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
E mail email@example.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
image credit – Ring TV
Wilder v Fury II: Can ‘heart and determination’ conquer raw power?
It’s long been one of the great debates in sport – the relationship between technical aptitude and self-belief. Are the greatest sportspeople blessed with an inherent talent that guarantees success, or is it the determination and will-to-win that drives them that extra mile? Can sheer resolve and strength of character get the better of mechanical, tried-and-tested excellence?
This is one of the main topics of conversation ahead of the highly-anticipated rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. The English fighter is the slight favourite in the latest Wilder vs Fury odds, and has been vocal recently in saying that his self-will has the power to overcome an opponent whose record of 42 wins and 41 knockouts is frightening.
“Statistics don’t lie, he is a much bigger puncher than me, a one-punch knockout artist,” Fury said. “The thing is, I don’t believe anybody can match my heart and determination. I will put my iron will on Deontay Wilder and we will see.”
While even the most uninformed boxing fan recognises Wilder’s superior punching power over Fury, it seemed strange for the Gypsy King, normally so brash and headstrong, to make such a concession – that his opponent is a better puncher. But this is the new Fury – the considered, mature Fury, if such a thing exists. There have been no Batman costumes or karaoke performances in his news conferences ahead of this fight, instead it has been all business with the repeated assertion that he will knock Wilder out in round two.
Perhaps Wilder’s victory over Luis Ortíz in December will have given Fury more cause for concern than he may have felt initially. While the Cuban dominated Wilder for most of the fight, the WBC heavyweight champion showed exactly why he boasts such a formidable record. After almost seven rounds of tough boxing from Ortíz, one swift right hand from the knockout king left the Cuban sprawled on the canvas. For Fury, his intention will be to dominate proceedings, to use his footwork to get Wilder moving and losing energy. But that threat of a sudden light-extinguishing blow means the Gypsy King will have no margin for losing focus.
Wilder vs Fury is the ultimate showcase of technical excellence against spirited mentality. Wilder has honed a gift for punching, the like of which boxing has never seen. There is no answer to the irresistible brutality of Wilder’s swing and hit – a crunching cannonball of a right hand that shatters all before it.
Fury’s hope lies in his belief in his personal journey rather than the physical prowess he embodies. He believes that defeating Wilder is the inevitable next step on his voyage from the depths of depression and self-loathing to a glorious return to boxing’s title-winners. The determination that has driven his recovery continues to give him the belief that he will beat every opponent before him, and Wilder is simply the next man in the way.
On its own you would say that such determination would not be enough against an opponent of Wilder’s class, but such a conclusion would be ignoring the exemplary technical qualities Fury himself possesses. He is as nimble a heavyweight boxer as any in history, light on his feet, able to switch between stances at the drop of the hat, and while his punching power might not be on the same level as Wilder, it has been enough to land him 20 career knockouts.
On February 22nd we will find out if Wilder is simply a step too far for Fury’s remarkable recovery to his former champion status. Will raw power overcome the singular focus and graft that have defined the Englishman’s return to contention? For those who have risen as Fury has, it takes a lot to knock them down again.
Andrade Coasts, Paul Shines, and Titles change hands in Miami
DAZN hosted a rare Thursday Night card in a makeshift arena at the Gardens in Miami Beach, as the gang at Matchroom Sports hoped to capitalize on thousands of people coming into town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV between the Chiefs and the 49ers.
Most of the hype surrounded the “battle” between YouTubers Jake Paul of the United States and England’s AnEsonGib, and it turned out to be a showcase for the bigger and longer Paul, who painted Gib with repeated left jabs which set up the big right hands that dropped Gib three times in the first round and led referee Chris Young to stop the fight just 2:18 into the first round. It was the pro debut for both rivals, and whatever you want to say about it, the Sugar Shane Mosely trained Paul looked good.
The “main event” saw Demetrious Andrade drop Irishman Luke Keeler twice in the first two rounds and then coast for six rounds before finally stepping on the gas and blasting Keeler with repeated big shots in the ninth, forcing veteran referee Telis Assimenios to stop the fight at 2:59 of Round 9. It was Andrade’s third defense of his title and just another blowout of a fighter that it was below his talent level. It should have lasted three rounds. Instead, the game Irishman hit Andrade quite a bit and allowed to survive till the late rounds. Andrade called out the almost equally frustrating Billie Joe Saunders, the WBO 168 titleholder. They deserve each other.
But before the fluff at the end, boxing fans were treated two quality title fights. The main card of the show opened with an excellent technical battle that saw 2016 Olympic Bronze Medalist Murodjon Akhmadaliev lift the WBA/IBF junior featherweight (122 pounds) from reigning champion Danny Roman by twelve round split decision in just his eighth professional fight.
The fight was very close from round one, as Akhmadaliev came out swinging with big left hands from the southpaw positions. The super technical Roman (27-3-1,10 KOs), fighting out of Los Angeles, attacked the body from Round One and looked to time the young Uzbek with good counter punches. The early rounds were good for Roman, who was more accurate and faster with his punches. Akhmadaliev came back in rounds five and six, only for Roman to crank up his pace in rounds seven and eight.
