Boxing: Is the Heavyweight Division Coming to Life?

This article was written by Tom Davey. You can follow him on Twitter under the handle @KOKINGS4

Is the heavyweight division about to truly come to life in a way fans haven’t seen since the 90’s? Well, we may not quite reach those dizzying heights, but the revival appears to be coming, as the heavyweight division, almost dead from one of the worst era’s in boxing history is at least off the ventilator.

Let’s give credit where it’s due, The Klitschko dominance – of both brothers, meaning the two most dominant fighters of the division could never possibly fight each other. Although brilliant in terms of skilled pugilism, they strangled the life from the division for well over a decade. Opposition was average in an underwhelming era – and the Klitschko’s (in particular Wladimir) did what only they could do, which was to emphatically beat what was in front of them.

Fast forward to 2015, and Tyson Fury breathed a new lease of life into the division with his huge upset victory in the champion’s back yard – and suddenly the division was wide open again…. Or so we thought. Without going on too much of a tangent which is another topic entirely, it proved to be a false dawn with Fury and all the well documented problems. Some clever work from Eddie Hearn ensured the IBF landed on Anthony Joshua’s lap, and in fairness, Klitschko and Joshua provided an immense fight in Klitschko’s swansong, with Joshua finally silencing his doubters and proving he was deserving of (some of) his previous accolades, as well as picking up the vacant WBA in the process.

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So what now in 2018? The imminent return of the mack in Tyson Fury is great news for heavyweight boxing, with a chance for Fury to defend his last title and perhaps silence his own critics. But perhaps more importantly in the immediate future is that it would appear this “avoiding” each other period in order to remain unbeaten could be over – the present top 10 Ring ranked boxers have a combined four losses( Povetkin, Pulev to Klitschko and Breazeale, Whyte to Joshua). The rest remain undefeated. For too long, they’ve avoided each other for whatever reasons, electing to take fights with guys outside the Top 10, padding their records.

This is all about to change  – in March we have a mouth watering clash between four of the top five – all unbeaten. First up, number two ranked Deontay Wilder faces number five Luis Ortiz, with many stating that despite WBC champ Wilder’s impressive 37 (36KO)-0 record, the enigma that is Ortiz is his first real test. Ortiz of course, is not without his own well documented problems, and add to that his long periods of inactivity and (debatable) age, this should surely make Wilder a comfortable favourite… although to underestimate the man once dubbed the most avoided man in the heavyweight division would be foolish.

Boxing Scene

So how does this fight go? The Cuban is without question the better pugilist, decent amateur pedigree, a far better general ring craft in defence, good power and a significant weight advantage. As already stated, age and inactivity could well play a key role and in terms of speed, he’s like a fully loaded truck on a steep incline on a motorway. As for the aptly named Wilder – can be very wild and has often been ridiculed from armchair fans on social media, often with pictures of windmills depicting Wilder’s ‘unorthadox’ style. However, Wilder possesses the greatest athleticism in the division, possibly due to been around 230 lbs and 6’6, and in my opinion, appears to have that concussive one punch power absent from the likes of Fury, Joshua, etc. I’d argue, Wilder is the biggest puncher of the division. Therefore Ortiz would need to keep on his gameplan and seriously outbox Wilder to keep that big shot away  – Wilder when he has his opponent hurt is a phenomenal finisher, as his record suggests.

Ortiz looks as solid as a mountain, so I don’t expect there to be any real chin issues there, whilst Wilder, to be brutally honest, has never really had his tested, especially by a man of Ortiz’ calibre.

I see the fight panning out with Ortiz taking control and dominating the early rounds, from one to three, with Wilder coming into it by the fourth and fifth. I genuinely feel that Wilder will up the pace from the midway point, with the older man tiring from nine onwards, Wilder sensing this and going for – and getting the finish somewhere between nine and eleven. If it goes to points it’s very hard to put a prediction on it. Ortiz is the finer pugilist and should theoretically outbox Wilder, though, if Wilder does up the pace and Ortiz looks gassed by the bell, will he have done enough to take it? If it goes to points, I’d suspect Wilder gets the decision no matter what, unless it’s an absolute schooling from “King Kong” (more on that coming).

Part two of the top five facing each other is the eagerly awaited unification between WBA and IBF champ, Anthony Joshua, and WBO king, Joseph Parker. The fight, already building nicely – largely due to some excellent promotional work from the very likeable David Higgins – who has persuaded many who thought this was a simple formality for Joshua, to thoughts of ‘hang on, this is a dangerous fight for AJ’. Higgins has made much of the fact Joshua has been dropped several times (sparring, amateur and professionally) questioning his chin, and reinforcing the rumour that Joshua is packing “glass.” Although this has been an excellent promotional strategy by Team Parker, you have to give the credit where its due  – As the great man himself once said – “Inside a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong,”Muhammad Ali.

Joshua took a huge right from Klitschko in the sixth, in their epic encounter that took him to the brink of defeat – most of Klitschko’s opponents tagged by that shot in the last decade have not got up from that. Joshua did get up, he recovered and went on to win. This showed the heart of Joshua cannot be called into question, even if the chin is. It may be he does go down in fights… but, in my opinion, this is not a problem if he can get back up.

Parker on the other hand, according to Higgins, has a chin chiselled from granite, having never been knocked down in any circumstance; always impressive by a professional fighter, even more so when they are one of the big boys. Parker certainly moves well and has fast hands and decent enough looking power – but again what calibre of opponent are we measuring this against? Parker at times looked lumbersome against Hughie Fury, though Fury was extremely awkward, and those style fights rarely end via stoppage.

So this fight promises to be a barnstormer and I believe it won’t disappoint. Both have a come forward style which both fighters say suit them. Much has been made about Joshua dealing with a fighter that doesn’t just stand in front of him, I believe that Joshua will have the tools to deal with this. Joshua, perhaps lacking the concussive one punch shot, does have an immense variety and volume of punches which I believe we will see in effect on March 31. I think Parker will land and possibly even drop Joshua during the fight, but I think AJ will have enough to punish Parker, and although he may not drop Parker, I think a referee stoppage win for Joshua is likely in the middle rounds, somewhere between five to eight. One observation I will make is that if Joshua comes in as heavy as he has in his last two fights, and he hasn’t got the job done by middle rounds, the late rounds could become very very interesting indeed, with Joshua gassing and Parker maybe knowing he needs to go for broke to win.

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If it goes to points, barring an absolute schooling by Parker, AJ gets the nod – lets be brutally honest, no one is beating Joshua in a semblance of a close fight on a Matchroom card.

And so this sets up a huge unification later this year, winner of Wilder versus Ortiz to face winner of Joshua versus Parker, for all of the belts. The likelihood, and the one the majority of fans will want, is of course Joshua versus Wilder, but its not beyond the realms of possibility any combination of the four is possible… Ortiz versus Parker anyone? Add to that (hopefully) Tyson Fury being fit and well, having made a successful comeback fight or two, we could see a fight in the early part of 2019 for an undisputed heavyweight Champion – Not seen since the great Lennox Lewis held that honour.

Yes, the heavyweight division is coming to life.

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