The Heavyweight Landscape Changes

One week ago, Deontay Wilder became the first American heavyweight champion since Shannon Briggs. For some reason, Briggs is still in boxing, and has spent the last while chasing Wladimir Klitschko around Europe, miraculously finding him in remote locations where he challenges Wlad to fights and jumps around with the manic enthusiasm of a low ranking football coach that wants to impress his players. To call Wilder a champion would be rich, however, and ‘belt holder’ is a better tag. The real champ is Klitschko, who’s better at every facet of boxing than each of his heavyweight competitors. But while the Ukrainian’s pre-eminence is clear, it’s also true that Wilder’s championship foretells interesting things for a long-suffering division.

Wilder isn’t ready to fight Wladimir, and may not be some time, but there is another giant, at rest somewhere in England, who he’d be well served to get in the ring with. That is Tyson Fury, who lacks fluidity and punching power but has reservoirs of personality to match Wilder’s. This fight would garner huge attention in England, where Fury is a star and where Wilder has already fought. In 2013 Deontay annihilated former British gold medallist Audley Harrison in Sheffield and he’s served as a training partner for David Haye in the “Haymaker’s” London-based camp. Wilder calls England his second home, and despite his unique pronunciation of  it (“Inglin”), the seat of the British Empire seems to like him back.

Making this fight will be good for Deontay and engender important divisional change. Assuming Fury’s bulk  doesn’t wear on Wilder (he usually comes in at around 260 lbs, thus 30 to 40 pounds heavier than the thin Alabaman), “The Bronze Bomber” should earn a stoppage, given his superior jab, power punching, and Tyson’s suspect chin. Remember, two years ago at Madison Square Garden Fury was almost knocked out by Steve Cunningham, a man with a large heart but a small punch. I doubt the lumbering Fury is skilled enough to move around Deontay’s jab, nor is he powerful enough to break him down. It’ s much easier to envision him walking directly into one of Wilder’s big rights.

Wilder Stiverrne In fight
Wilder outlanded Stiverne to win the WBC title.

Having raised this hypothetical, let us digress for a moment to consider Bermane Stiverne, whose title Wilder snatched away last weekend. During their fight, in which he looked tough but lacking in energy, Stiverne is said to have experienced severe dehydration and was actually alerted to his condition when his urine appeared dark and brown (unpleasant words whenever they’re in close proximity) prior to the bout. I have no idea whether this is true, nor the extent to which it affected his performance, but it was disappointing to see Stiverne fight so tepidly. He did not abuse Wilder’s body and it made the challenger’s night easy.

Maybe I’m willfully naïve, and Wilder’s win was not the orchestration of boxing power brokers desperate for another American champion, but a rightful victory earned through his own merits. If this is true, and Stiverne was not just some pawn in a larger master plan, I would love to see him get another chance at Deontay. We learned Saturday that the Alabaman is more poised and skilled than we perhaps thought, but there were no real revelations. In between sporadic flourishes of action, the fight sagged like Bermane’s midsection.

The only unassailable figure in all of this is Wladimir Klitschko, who recently signed on to fight Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden in April. This is not a particularly interesting bout and it shouldn’t be competitive. Jennings got here by narrowly outpointing Mike Perez last July. The hardworking, likeable Philadelphian has a nice story but he’s  not a threat. He’s not a power puncher, nor fast, and lacks the champ’s boxing skills. Because he doesn’t represent trouble, look for an explosive performance from Klitschko, who will be eager to endear himself to an American audience that last saw him fight at MSG in 2008, when he unanimously decisioned Sultan Ibramigov. This makes Jennings precisely the sort of fighter for Wlad to violently do away with. Young, undefeated, and at least, formidable looking, he will provide Klitschko with the notch he needs to sell a future fight with Wilder in the US.

tyson-chisora 2
A win over Fury, seen here battering Dereck Chisora, would generate more interest in Wilder.

To return to Deontay, he requires a stepping stone before he meets Wladimir, and Fury serves this purpose better than any one. He has a rabid following in the United Kingdom and is ripe to be knocked out. Wilder also said he’s willing to travel to England, and thus the challenger Fury’s home base, which is something champions typically don’t do. He’ll do this because Fury is more important in England than Wilder is in America, at least right now. For Wilder’s fight with Stiverne, the MGM Grand reportedly sold less than nine thousand seats (despite strong numbers on Showtime). In England, a bout with Tyson could sell out a large arena and do well on pay per view. On this grand stage Wilder could stop the mountainous traveler and then turn his attention to Klitschko in what would be a lucrative fight in America.

However it shakes out, Wilder’s championship reign improves the heavyweight division but it doesn’t solve its problems. True excitement can only be made possible by the rise of a genuinely exciting fighter, who delivers wins and dynamism without transparently favourable matchmaking. These boxers are exceedingly rare, though, and because this is the case, the sport would be wise to make the best fights at its disposal. Former Celtics coach Rick Pitino, once completely frustrated after a loss, told the media that Larry Bird and Robert Parrish were never coming back, and it was time for people to re-calibrate their expectations. For our purposes, Mike Tyson is never coming back, and fans should stop using him as a benchmark from which to judge the division. What we have is Wilder. Let’s see what he can do.

If Fury signs on to fight Deontay he’ll get the title shot he’s long complained for. The public will receive an interesting fight that will probably end in a stoppage (although I’ve been wrong before). We’ll also get a promotion worth following. Tyson Fury blends the sacred and the profane like few others and Deontay Wilder is charismatic enough to keep people interested. Fury has already promised to rip Wilder’s heart out, which is a fine if unoriginal boast. Get into the ring with him first, Tyson. Then you may attempt to beleaguer the “Bomber”.

— Eliott McCormick

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