Many thought the late rounds would belong to the more experienced pro Roman, but Akhmadaliev (8-0, 7 KOs) turned that theory on his head, digging down in the late rounds, continuing throwing hard lefts to the head and body. Throughout the fight, the Uzbek commonly referred to as MJ closed rounds strong, and this was especially in the case in these late rounds. Roman did his best to come back with a strong Round 12 and both men let their hands go in the last twenty-seconds, landing some of their best punches of the fight.
In the end, one judge had it 115-113 for Roman, but the other two had it 115-113 for Akhmadaliev, giving the Uzbek the title in a fight that could have gone either way. Fightbooth actually had it a draw, 114-114. With so many close rounds, a rematch makes sense for both, especially in California, where both men are based. Much was made of how Danny Roman did not have to take this fight against such a ballyhooed prospect, but chose to be a great champion. The result was an excellent fight and a rivalry that we can hope is not over.
The second main card bout saw Joseph Diaz Jr, a 2012 Olympian from the United States, notch a dominant performance to lift the IBF junior lightweight (130 pound) title from Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer in the culmination of a bitter rivalry between the two men that goes back to last May, when the two had a confrontation at the Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs fight in Las Vegas.
Diaz was aggressive from Round One, pushing Farmer on the inside and unloading with loads of punches. The second round saw the fighters clash heads, leaving Diaz with a GNARLY cut over his left eyelid, which look to put the fight in jeopardy. Yet Diaz stuck to his task, staying on Farmer and being the busier and more accurate fighter.
Farmer is normally one of the most defensively elusive fighters you will ever see, but in this fight, he chose to languish on the inside, allowing Diaz to have his way on the inside and hit him pretty much as he choose. Farmer claimed to hurt his right hand in the first round, and many believe the same clash of heads that opened the big cut on Diaz’ eye compromised Farmer. The announce team, especially Sergio Mora, made all the excuses for Farmer, but whatever the reason, Farmer fought the wrong fight against Diaz.
Diaz built a big lead with his accurate flurries of punches and somehow, his cut-man managed to keep that eye closed. Farmer may have stolen some late rounds but at the end of the result was clear. The scorecards were 117-111 and 115-113, twice, all of Joseph Diaz Jr. Those last two were wayyy too close.
The win is the culmination of a long journey for Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs), who has been built throughout his career by Golden Boy Promotions for this moment. He was thoroughly outclassed in his first title fight two years ago by Gary Russell Jr and couldn’t make weight for his second title opportunity a few months later. But after a mental health break and some changes, Diaz is finally a world champion. It was a sad end of a title reign for Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KOs), who defended his belt four times in fourteen months and saw an eight year unbeaten streak come to an end.
Rosario shocks Williams, Seizes titles in Philly
On a night where the UFC and Conor McGregor took center stage in the combat sports world, Jeison Rosario pulled off an absolute shocker in Philadelphia.
The twenty-four-year-old junior middleweight from the Dominican Republican was seen as a pretty good prospect turned fringe contender and was on a modest six fight winning streak against fairly good opposition. But he was supposed to be simply an opponent for WBA/IBF junior middleweight champion Julian “J-Rock” Williams, who seized the titles from previously undefeated champ Jarrett Hurd last year and was making his first title defense in his hometown of Philadelphia. Williams supposed to beat Rosario and move onto a big fight later this year, either a rematch against Hurd or a unification fight with WBC 154 pound champ Jermell Charlo.
But Rosario upset that apple card last night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, knocking out Williams in the fifth round of their title fight on a Premier Boxing Champions show broadcasted on big Fox. The +800 underdog, who looked considerably bigger than the reigning champion, showed himself to be an excellent puncher, throwing to both the head and body, and turned one of boxing’s deepest divisions on its head.
Williams came out strong in the first, boxing behind his jab and looking to land his trademark right hand. Rosario responded by upping the pressure in the second and started to get to Williams body. Then with twenty-five seconds left in the round, Rosario changed the fight with a right hand that stopped Williams in his tracks, and seconds later, the champion pawed his eye, revealing the blood that the punch had drawn, and Rosario jumped on him, landing several combinations before the bell.
The Philadelphia fighter did his best to right the ship in the third round, including landing several crunching right hands in the last minute, but Rosario was making it his fight in the fourth round, forcing power punching exchanges and taking away Williams’ excellent jab. Even though Williams was landing slightly more punches, it was clear Rosario had seized the tone of the fight.
The Dominican seized much more in the fifth as a minute into the round, he hurt Williams with a series of monster left hooks. Williams backed into the ropes and Rosario unleashed a two fisted attack that had Williams holding for dear life and seemingly looking for a double leg, sending him slipping to the canvas. Williams rose from his feet, and Rosario was right on him, and a killer right uppercut followed by a big left hook led referee Benji Estevez to stop the fight at 1:37 of Round 5.
The Philly crowd responded with anger, throwing trash into the ring and a riot seemed to be brewing for a moment before order was restored. Philly may be the town of upsets, but they do not like to see their guys lose.
Williams stated after the fight that he had a rematch clause and given how exciting this fight was there is no reason not to have it. As for Rosario, who moved to 20-1-1 and scored his fourteenth knockout, he is now The Man in one of boxing’s better divisions right now, and with size and power, he is a real forced to be reckoned with.
Philadelphia be damned.
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