A 6’6” and 113 kg, Anthony Joshua is an intimidating presence and towers over mere mortals. Yet, he is dwarfed physically by two of his contemporaries, and fiercest rivals, in the 90kg-and-over division of international professional boxing, long regarded as the marquee of the sport. Joshua, fellow Brit Tyson Fury and American heavy hitter Deontay Wilder have, collectively, with their flamboyance and flair, rescued the heavyweight division that was on the ropes for years. It helps that none of this triumvirate has so far lost a bout.
A spectacular contest between the 6’7” Wilder and the 6’9” Fury on December 1 last year proved to be both a critical and a commercial success, despite ending in a 12-round split-decision draw. The outcome meant the American retained his WBC stripes, one among the four major championships in boxing. Joshua holds the other three. Promoters and patrons now breathlessly await a fight between him and one of the other two titans, which should be a rip-roaring contest and a massive money-spinner. But the ‘matchmaking’ has so far proven cumbersome, with Joshua likely to scrap a scheduled title defence in London on April 13 and a June fight in New York now on the cards.
Before the emergence of the terrific trio, the heavyweight division was stagnating for about two decades when the Ukrainian Klitschko brothers, well-known for their exceptionally large physiques and technical boxing styles, used power and reach to break down opponents in a series of fights that weren’t exactly crowd-pleasers. While the older brother, Vitali, hung up his gloves in 2013, vacating the WBC throne, and became a politician, Wladimir held on to the WBA (Super), IBF and WBO titles until he was beaten by Fury in 2015.
But then came a sucker punch. A year later, Fury relinquished his titles after suffering from mental health issues leading to alcoholism and drug abuse. The Gypsy King, as he is popularly known, returned to the ring in 2018 in a Hollywood-esque comeback and challenged Wilder, the new great American hope who has his own made-for-celluloid backstory. The ‘Bronze Bomber’ from Alabama gave up
the college of his choice to focus on his boxing career after his eldest daughter was born with a spinal defect. He has held the WBC title since 2015 when he became the first American world heavyweight champion in nine years – a shot in the arm for the sport in one of its biggest markets.
“I want to bring it back to the golden days of boxing,” he said in an interview. “It has not been back since 2004 with Lennox Lewis. Everyone knows that as the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing.”
Wilder is a bit of a wild swinger, but he has a sledgehammer of a right fist that has chopped down many opponents. In their epic encounter, he knocked Fury down twice — the second a mighty blow in the twelfth round that had Wilder celebrating a seemingly assured win. But the Brit was able to beat the referee’s count before being handed a contentious draw. Fury out-landed Wilder in 9 of the 12 rounds, and many boxing fans and experts felt he should have won.
“I just showed the world tonight, everyone suffering with mental health, you can come back and it can be done,” Fury said after the bout. “Everybody knows I won that fight and if I can come back from where I’ve come from, then you can do it too. So get up, get over it and let’s do it. Seek help and let’s do it together as a team.”
A Wilder-Fury sequel is almost certain, though 2012 Olympics gold winner Joshua is looking for an opportunity to conquer the Bronze Bomber and complete his collection. A late starter in the sport, the unified world heavyweight champion – who was a bricklayer before taking up boxing full-time – is perhaps technically the most accomplished among the trio and has exceptional punching power. He has finished all but one of his fights to date by knockout. AJ’s next opponent has been a hot topic of discussion for many months, but it looks like the undefeated KO artiste from Brooklyn Jarrell Miller will be the one.
“There are two types of warriors: the one that rides through on his horse and tries to slay everyone, and the sniper. I try to be more like the sniper. Bang. Bang. Bang. Break them down, shot by shot,” Joshua once said.
Not since the days of Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe has heavyweight boxing grabbed the kind of mind space as it does now. The division lost its mojo in the US around the time Holyfield lost a piece of his ear to a Mike Tyson megabite. It would perhaps be wise to allow a rematch between Wilder and Fury to play out before a blockbuster unification head-to-head with Joshua. In any event, boxing fans would want a blow-by-blow account of what comes next.