THE NEED FOR JOSHUA VS WILDER

If you’re a casual onlooker, you’d think the heavyweight division has reached its second modern heyday (no David Haye jokes, please). After Tyson-Lewis-Holyfield, the division entered a long sleep of Klitschko ‘dominance.’ Now it’s got renewed energy.

But how long will it last? Big fights are coming together, which seems a stroke of genius from the promotional outfits. Indeed, getting Anthony Joshua’s mug in public view is a great idea, but it’s also done out of necessity.

Anthony Joshua is easily, inarguably and obviously the top heavyweight in 2018. He’s done everything a champion is supposed to do. He beat the guy most consider the actual champion in Klitschko, and – save for his last outing against Carlos Takam – left little doubt about his ability as a finisher.

Joshua is defending his titles, and continuing to unify them. His upcoming bout with Joseph Parker is a highly anticipated one, and will (hopefully) unify the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles. Sadly, it won’t be for Ring Magazine’s lineal belt. After stripping Tyson Fury of that distinction, the publication says it will wait for a matchup between top and second ranked contenders before doling its title out (Parker is ranked third in the heavyweight division, says Ring).

Further, Ring says Deontay Wilder is the second best heavyweight in the world.

That also means Deontay Wilder’s WBC belt is the only one standing in the way of a true, unified, undisputed heavyweight champion. Happily, Wilder’s big mouth writes checks his gloves are happy to (try to) cash, so that bout is very likely. The lone hurdle at this point seems to be location; Wilder wants Joshua to come to the United States to make ‘real money,’ and leave the 90,000-plus attendees at Wembley stadium behind. Sound thinking; I just hope it doesn’t become the division bell for the heavyweight division.

Wilder’s next opponent, Luis Ortiz, is an interesting task. Allegedly 38 (Cubans don’t keep accurate, or even honest, records of birth and provenance for their athletes), he’s long in the tooth, but seems to be at or just past his prime. A few failed drug tests he attributes to medication skew our thinking of him, but the Wilder bout is VADA compliant in the wake of the WBC’s new Clean Boxing program, so Ortiz will leave no questions. Win or lose, it’s a fair fight.

The safe assumption is that Wilder and Joshua will prevail, which sets up a mega-bout for all the marbles. It’ll be huge. The darling of British boxing versus the talented, boisterous American.

Stateside, we’ve got a love affair with the black heavyweight. It goes all the way back to Schmeling-Louis, which carried a lot of weight (pun intended; still no David Haye jokes, though). Schmeling was a Nazi poster-boy for race superiority, and Louis was charged with taking up the democratic cause of knocking him clean out. It didn’t work the first time (Schmeling won), but the second fight saw Louis knock Schmeling out in one round. The two later became good friends.

But there’s always been an undercurrent of the black American heavyweight taking on all comers and defeating them as a means of national pride. It’s less serious now that boxing is a niche sport, thankfully, but it’s still there. Americans love to say they’re the best, even when it’s questionable to proclaim as much. To that, Wilder is a true American heavyweight champion.

Anthony Joshua, who is 6’6” of muscle and a pseudo-Klitschko pupil, looks the part. Wilder does too, and stylistically the matchup is exciting. Joshua is more traditional, and Wilder is a boxer-puncher. It’s the classic conundrum of ‘what happens if AJ catches Wilder and lands something big?’

Regardless of which man wins, we have to consider the heavyweight division afterward. If this fight happens in late 2018 as some expect, we enter 2019 with very little outside of the top two heavyweights to look forward to. Alexander Povetkin is old and has been caught doping several times. Luis Ortiz? The same. Tony Bellew is 35 and not getting any better. Kubrat Pulev is, too. Joseph Parker doesn’t inspire confidence he can actually challenge Joshua or Wilder for dominance long term (side note: I really like Parker. He’s a good champion and ambassador for the sport, his style is just very average, and I think Joshua and Wilder pick him apart).

Breazeale, Miller and Whyte round out BoxRec’s top ten heavyweights list. Miller is a big, clubbing brawler who’s never really in shape, and thus makes me think he’s getting by on raw punching power. Breazeale and Whyte have losses to Joshua on their record. All told, they inspire little excitement and have no drawing power. A fight for any of them versus Joshua or Wilder would be an ‘A’ side fighter versus a ‘D’ side.

And if you’re going to chime in that Tyson Fury is on his way back, save it. Even if he sheds the weight and fights again, it will be after a three year layoff. He’s only had 25 pro bouts, and let’s be honest – he beat Klitschko by frustrating him from outside and tying up. It was a good win, but not a good fight. I wish the best for Tyson, but I don’t long for him to come back to boxing.

Disruption in the heavyweight division seems to hinge on Joshua or Wilder losing momentum, or simply getting bored over the next few years. The periphery of the division is dotted by boxers like Hughie Fury and Bryant Jennings, which box rather than fight. I felt Fury beat Parker, but it wasn’t fun to watch. That style, at heavyweight, is often punitive on the scorecards.

Some look for Usyk to step up to heavyweight, but I think that’s a terrible idea. He doesn’t even knock cruiserweights out, and I think he’d dissolve at heavyweight. It worked well for Holyfield, but he was a special talent. Heavyweights tend to ‘age out’ earlier than boxers in other divisions, too.

We should hope the eventual Joshua-Wilder bout is amazing. Let’s hope it’s as exciting, fun, brutal and polarizing as Schmeling-Louis was (just, you know, a lot less Nazi-ism… like, zero). Let’s all hope the promoters don’t stand on ceremony and instead make the fight happen for the fans.

Not only because we should want a great fight at the right time, but because it’s all we have – and all we will have for the foreseeable future. It even has the makings of a very enticing trilogy. Stylistically, it may be a pick-‘em fight; you either love Wilder’s dancing and bombing from the outside, or you think Joshua has the mettle to get inside Deontay’s long reach and do damage.

Imagine it: Wilder going backwards, throwing solid jabs before planting for some looping Haye-makers (heyyyy, there we go!). Joshua, behind on the cards, gets the timing right and steps inside those Wilder bombs to inflict his own damage.

Maybe we get an early, controversial stoppage. Perhaps it’s a draw. It could be an obviously bad decision and the fans want more. Who knows. The heavyweight division needs a trilogy out of those two, because otherwise we’re back in the Klitschko era. Hopefully it doesn’t last another decade.

Considering the popularity Wilder and Joshua have (especially AJ), the immediate future of the heavyweight division will be fine. In addition to a sensational trilogy, let’s hope some of the young heavyweights we’ve not yet heard much about are special talents. This division truly deserves it. So do the fans.

By Nate Swanner

@NateSwanner

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