By Alex beard (@alex_beard17)
An argument can be made for the lack of quality in the heavyweight division compared to yesteryear – but there is no denying that the heavyweight division is now as exciting as it’s been since the 90’s.
This morning – UK time – saw Joseph Parker (23-0-KO18) retain his WBO title with a sluggish unanimous points decision win over somebody named Razvan Cojanu in New Zealand. To be fair, the Romanian was a late replacement for the injured Hughie Fury, but no heavyweight champion should fail to stop a man whose previous opponents had a combined 0 Wikipedia pages.
The win won’t have Anthony Joshua (19-0-KO19) or Deontay Wilder (38-0-KO37) quaking in their boots, but a lack of motivation against a no-name replacement opponent may explain the New Zealander’s lacklustre display. Having said that, Parker keeps himself in the hunt for unification bouts against the aforementioned Joshua and Wilder, but his CV is seriously lacking even in comparison to the relatively bare – for heavyweight champions – résumés of his fellow titleholders.
The consensus in the division now is that Joshua has elevated himself to a level above the rest – bar prodigal son Tyson Fury (25-0-KO18). His victory over former divisional overlord Wladimir Klitschko last weekend was terrific, it allowed him to show qualities that he hadn’t had to reveal before and in doing so raised his stock far higher than a quick knockout would have.
This renaissance in the land of the giants has a lot to do with Joshua, of course, but there is a layer of intriguing fighters below the champions that should allow the division to continue its upward trajectory in the years to come.
There are currently numerous contenders who are at least interesting. Kubrat Pulev (25-1-KO13) is the mandatory challenger for Joshua’s IBF belt and may well be the Briton’s next opponent. He was blown away by Klitschko in 2014, but has rebounded well with wins over Dereck Chisora and the still-existing Kevin Johnson. He boxed well against Chisora and would, at the very least, be a credible next opponent for Joshua.
Luis Ortiz (27-0-KO23) appears to be the forgotten man in the weightclass. ‘The Real King Kong’ burst onto the radar late 2015 with a stoppage victory over former title challenger Bryant Jennings. Since then, however, his career has stagnated and he is now 38 years of age. For a while viewed as the ‘boogeyman’ of the division, he’s plodded through wins over Tony Thompson, Malik Scott and David Allen since beating Jennings and appears to have lost any momentum he once had. Conceivably he could beat any heavyweight on his day, but he needs to prove himself against an elite opponent.
Below those two you have a group of less proven but intriguing contenders. Andy Ruiz Jr. (29-1-KO19) lost his unbeaten record to Parker in December, but showed he should be taken seriously as a top 10 heavyweight. Dominic Breazeale (18-1-KO16) improved his stock in defeat against Joshua last June, and returned in February with an impressive knockout of up-and-comer Izu Ogonoh. Then you have another Joshua victim in Dillian Whyte (20-1-KO15) who has beaten Chisora and Allen since that encounter with AJ. He gets another, on paper, step-up against Mariusz Wach in June where we’ll find out more about him.
This brings me to the dog barking loudly in the corner of the room, otherwise known as Tony Bellew. The erstwhile cruiserweight champion continues to declare to anyone who will listen that he is now an elite heavyweight – totally understandable when you reflect on his one fight in the division where he barely beat a one-legged man who hadn’t fought an opponent with a pulse since 2012… Perhaps he could beat a lot of heavyweights, but am I the only one who wasn’t impressed by that win over Haye?
Really, you could argue that the most impressive heavyweight in their last fight – not named Tyson Fury – was Klitschko. He defied expectations by going toe-to-toe with the hottest fighter in the weightclass while coming off a long layoff and at 41 years of age. Joshua, in the words of Fury, went life and death with a man he toyed with, with a fighter in his fourth decade of life who has 69 fights on his ledger.
Bellew, as alluded to above, scraped past a seriously-injured Haye. Parker looked sluggish against a nobody, while Wilder was out-boxed by Gerald Washington until he unearthed that equalizing power of his. Ortiz found it tough against Allen, Whyte went through the ringer with Chisora, and Pulev couldn’t knockout a man who was stopped in 2 rounds by a 12-fight Joshua.
In all honesty the division – while at its most watchable in years – is still in limbo while it waits for its lineal champion to return. Joshua vs. Fury is arguably the biggest fight that could be made in boxing, definitely in Britain anyway. And we cannot truly judge the Joshua’s and the Wilder’s of the world until we see them in the ring against the ‘Gypsy King’.
So we can only hope that the encouraging signs of a Fury comeback continue, and that we will soon see him in the ring once again. Then, we will find out how good the rest of these heavyweights really are.by