belt holders, with the 6’4’’ pugilist only pulling a 76’’ reach.
However, the kid’s natural size, athletic ability, aggressive nature and viciously quick hook make him tough to handle. He’s also the first ever New Zealand-born heavyweight world champion.
Deontay Wilder followed up his 2015 of winning the WBC title and then defending it against two easy opponents in 2016, by defending his crown against two easy opponents, and looks to do the same in 2017. Now, there are two ways to look at the American’s 2016. The first is that he’s tried to get big fights going, but external factors have stopped him, or that he’s simply trying to hold onto his title for as long as possible and taking easy bouts to do so.
His fight in January against Artur Szpilka – a Polish football hooligan – was a joke. However, the Polish southpaw made Wilder look somewhat tame en route to the American’s knockout victory, with Wilder missing many, many punches. Then Wilder was set to fight Alexander Povetkin – one of the few boxers who, in theory, could contend with Wilder – but upon the announcement that the Russian had tested positive for a banned substance, Wilder skipped his flight to Moscow. It was later revealed that Povetkin hadn’t used the banned substance since it was listed, only beforehand, so received no further punishment.
To end his year, Deontay Wilder took on Chris Arreola in another great mismatch to Wilder’s favour. However, what was admirable was Wilder’s desire to box, with him visibly hindered during the fight by some form of ailment. The injury was later revealed to be a torn bicep and a broken right hand – which he used to knock down Arreola to end the fight in the fourth round.
Now the WBC World champion has lined up a fight with another Polish pugilist, Andrej Wawrzyk, with the 29-year-old only ever seeing defeat once, to Povetkin in 2013. Whilst Wawrzyk is 33-1-0, this looks to be another comfortable defence for Wilder, however he does pose more of a threat than the first four defence opponents did.
His choice in defences should take nothing away from the fact that Deontay Wilder is an incredible talented boxer. The 6’7’’ Alabama-native boasts rock solid jabs from his 83’’ reach, quick feet, superb physical fitness, and great boxing-IQ, which allows him to be very tactical in his choices in the ring, often timing his moves to military precision.
Now sitting at 18-0-0, the 27-year-old Englishman has seen the ability of his opponents step up over the last year. Starting with his vicious knockout of Dillian Whyte at the end of 2015, he then ended Charles Martin in the second round to win the IBF title. Then came a stern test against the punch-absorbing Dominic Breazeale, who was eventually defeated in the seventh by Joshua.
Most recently, Joshua came up against Eric Molina, the man who shook Deontay Wilder, and looked to be another decent test for the Olympic gold medallist. But Molina was completely outclassed and saw his title hopes fade once again, this time via Joshua grinding him into the ropes in the third.
After the fight, promoter Eddie Hearn asked for Wladimir Klitschko, who was in the crowd, to join them on the stage to announce the Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko ‘Super-Fight’ for the IBF and WBA titles. Hopefully this huge encounter will be as good as that seen between James DeGale and Badou Jack to start of the year of boxing.
In terms of professional fights, Anthony Joshua is the most inexperienced of the three world champions, but you wouldn’t think it when watching him box. The 6’6’’ Englishman is the perfect specimen of an elite athlete who also boasts out-of-this-world technical ability and an 82’’ reach. Despite his opponents stepping up in grade as he’s progressed, none have posed a real threat to him. That’s not to say that he’s taking on easy boxers – as his opponents are equivocal to his experience and record – he’s just that good.
The upcoming fight against the man who had a stranglehold on the heavyweight division for the better part of a decade, Wladimir Klitschko, will test every aspect of Joshua’s game. But, as Tyson Fury showed, ‘Dr Steelhammer’ can be caught off guard and can be dominated.
The contender best primed to join the race right now is Wladimir Klitschko, with the WBA and IBF World titles in his crosshairs. There’s just the English wrecking machine Anthony Joshua in his way. The Ukrainian would have learned a lot from his fight against Tyson Fury, mainly that he needs to be more aggressive to deal with these young up-and-coming talents. However, the former world champion comes into his next fight as the underdog.
Another contender, who actually fought on the undercard of Joshua vs Molina to raise his profile in the UK, is undefeated Cuban Luis Ortiz. The 6’4’’ 37-year-old with an 84’’ reach has been lurking around the top heavyweights for a while now, and looks to be making positive steps towards raising his profile and eventually being given a crack at a title. The southpaw known as ‘King Kong’ put in a steady and comprehensive performance against David Allen on Joshua’s undercard, showing his patience and class.
Whilst his latest drugs test failing has set him back, the 37-year-old Alexander Povetkin is still a class heavyweight, with his only loss coming by unanimous decision against Wladimir Klitschko three years ago. If he can stay clean, the Russian looks like the best contender to take any of the belts.
When it comes to other top contenders, Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev – who, like Povetkin, has only ever seen defeat at the hands of Wladimir Klitshcko – is up there, but Dereck Chisora taking him 12 rounds doesn’t bode in his favour. Charles Martin may yet make a comeback after losing to Joshua, and then getting shot. But the real dark horse of the division is still the former world champion.
Haitian boxer Bermane Stiverne was set to fight Povetkin for the rights to challenge Wilder for the WBC – which Stiverne lost to the American in 2015 – but the drug test failure called for the WBC to call off the relevance of the bout, so Stiverne withdrew. He’s still highly ranked, but is quite an outsider in this race.
Tyson Fury, or ‘Gorga Tys’ as he wishes to be known since denouncing his gypsy heritage, is a very erratic character, one who is likely to make a huge comeback sometime over the next 12 months. He’d have to fight his way back up the rankings, but the 6’9’’ goliath would be an immediate title threat, should he return to the ring.
So, who will come out on top?
As it stands, Anthony Joshua looks to take that huge step and get two of the four belts by defeating Wladimir Klitschko in a changing of the guard event at Wembley Stadium in April. Deontay Wilder’s next fight, in February, means that he should be available in the second half of 2017, potentially for a unification fight. Joseph Parker is yet to announce his next opponent, but should look for a bout abroad to raise his profile.
Parker’s win against Ruiz wasn’t the most convincing with there being many more contenders of greater ability, who Parker may have to face. If the New Zealander faces any of Luis Ortiz, Alexander Povetkin or Kubrat Pulev, we’d likely see a new WBO World heavyweight champion. But the youngster is ever improving, so could shock any of the aforementioned veterans if he brings a more aggressive and clinical style.
With Tyson Fury out of the picture for the time being, Wladimir Klitshcko expected to bow out after the Joshua fight, and Alexander Povetkin caught up in more banned substances issues, the division is there for Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder to scrap over.
For it to play out perfectly, Joshua would defeat Klitschko and Wilder would, inevitably, defeat Wawrzyk. Then Wilder would take on Joseph Parker – or whoever the WBO title holder is come May – and Joshua would take on David Haye to simply silence the former champion. Then, for the end of 2017 or start of 2018, the two greatest heavyweights in the division take each other on in the biggest bout for decades, to unify the heavyweight division. A classic England versus America battle that could bring about a series of rivalry fights.
But that may just be too perfect to ever become reality.
Who do you think leads the race to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world? Let us know in the comments section below.