Last weekend, nearly 80,000 fans gathered at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales to watch Anthony Joshua’s unanimous decision victory over the previously undefeated Joseph Parker. The win improved Joshua’s record to 21-0 with all but the Parker contest ending in a knockout. The 28-year-old added another belt to his alphabet soup collection of championships, but more importantly, the stage appears to be set for a super fight with the other heavyweight champion in the division, the undefeated Deontay Wilder.
However, will the politics of the boxing business halt the road to a unified champion?
Arguably, the 1970s were the heyday of the heavyweight division. Ali artfully danced around the ring, landing jabs and hooks in a display that was as graceful as it was devastating. The iron-chinned Joe Frazier pounded opponents with hands of stone.
The global presence of heavyweight legends was such a main stream draw that talented athletes like Larry Holmes were sometimes overshadowed by it. The 90s saw the controversial Mike Tyson maintain a spot for the heavyweight division among the general public. When “Iron” Mike walked to the ring, people watched. Ironically, the last major heavyweight boxing pay-per-view was Tyson/Lewis, generating nearly two million buys in 2002. Lennox Lewis sent Tyson crashing to the canvas in the eighth round for what ultimately was the beginning of the end of “Iron” Mike’s career. Lewis’ run was near an end as well, more specifically when he fought Vitali Klitschko the following year. A nasty cut on Vitali’s eyelid stopped a bout that he was winning. The tough test prompted Lewis to retire before a rematch was signed.
Vitali and his brother Wladimir dominated the division throughout the early 2000s. The pair of Ukrainian fighters each held heavyweight titles. Vitali retired in 2012, vacating the WBC belt to pursue politics full-time in his native country. Wladimir continued to fight as the heavyweight champion until he lost the belt in 2015 to the eccentric Tyson Fury, who was eventually stripped of the title when he failed drug tests. Wladimir returned to the ring last year for a fight of the year match-up against Joshua. The younger challenger won via TKO and made a name for himself with the victory against the well-known champion.
The Klitschko era was known for dominance, but also a lack of buzz as well. Partially, the reason was the sub par competition available for the brothers to fight, which isn’t their fault. Both Klitschkos fought the contenders that were in the sport during their era. At the same time, Wladimir’s European-based, almost robotic style didn’t lend itself to entertaining fights. Wladimir used a jab so well that during some of his contests, he rarely threw the right hand. It’s not to take away from his greatness, but mediocre opponents and some lackluster bouts kept him from gaining major popularity in the United States. In fact, the lack of notoriety in America, but major popularity around Europe led to most of his fight being held outside of the United States, further isolating him from that market and keeping the division out of the conversation among boxing fans in this country.
It’s a very unique scenario that Klitschko was a dominant champion for over a decade, but not featured on pay-per-view in the US. The Klitschkos have done a tremendous amount of humanitarian work for the citizens in the Ukraine and it’s disappointing that most American sports fans are unfamiliar with their lengthy accomplishments in the ring.
Despite the dominate run the Klitschkos had, that era basically stalled the division in America. As mentioned, Joshua put himself on the map when he defeated the legendary Wladimir, and his recent bouts have packed stadiums in his home country. At the same time, Wilder continues to knockout opponents, with 39 of his 40 wins via KO. Wilder’s wins on the Premier Boxing Champions series allowed more exposure and introduced him to more casual sports fans.
Basically, for the first time in nearly two decades a major heavyweight super fight can be presented on pay-per-view. There are two undefeated heavyweights that have KO’ed all their opponents except one respectively. The story writes itself, but the logistics are much more complex than that.
During the post-fight interview last weekend, Joshua claimed that he wants the fight to be hosted in England, which makes sense. When a fighter can draw 80,000 fans to a stadium, it’s difficult to argue where the bout should take place. At the same time, because of the time difference, if the match-up is hosted in the UK then that might eliminate the possibility of a pay-per-view and its revenue in the United States. Maybe a compromise can be reached that puts the fight in the ring earlier than usual so that it can still be featured live on pay-per-view in the United States? Anthony Joshua is a much bigger star in the UK than Wilder is in the United States so maybe that gives the British fighter leverage during negotiations.
The much bigger hurdle is that outside of Klitchsko, Joshua hasn’t fought anyone with major name value, and Wilder fought nobody of note with the exception of Luis Ortiz in his last bout. If Wilder KOs another ham sandwich-level opponent, it does nothing to elevate his status. It’s possible that Joshua could get another opponent to draw a big crowd in Europe, but eventually, the draw of glorified exhibition bouts will decline. Quite simply, both fighters need each other to make the most money and fight on the biggest stage possible. The Canelo/Triple G thriller was proof of what a top-tier prize-fight can do at the box office so hopefully the Wilder/Joshua bout is signed.
If the fight actually happens, Joshua will have the definitive technical advantage, as Wilder’s sometimes sloppy style could allow the British competitor to land counter punches. On the flip side, Wilder only has to land one punch to end a fight. That contrast is the intriguing aspect and one of the selling points of the fight. To resolve the location of the fight, why not sign a contest for the UK and then a rematch in the United States?
Make no mistake about it, if it takes years for this contest to materialize, the demand for it will decrease significantly. Joshua and Wilder aren’t famous enough to go the Mayweather/Pacquiao path of negotiations. Plus, if either fighter loses before they sign to fighter each other, much of the intrigue around the bout decreases as well. With Wilder the top American, and Joshua the top British heavyweight, their individual promoters don’t want to risk their biggest draw so it wouldn’t be surprising if negotiations stall the deal. The bottom line is, there are two undefeated heavyweights that could fight for the unified title, if this bout doesn’t get signed within a reasonable time frame, the sport could decline from some of the progress it made in recent years so let’s hope politics don’t hinder the sport again.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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image credit – Ring TV