At the time Tyson Fury dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in November of 2015, there was just one match needed to determine the undisputed, number one heavyweight on the planet: Fury vs Deontay Wilder. Had the sanctioning bodies played ball, and had Klitschko waived his contractual right to an immediate rematch, Fury vs Wilder would have been for all the marbles: the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles, plus the lesser-regarded IBO belt. Never before had all four major world heavyweight titles been unified. Boxing would have had a single, undisputed heavyweight king, not to mention a new superstar and transcendent figurehead.
It’s been a long time since we had such a ruler at the top of the heavyweight mountain. In fact, it’s been a hell of a long while since the so-called ‘big three’ belts were unified. The last time was in 1999, when WBC ruler Lennox Lewis outpointed WBA and IBF boss Evander Holyfield in their Las Vegas rematch.
Alas, Fury vs Wilder never came close to happening; instead, chaos reigns. A Fury vs Klitschko rematch was ordered, prompting the IBF to strip Fury of their belt for not signing to face their mandatory challenger, Vyacheslav Glazkov. Then Fury suffered a meltdown, his rematch with Klitschko was scuttled, and his WBA and WBO titles were declared vacant. New Zealand’s Joseph Parker soon picked up the WBO title; Charles Martin beat Glazkov to acquire the IBF strap, which then passed on to Anthony Joshua after he bulldozed Martin in two rounds. And the WBA, for reasons we can only guess at, has put their belt on the line in the forthcoming Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko blockbuster, set for April 29.
Actually, that’s not strictly true: the WBA ‘Super’ belt will be at stake in London. The WBA are also trafficking a ‘Regular’ title, the scraps of which 45-year-old Shannon Briggs and 43-year-old Fres Oquendo (who hasn’t fought in two-and-a-half years!) will fight for sometime in the next few months. Can you guess which is the real title?
Wilder, of course, continues to hold the coveted green-and-gold WBC belt, but he’s in dire need of a marquee fight. Since winning his title two years ago, he has fought four overmatched contenders, and his profile has nosedived in the process. An American heavyweight champion with a 97% KO ratio should be headline news, but like many prizefighters in Al Haymon’s massive stable, he’s had a low-key couple of years. Worse still, he hasn’t seemed remotely interested in establishing himself as the top dog.
The bottom line is despite this confusing mess, long-suffering boxing fans remain hopeful that the heavyweight division can be restored to some kind of order. But with so many contenders and champions vying for supremacy and a plethora of belts in circulation, at this point it’s impossible to have any idea who is in fact the finest heavyweight boxer in the world. The only way we could find out was if there were some sort of tournament sponsored by the sanctioning bodies, whereby one boxer lays waste to the competition and ascends to the throne. But in lieu of that unlikely event happening, here are the matches that would go some way towards demystifying the gridlocked heavyweight picture. Could any of these confrontations happen in the near future?
Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko: Obviously this match is set and it’s going to be a huge event, though I’d rather have seen Klitschko in a tune-up fight first. We simply don’t know what, if anything, he has left after the humbling he took from Fury. Come April 29, he’ll be 41-years-old and will have been out of the ring for nearly 18 months; moreover, you have to go back to November of 2014 to find the last impressive Klitschko performance. Against Fury, he resembled a gun-shy faded fighter, not the heavyweight bellwether of yesteryear. Still, Klitschko represents big-punching Joshua’s first legit test. Will AJ’s KO streak continue, or will Wladimir’s vast experience make the difference?
Deontay Wilder vs Joseph Parker: Both Wilder and Parker badly need a meaningful fight. Although they are champions, question marks swirl around both. Wilder can certainly punch, but his skills remain suspect. He hasn’t faced anyone with much firepower or ring smarts. Parker, while promising, remains a contender, despite his having the WBO belt around his waist. Both are heavy-handed fighters, both need defining fights, and both have major belts. A showdown between “The Bronze Bomber” and Parker would go some way to helping us sort out the heavyweight mess.
David Haye vs Luis Ortiz: “King Kong” is no spring chicken at 37, and Haye is just a year younger. Thus, neither man has much time to waste, and while Haye will be angling for a shot at Joshua if he blitzes Tony Bellew on March 4, which seems massively likely, he should be made to earn that shot by beating another top-rated heavy, in addition to a blown-up cruiser. Ortiz, the avoided Cuban southpaw, fits the bill. Although he’s looked ordinary since signing with Matchroom late last year, Ortiz is a canny operator with legit punching power, and he’ll give no ground to the equally destructive Haye. Bombs away!
Tyson Fury vs Anyone: At this point, I just want to see the “Gypsy King” back in the mix. Considering he’s been out for a while and bound to be ring rusty, I don’t particularly care who’s in the opposite corner. Fights with Bermane Stiverne, Kubrat Pulev, Dillian Whyte, Jarrell Miller or Alexander Ustinov would sit fine with me. I also wouldn’t mind a showdown with fellow Brit David Price. This nearly happened a few years back, when both were unbeaten, but Price ran into Tony Thompson and quickly fell off the map. Right now, they’re both in the wilderness. I say better late than never for an intriguing battle between two massive heavyweights.
Dillian Whyte vs Shannon Briggs: At first glance this might seem like a meeting of fringe contenders, but it’s likely that Briggs is going to pick up the WBA ‘Regular’ title soon. Whyte gave a decent account of himself against Joshua, extending him further than anyone else, and he’s coming off an exciting win over Dereck Chisora. Briggs, as we all know, has spent the last few years hounding Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye, screaming, “Let’s go champ!” in the face of anyone who’ll listen. This would pit a young, fresh, ambitious Whyte against an old, experienced and bat-shit crazy Briggs. Whoever wins moves up the pecking order for a shot at one of the division’s legit champions. What’s not to like?
So, for what it’s worth, there’s my Top Five heavyweight match-ups to bring more excitement back to the division and create a bit of order amidst all the current chaos. In addition, most of these matches are, at least on paper, competitive and potentially thrilling. All we can do is hope that 2017 brings us some of these fights (and more) as the sport fumbles its way towards what it badly needs: a single, undisputed heavyweight champion.
— Ronnie McCluskey