Heavyweight Division Waking Up – Since the end of the Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis era (I’m not including Riddick Bowe because he wasn’t much of a factor during the era aside from fighting Holyfield), the division has been in the doldrums. Following Lewis’ retirement Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko were the stalwarts of the division. During the years 2004 through 2015 one of the brothers was considered the fighter to beat if you were to have a say among the big men in boxing. And there are two reasons why that held form for a little over a decade.
For starters, the division was devoid of truly elite contenders. And secondly, like them or not, both Wladimir and Vitali brought more than just physicality to the ring and were a handful for the tweener type contenders qualified to challenge them. By the term “tweener” I refer to fighters who really didn’t have a fighting identity, being that neither brother was ever really confronted by a lethal boxer or puncher. Most of the heavyweight challengers between 2004 and 2015 were flawed.
After losing via an eye cut to Lennox Lewis in June of 2003, Vitali went 13-0 (10) and retired as the WBC title holder. His younger brother Wladimir, compiled a record of 22-0 (16) after losing to Lamon Brewster in early 2004 before he finally lost a unanimous decision at age 39 to Tyson Fury who entered the bout 24-0 (18).
Since November of 2014, Wladimir Klitschko made three title defenses. He stopped Kubrat Pulev 20-0 in the fifth round and then won a 12-round unanimous decision over Bryant Jennings 19-0 before being upset by Fury. In the interim since Klitschko stopped Pulev, we’ve seen the emergence of Deontay Wilder 36-0 (35) who is the current WBC title holder, Charles Martin 23-0-1 (21) who owns the IBF belt, Lucas Browne 24-0 (21) who just won the WBA title via a 10th round TKO upset of Ruslan Chagaev. In addition to that, there’s Tyson Fury who is considered the true champion based on beating Klitschko, along with rampaging contenders Anthony Joshua 15-0 (15), the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, and Joseph Parker 18-0 (16). And lastly there’s hard punching southpaw Luis Ortiz 25-0 (22) who at age 36 may be the most formidable and avoided fighter of the entire group.
As of this writing, Martin will defend his IBF belt against Joshua on April 9th, and it was just announced that Wilder will be defending his WBC strap against Alexander Povetkin 30-1 (22) in Russia either in late May or early June. And maybe the most anticipated bout on the horizon later this year will see Fury defend his WBA Super title and WBO belt against Klitschko in a rematch to prove that his win this past December wasn’t a fluke.
Heavyweight Division Waking Up
It’s been years since there have been so many compelling bouts in the heavyweight division to look forward to. Furthermore, there are a plethora of unanswered questions regarding every fighter mentioned above. There are so many things concerning each fighter in regards to how good they are or aren’t, that it’s nearly impossible to adamantly suggest who is the best or even the favorite to set himself apart from the others. And because of that, the match-ups among the group to weed out the gate-keepers make for a scenario in which anyone of them could lose to the one of the others on a given night.
At the moment I’d favor Luis Ortiz to come out on top if there was an eight-man elimination tournament to determine a champion between Klitschko, Fury, Wilder, Joshua, Martin, Browne, Parker and Ortiz. And that’s because Klitschko will be 40 when he fights Fury in a rematch; a win by either fighter wouldn’t surprise me. I’m not sure Wilder will beat Povetkin, who becomes a major player if he beats Deontay. Right now I’m certain that Joshua will beat Martin, and if he does, he will have passed his first legitimate test. As for Browne and Parker, Browne is about to turn 37 and is very crude stylistically as a fighter. As for Parker, he has fast hands and at age 24 will no doubt become more skilled down the road. And that’s why I’d favor Ortiz over the other seven. I believe his boxing ability and power would be enough to carry him past anything any of the others might present in a head-to-head confrontation. That said, I can’t say that Ortiz is unbeatable, he just looks the most unbeatable if you calculate what he brings as a fighter and the impressive way he stopped Bryant Jennings and Tony Thompson in his last two fights.
The problem with Ortiz being the best is that due to his age we can pretty much assume he won’t be a dominant champ/title holder the way Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko brothers were. And that might not be a bad thing. Yes, in a perfect world we’d witness a terrific fighter holding the heavyweight title with a lot of worthy challengers waiting for him the way Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman had it during the seventies. However, once Ortiz is out of the picture, assuming for argument sake that he is at the top of today’s heavyweight food chain, there will be highly anticipated bouts at the top of the heavyweight division for the next two or three years. That is something that is more than a decade overdue.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com