Longtime readers have become accustomed in recent years to me referring to the Heavyweight division as one that was heading toward a period of transition. Some may recall that I first said this while the division was still being ruled by what this observer called “The Two-Headed Heavyweight Championship Monster” known as the Klitschko brothers.
As longtime WBC Heavyweight world champion Vitali Klitschko entered retirement in 2013 and Wladimir Klitschko’s long reign as a unified world champion coming to an end a year later with his loss to Tyson Fury, the division began the transition process. Although Fury defeated Wladimir, he would step away from the sport vacating the various world championships that comprised the unified Heavyweight world championship leaving room for several fighters to attempt to emerge as the division’s next central figure.
Three world champions have emerged to sit atop the division who all recently defended their respective shares of the World Heavyweight championship. Three fighters all of whom are undefeated and are all looking to be recognized as the number one fighter in the division. Readers may recall this observer’s coverage of current World Boxing Organization (WBO) Heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker’s recent title defense against unbeaten WBO number one contender Hughie Fury in September. A fight where the champion ultimately retained his crown with a twelve round majority decision.
Most of the attention of the division however, has centered around unified IBF/WBA/IBO champion Anthony Joshua and WBC world champion Deontay Wilder. Two fighters who are known as “Knockout Artists” and two men who had to deal with similar circumstances in having their opposition for each champion’s respective title defenses changed.
Joshua, who had unified his IBF crown with the vacated WBA and IBO world championships with a thrilling stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko in April of this year, was to defend his unified world championship against former world title challenger Kubat Pulev on October 28th in Cardiff, Wales. This title defense however, would be changed when Pulev had to withdraw from the bout due to an injured shoulder he suffered while in training for the fight. Top Heavyweight contender Carlos Takam stepped in to replace Pulev and faced Joshua at the Principality Stadium.
Under circumstances where Joshua was expected by some to not face much resistance, Takam put forth a valiant effort in engaging the champion in a grueling battle where he suffered cuts over both eyes and the champion appeared to suffer a broken nose in the second round as a result of an accidental clash of heads. Takam’s “Game” performance was not enough to overcome the champion as Joshua would stop the challenger in the tenth round to successfully defend his championship for the fourth time.
Although some may be critical of Joshua’s performance in this fight, it should be noted as I have said over the years that under circumstances where an opponent is changed on short notice that it is difficult for the fighter who had his opposition challenged as much as it is for the fighter steeping in with a limited time to prepare. Joshua, who advanced his record to 20-0, with 20 Knockouts with his victory over Takam did what he had to do and sometimes it’s best to look at a fighter’s performance as one that will likely help him progress going forward.
Deontay Wilder meanwhile defended his portion of the World Heavyweight championship on November 4th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Similar to the situation Anthony Joshua faced in his title defense, Wilder saw a change in opposition when his original opponent top undefeated Heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz failed a drug test in September for a banned substance. This opened the door for former WBC Heavyweight world champion and WBC mandatory challenger Bermane Stiverne, who Wilder defeated for the WBC world championship via twelve round unanimous decision in January 2015, to step in and meet the champion in a rematch.
The first encounter between the two was one that went the distance where Wilder won the fight and the championship with a convincing decision win. Given how Wilder outboxed Stiverne in that bout, some may have questioned why a rematch would be warranted. Stiverne however, was moved into a mandatory position to challenge Wilder after he saw a fight, which was to determine a mandatory challenger fall through the day before it was to take place when his scheduled opponent longtime Heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance before their scheduled bout in December of last year.
The Povetkin fight falling through in addition to not wanting to jeopardize his mandatory position resulted in Stiverne being out of competition for almost exactly two years since defeating Derric Rossy in November 2015. Stiverne however, did have the distinction of being the only man to go the distance with Wilder in the champion’s thirty-eight previous fights. Despite this, the rematch would not go beyond the first round as Wilder dropped Stiverne three times forcing a stoppage of the fight in what was Wilder’s sixth title defense and advanced his record to 39-0, with 38 Knockouts.
Rather than focusing attention on the commonality of these two fights in terms of the subject of tests for banned substances causing a change of opponent for both world champions as it would be a separate column in of itself as to this ongoing issue throughout all of sports, an interesting question will be what will be in store for Wilder, Joshua, and Joseph Parker in 2018.
It should be no secret to longtime readers that I am a big supporter of unifying all world championships across all weight divisions to ultimately determine one “Undisputed world champion” per weight class. Determining an “Undisputed world champion” has proven to be a difficult task for a variety of reasons throughout the sport.
In regard to the current landscape of the Heavyweight division some might argue that Joshua’s victory over Wladimir Klitschko earlier this year as well as Klitschko’s subsequent retirement rather than seeking a rematch, was in some ways a passing of the torch. The counter argument to that is there are three undefeated world champions in the division currently and that the torch as Boxing’s number one Heavyweight is still very much up for grabs.
Whether or not an “Undisputed world champion” in the Heavyweight division is closer to becoming a reality as 2018 nears remains to be seen. With three champions sitting atop the division, the answer to that question could well be determined by whether or not each champion’s respective mandatory defense obligations have been met that would theoretically allow for two unification bouts to determine an “Undisputed world champion.”
Some Boxing fans and experts alike might state that a showdown between the current longest reigning champion in the division Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, the two “Knockout Artists” of the division would be the biggest fight that could be made in the division currently. As anticipation of that showdown grows it will be interesting to see where Joseph Parker will figure into the equation whether he will face either Wilder or Joshua or opt to defend his championship against other opposition while waiting for a winner between Wilder and Joshua emerge before setting his sights on a fight for the “Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World.”
There is also the element of contenders who may not currently be in the equation who are always looking to climb the ladder and get an opportunity to face one of the world champions in the division. With the possibility of full unification of the Heavyweight division looming and with several contenders all looking to get an opportunity to fight for a world championship, 2018 looks to be an exciting year for the Heavyweight division.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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