Photo Credits: Richard Heathcote
In the event you have been living under a rock the last seven years you have no doubt heard of a little show on premium cable Game of Thrones.
At its heart a political drama that weaves together it’s own mythology, rival dynasties and perhaps, more importantly, boobies and dragons!
There is one character that fans loved to hate named Lord Petyr Baelish. A shadowy - puppet master like character inspired by Al Haymon seen as playing all sides against the middle. The idea being that from the chaos he created he alone will survive to take power, he famously says in one episode Chaos is a ladder.
Maybe I was naive to think that when Anthony AJ Joshua knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in what was easily the best heavyweight fight in a decade the division would regain clarity. After all, Klitschko made a rather public show of passing the torch and walked away from the sport he dominated with grace.
Fast forward just six months and chaos once again reigns! Yet, this may be the perfect opportunity for outliers in the division to take the richest prize in sport.
Seems like a good place to start.
As previously mentioned, on April 29th AJ claimed the vacant WBA & IBO titles after defeating Klitschko. The previous year AJ won the IBF Heavyweight title after knocking out Charles Martin (remember that guy) in two rounds.
Talk of a Klitschko rematch soon fizzled as the former heavyweight king bowed out. No matter, it seemed clear that AJ would go about unifying the other titles quickly. Not so fast as AJ barely had a shower in the bowels of Wembley the night of the 29th of April when the International Boxing Federation (IBF) named their mandatory challenger for AJ’s belt to be Kubrat Pulev. AJ would have a short period to contract the fight or the IBF would strip AJ of the belt. Love them or hate them the IBF has a reputation for strict enforcement of their ranking system and don’t don’t hand out exceptions.
Photo Credits: Reuters
As we know Pulev was forced to pull out and in stepped #3 ranked Carlos Takam who was stopped - many say controversially in the 10th round. One would struggle to give Takam even one round in that fight but the mere fact that Takam lasted as long as he did lead to some boxing fans losing confidence in AJ. Now the IBF rankings are a shambles. The #1 spot is currently vacant. Pulev has dipped to #2 and may still get a shot in the near future, at the moment his status is unknown. So the top six fighters read like satire - Christian Hammer and Jarrell Miller occupy top spots. Somehow Dominic Breazeale and Mariusz Wach are all ranked meanwhile two-time drug cheat Alexander Povetkin is nipping at the heels of the top 10.
There seems no clear path forward in the IBF. However several fighters just named have title eliminator fights coming up sanctioned by other governing bodies or are about to challenge for minor versions of titles perhaps giving them more leverage with the IBF down the road.
If we are going to speculate though, Dillian Whyte ranked #3 or Jarrell Big Baby Miller #5 seem like the most likely candidates for a shot. Miller can talk, he’s entertaining, he’s got some hand speed. Dillian Whyte won the vacant WBC Silver Heavyweight title - effectively their #1 ranking (more on that later) not to mention there is a built-in narrative since this would be a rematch for the Whyte who was blasted by AJ two years ago.
The picture in the World Boxing Association (WBA) & International Boxing Organization (IBO) is problematic as well. Firstly two fighters ranked #1 in both organizations Luiz King Kong Ortiz and Alex Povetkin are two-time drug cheats. Familiar names Pulev, Hammer and Whyte as well as Miller all figure in the top 10 for both sanctioning bodies and even blown up Cruiserweight Tony Bellew sits at #4 in the IBO. Tony was scheduled to rematch David Haye in about 3 weeks time however just this week it was reported David Haye has pulled out due to an injury. Had either man won that fight and with the drawing power they bring it’s not impossible that they could be the next challenger for the IBO title however lightly regarded
Though Ortiz has not been officially stripped of his #1 WBA ranking he still may get a shot at AJ after sitting out some as yet undetermined suspension. In the interim hulking German Manuel Charr (#4) fights Russian Alexander Ustinov (#2) later this week on home turf. The winner is a logical mandatory for AJ’s WBA title.
Photo Credits: Getty
The WBO Champion Joseph Parker is the ‘smallest’ (at 6’4”) and widely considered the weakest of the heavyweight champions. Unless he’s playing possum or only fights down to the level of his opposition that thesis seems to have been born out by the last three performances and even in winning the vacant title in his fight with Andy Ruiz 11 months ago.
Parker is just 25 - younger than AJ who is 28. Parker is undefeated at 24-0 with 18 KOs. Though he has made two defences this year against Razvan Cojanu and Hughie Fury, Parker didn’t exactly set the world on fire, He’s got hand speed and power obviously, but is plodding and robotic. He’s very much the ‘unfinished article.’
Some familiar names in the WBO top 5 rankings: #1 Christian Hammer, #2 Tom Schwarz, #3 Dominic Breazeale, Jarrell Miller & Dillian Whyte round it out. The WBO is often considered a Euro-centric organization giving primacy to ‘local’ talent. Hence the Germans Hammer & Schwarz’s high ranking. At 30 Hammer is a somewhat logical choice, he did box the former lineal champion, Tyson Fury, about three years ago. However, Hammer is getting a piece of that Russian Oligarch money when he fights none other than Alex Povetkin for the WBO international title in Germany next month. The winner of that fight is the natural contender for parker’s belt. Schwarz by contrast at just 23 is 19-0 but has fought absolutely nobody and yet is ranked above Takam, Whyte, Miller and even Breazeale.
However, Parker has plans of his own. Prior to his defence against Hughie Fury in September he was angling for voluntary defence against Tony Bellew. A fight that would make Parker some coin thanks to bad guy Bellew’s ability to sell a fight. However in the immediate aftermath of AJ’s defence against Takam - a ‘smaller’ heavyweight much like Parker the Kiwi’s team began agitating for unification. Parker’s side started out at the ridiculous purse share of 60-40. However, this week it was reported that Parker magnanimously acquiesced to 35%.
