The plot thickens in the heavyweight division as Oleksandr Usyk enters the top tier, writes Matt Christie
THE heavyweight division is in excellent health, we must be thankful for that. The fighters in the title mix have all engaged in exciting bouts in recent years and we have more high-profile fights to look forward to before the end of a very difficult 2020. It is of course missing one thing: A true leader. There is only so long the division can sustain interest by simply jockeying for position. If we get what everyone wants in the next 12 months – a superfight to decide that leader – then the current era can hold its head high with the best of them. Back in the summer, with boxing news thin on the ground, it was announced by Tyson Fury that in 2021 he would fight Anthony Joshua. Hurrah.
That would still appear to be the plan. But with heavyweight boxing in the current era, it’s never as simple as merely making plans.
It was of course the plan for Joshua to fight Deontay Wilder in a bout that would have drawn the attention of an entire planet until they failed to agree terms and Wilder fought Tyson Fury instead. That draw led to a complicated chain of events; Joshua lost his titles to Andy Ruiz Jnr and then regained them before Wilder was bombed from his perch in the Fury return. Behind the scenes Fury and Wilder agreed to a third fight before that sequel no matter what happened in part two.
That trilogy still lingers in the air despite Fury’s dominance (across the 19 rounds they’ve shared, Fury likely won at least 14 of them). Now, to be clear, the Fury-Wilder contests – from Fury’s miraculous last round recovery in the first fight to the manner in which he destroyed Wilder in the second – were brilliant spectacles. So too Joshua’s stunning loss to Ruiz and his impressive turnaround in the rematch. But what they prove, surely, is that the longer we wait for the all-conquering showdown between the number one heavyweight and the number two heavyweight, the chances of it being scuppered increases.
On Saturday night, the uber-talented Oleksandr Usyk signalled his own arrival at heavyweight. The former world cruiserweight king outpointed Dereck Chisora and must be deemed a huge threat to both Joshua and Fury. Thanks to relinquishing the WBO title at cruiser, and campaigning in the division above, he becomes the WBO’s heavyweight mandatory. After defeating the remarkably tough Chisora he declared he plans to move forward and exercise his right to that title shot. You can’t blame him, either. Approaching 34 years old, he will understand he has limited time to make the most of his significant skill.
But, bottom line, just because the WBO regard him worthy of a title chance doesn’t mean he deserves one. In two fights at heavyweight he has beaten Chazz Witherspoon and Chisora. As much as we should all be fascinated by Usyk the heavyweight, he’s a latecomer to a party that started several years ago. Becoming the eighth man to beat “Del Boy” while inflicting his 10th defeat, should not see him move to the front of the queue. It’s imperative that making a real world champion – one that can only be decided by No. 1 fighting No. 2, irrespective of what the sanctioning bodies rule – is the priority above all else.
Problem is that Joshua, for so long eager to get all four belts, could still opt to take on Usyk because he doesn’t want to lose that WBO title from his collection. Then Fury, who looks likely to fight Agit Kabayel (who in 2017 became the seventh man to beat Chisora) on December 5, might be persuaded to give a suddenly noisy Wilder that third fight after all. We’ll be told that once those fights are out of the way, and the winners of each are left standing, then the big one really occurs. Round and round we go, circling the defining battle that sits in the middle screaming to be made.
It seems we can’t have both: A champion who keeps all four sanctioning bodies happy AND a true heavyweight champion. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out which one is more important.