'The Boxing Fan Man' Anish Parekh surveys the heavyweight scene of this generation:
Some claim that this is a great era for heavyweight boxing. Yes, there have been some events that have transcended the sport and brought it under the microscope of the mainstream media. There has been drama with thunderous knockouts, earth-shattering shocks and redemption stories all in the past year.
So despite this, why do I still feel like this era of heavyweights still has work to do before it can be considered in the same breath as the heavyweights of the 1970’s and 1990’s?
Lennox Lewis was the last man standing from a great generation of heavyweight boxer’s in the 1990’s. Nobody has unified all the recognised titles and earned the status as being the undisputed champion since. One glance through Lewis’ record will tell you that he is highly deserving of his place in history amongst the greats. It also gives the current-day behemoths a blueprint for what they have to accomplish, to be spoken of in the same glowing terms.
Not only did Lewis take on his fiercest rivals – Tyson and Holyfield. He also did what he described as “taking care of the misfits.” With respect to who he could be describing with that term, it is fair to say that he cleared out the division by dispatching the next tier of contenders to his titles. He beat the likes of Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, Henry Akinwande, Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, Zeljko Mavrovic, Michael Grant, Francois Botha and David Tua, who were a dangerous assortment of dark-horses and young pretenders. He avenged defeats to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. Then closed off his career with a win against Vitali Klitschko – a man that could genuinely be regarded as the best from the era that succeeded him.
Lewis eradicated any doubt that he was the best of the 90’s heavyweights by taking on and defeating anyone that could be considered a credible opponent.
This is where the current day heavyweights are lacking. The two contests between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder have undoubtedly provided great value and the outcomes gave us some insight into how the division is shaping up. Anthony Joshua owns notable victories over Wladimir Klitschko, who he beat in a comprehensive manner after some scary moments, before convincingly outpointing Joseph Parker to partially unify the division.
But beyond making fights that include the famous trio of Fury, Wilder and Joshua, there has to be a degree of fairness towards others that have fought their way into title contention and deserve their opportunity.
Brixton 'Body Snatcher' Dillian Whyte has waited over 1,000 days for his chance to challenge for the WBC title, but was persistently overlooked by former titleholder Wilder. He has paid his dues by being in tough fights against world-level opposition and notching up wins over the likes of Robert Helenius, Derek Chisora twice, Joseph Parker and Oscar Rivas. He is not the most polished of pugilists and may even come unstuck against a reigning world titlist but he has surely earned his shot and waited long enough for it.
The shady manoeuvrings of promoters and sanctioning bodies have prevented him from getting this opportunity, although the WBC are still happy and willing enough to accept the fee Whyte pays for his WBC iterim title. Instead, 'The Bronze Bomber' Deontay Wilder was allowed to repeatedly bypass ‘The Body Snatcher’ in favour of lower-risk matchups with the likes of Dominic Breazeale, who was for the second time exposed as being toothless when stepping up against elite opposition, following his bludgeoning at the hands of Joshua, back in 2016.
Former undisputed cruiserweight king, Oleksander Usyk, must also be concerned about when he will get his chance to fight Joshua or Fury. The Ukrainian has a lower profile and his English is limited, which makes his slick style an unappealing prospect for the promoters and sanctioning bodies. He has already stepped aside in favour of the IBF mandatory, Kubrat Pulev, but the WBO No.1 has insisted he will not wait any longer for his mandated shot, providing he gets past Dereck Chisora next, and why should he wait if he's earned his shot? At 33, he's not getting any younger.
We all want to see Joshua and Fury win their next fights to meet in a history-making event in December - the date that Eddie Hearn believes he can make the mega-fight - to crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion in 20 years, but it seems the WBO title will be the missing marble if this happens.
There's also an increasing queue of contenders lining up with Finland's Robert Helenius producing a dramatic fourth-round knockout of unbeaten Adam Kownacki earlier this month in a WBA eliminator fight. American Trevor Bryan is till the WBA No.1 and the inactive Manuell Charr the WBA 'Regular' champion in the governing body's complicated system. Then there's Joshua's former victim Charles Martin back in contention with the IBF, as well as Agit Kabayel, but they wil be considered towards the back of the line with the IBF taking precedent in Joshua's next contest.
These increasing mandatory defences are threatening the bigger super-fights the fans so desperately crave. Contests between Fury, Wilder, Joshua will be the catalysts towards carving their legacies and creating the next heavyweight all-time great for the first time in two decades, but conflicts between the sanctioning bodies are threatening to thwart the chance to make history in the heavyweights.
The problem this causes is that the sport will struggle to retain its dignity by failing to create matchups which include its most deserving contenders. The likes of Tom Schwartz, Otto Wallin and Dominic Breazeale have not been worthy, nor do they add anything to the legacies of Joshua, Wilder or Fury.
The incompetence of promoters and sanctioning bodies and their resistance to award opportunities to those that deserve it the most, only dampens the credibility of the sport and its ability to appeal to fans. Perhaps due to the fairly recent obsession with undefeated records, anyone that could possibly deliver an upset victory is deemed too great a risk of destroying a narrative that, if written perfectly, could be profitable to everyone involved.
The term ‘low-risk’ is least appropriately applied when describing heavyweight bouts, as the precarious nature of the battles between these giant men mean that one clean swipe can knock the king of the division off his throne and sprawling for his senses, whilst a formerly considered pretender, places the crown on his head. And it is this possibility that leads decision makers to demonstrate a lack of courage in making fights with the likes of Usyk and Whyte, who could conceivably turn the heavyweight division upside down and affect the earning potential from it.
So whilst an adjustment in fan's attitude to losses must change, so must those who make the decisions at the precipice of the sport. For this to truly be a great era for heavyweight boxing there has to be an insistence by them – not only for the best to fight the best, but also for them to turn away the attempts of the “misfits,” dark horses and young pretenders, that aim to knock them off their throne.
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