However unrealistic Parker’s request AJ’s promoter Eddie Hearn has shown a willingness to overpay fighters to get big fights made and since there is no fighter in the world in the stratosphere of AJ even if Parker took the more realistic 80-20 and/or some percentage of gate and PPV it would be astronomically more than he’s made to date.
Last but not least we come to reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) champion Deontay The Bronze Bomber Wilder.
The bastard child of the heavyweight division. Also undefeated he is the biggest (6’7”) and the oldest (he just turned 32) of the active heavyweight champions.
Photo Credits: Getty
Wilder popped Barclay’s arena three weeks ago doing a one-round demolition job on the bag of pudding Bermane Stiverne who had no business in that ring let alone being elevated to the #3 spot after Wilder’s original opponent Luis Ortiz lost his shot and his ranking for a second banned substance violation. In contrast to the WBA, the WBC established the Clean Boxing Program (CBP) in an attempt to clean up the sport. However, the WBC and it’s controversial Don Mauricio Sulaimán had some kind of marker called in by Don King so Stiverne could get that shot.
Eddie Hearn had been trying to get Wilder to fight Dillian Whyte for the better part of a year offering at one point a career-high payday of $4 million, to which Wilder and his team balked - they countered with $7 Million but difficult to see how promoters could make that money back since neither man is much of a draw. However, Wilder may not have much choice since Whyte beat Robert Helenius on 28 October for the WBC Silver Title effectively making him the #1 contender and Whyte currently sits at that ranking in actual fact. However, it was previously announced that Dominic Breazeale ( yup, him again) will fight perennial punching bag Eric Molina for a mandatory position against Wilder. Wilder has already beaten Molina by KO 9 in June of 2015.
Meanwhile, Andy Ruiz who has not fought in a year last losing to Joseph Parker decision is ranked #4 & Mariusz Wach last seen getting slapped around by Jarrell Miller is ranked #5...
The WBC - “the Green & Gold” the oldest sanctioning body in boxing along with the WBA and long considered the most prestigious title in boxing has some serious problems with legitimacy, but the champion, in this case, Wilder can only fight who is in front of him. At the moment he’s got his sights set on the big fish as well and that’s Anthony Joshua.
To make that happen, Wilder should fight Dillian Whyte and in the UK! Blast Whyte out of there in five rounds - if he can, then Wilder is perfectly positioned to fight AJ back in Wembley for the most Super of super heavyweight fights! Can we fit 100,000 in Wembley? Like to see them try!
Photo Credits: Associated Press
The Sound & The Fury
No conversation about the heavyweights can be complete without talking about Tyson Fury.
The Gypsy King is a character, to put it mildly. He’s largely maligned by many in the boxing media and sports press in general. He rubs many people the wrong way - from his comments about homosexuals, the proper role of women, his professed is hypocritical religiosity or his open drug use. Take your pick, the unapologetic Fury is a hard friend to have.
Many boxing heads a lot smarter than I also think he’s a shit fighter by the way.
Irrespective of any of that Tyson Fury is the lineal Heavyweight champion and that fact still has currency for most people in the boxing world.
When Tyson was forced to vacate all of his titles after beating Wladimir Klitschko nearly two years ago to the day Tyson turned the whole division upside down not unlike George Foreman did 23 years ago when he knocked out Michael Moore. That was the last time the division was as cocked up as it is now, things got so screwy Shannon Briggs was at one point the lineal champion.
The point is for Parker, Wilder or AJ to be considered The Heavyweight champion many boxing fans and critics (I’ll hold my hand up as well) want to see whoever emerges from the rubble take on and defeat Tyson Fury.
The problem is Tyson’s biggest fight yet is against United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD). The issue stems from Tyson’s failed drug test following his victory over Klitschko for a banned steroid that Tyson’s legal team argues was as the result of - ready for this - eating meat from an uncastrated boar. True or not Tyson is allowed a hearing and due process such as it is. Since Tyson was never issued a ban but a suspension and any hearing to follow, Tyson’s status is murky at best. Tyson has not helped himself by announcing his retirement every fortnight only to say he’s back training and attempting to pursue a boxing license.
Then a bombshell. It’s now been widely reported that UKAD has delayed the hearing process because should Tyson win at his hearing he may sue UKAD for loss of earnings as he’s been prevented - he’ll argue by the agency from fighting and making a living and because we’re talking about the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world those losses for UKAD could total 20 Million pounds or more never mind legal fees.
As of this writing Tyson’s status is still unknown though he’s still undefeated in his social media wars calling out AJ, Bellew, Wilder and anyone else who merely pay attention to him.
The saying goes: There's boxing and then there’s Heavyweight Boxing.
Meaning that no sports spectacle on earth historically has wound the public up, in fact the world like boxing (Again, May-Mac proved that) and this fact increases by orders of magnitude when heavyweight boxing is featured in particular.
To make sense of the current state of affairs is no easy feat, how we got here is a soap opera and one would need a geiger counter to figure out exactly where we’re going to end up. The clarity that was so briefly achieved has given way to a miasma of undeserving challengers, myriad of meaningless title belts and mandatory obligations without end.
The interesting thing though is the division in all reality is wide open! Even the champions are such raw talents that any combination of them will yield a result far from predictable.
An unheralded champion could come out of nowhere and shock the world - with the big boys nothing is decided until they are in the ring and it can all change with one single punch!
My advice is embrace the chaos. Simply enjoy.