90’s Heavyweight History Redux – Way back in 1989, when another furious Tyson reigned as World Heavyweight Champion, there was a crop of young, up-and-coming heavyweights that Iron Mike was expected to tangle with in the coming decade in defense of his undisputed crown. It didn’t quite work out that way thanks to James “Buster” Douglas and his mother Lula Pearl, but the ensuing decade did give rise to one of the most exciting eras in heavyweight boxing history.
All those up and comers came and went. So did Mike Tyson.
It was a truly magical period. Upstarts Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, and Tommy Morrison all came along at just the right time to give boxing fans an answer to the doldrums being dished out for years before the baddest man on the planet changed all that with no socks, no robe, and no more boring fights. Today, the heavyweight landscape looks remarkably similar and equally as filled with promise. Irish Traveller Tyson Fury reigns supreme in the brave new post-Klitschko era where all that was once held down by Doctors Steelhammer and Ironfist is now suddenly free to grow, rise, and ascend.
Boxing’s governing bodies gladly act as fertilizer.
The 2012 Olympic gold medalist Anthony Joshua is now very reminiscent of Great Britain’s 1988 Olympic gold medalist Lennox Lewis before the pugilist specialist departed the domestic level for greener pastures following his 1992 smashing of Razor Ruddock in London. What Lewis found on the global stage was American bull Oliver McCall, “Real Deal” Evander Holyfield, a “Rock” named Hasim Rahman, and Mike Tyson in Memphis. Those results were up and down (and up again) yet Lewis emerged as the best of the bunch when the dust settled in 2002. Might Joshua as well someday arrive at the top? Promoter Eddie Hearn has no doubt about it. “This boy has got it all,” Hearn claims enthusiastically about his new IBF titlist. The Matchroom Sport matchmaker is well aware of how valuable it is for any champion to have economically viable dance partners. “Tyson Fury is a character that would take the Joshua fight at the drop of a hat,” said Hearn. “And we feel exactly the same way.”
Fury finds himself with no shortage of options.
“The U.K. scene,” said Hearn, “is absolutely thriving.”
After a Lewis-Ruddock-esque performance on April 9 against American Charles Martin in London, the new IBF champ, aka AJ, is a ready-made opponent for true champion and countryman Tyson Fury. The Gypsy King versus the new Crown Prince of Watford for the undisputed throne sounds exactly like a hundred thousand screaming Brits packed into Wembley Stadium. How does Hearn view his fighter’s ultimate upside?
Think Iron Mike Tyson.
“In my opinion,” says Hearn, “Anthony Joshua is going to be the biggest star in the world of boxing.”
High hopes? Maybe not. Joshua echoed his promoter’s vision.
“These fights are gonna happen sooner than later so I can’t shy away from them,” Joshua told the international boxing media when asked about the future and where he fits into it. “I’ve got to prepare myself 10 fights ahead,” said the now 16-0 British banger. Throw the inactive but talented London “Hayemaker” David Haye into the fray and you’ve got the makings of a very special period for boxing in the United Kingdom, and the world. Back on this side of the pond, American WBC titlist “Bronze Bomber” Deontay Wilder draws easy comparison to Brooklyn born Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe based on his sub-par quality of competition as champ. Bowe picked on easy marks after picking off the title from Holyfield in 1992. What he did with the WBC title rather than face Lewis will never be forgotten. As the action-packed 90s wore on, Bowe paid a heavy price for his apathy and bad habits but he stayed right in the mix of a very memorable decade.
The time for Wilder, 36-0 (35 KOs), to finally step up, draws near. He’ll face top rated contender Alexander Povetkin in Russia this year with his extremely valuable green belt on the line. If Wilder can get past his toughest and most accomplished opponent to date, a big money fight against true champion Tyson Fury can’t be far behind. Their face-to-face meeting in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center on Showtime Championship Boxing last January only fueled the fires of unification.
Cuba’s Luis Ortiz sure ain’t young (he’s 37) but considering how fast he just went from total unknown to elite contender, he feels very fresh. “Merciless” Ray Mercer wasn’t exactly a spring chicken either when he turned pro in 1989 (he was 27) but the iron-chinned Army Veteran still made his mark in the next decade. The late Tommy Morrison would surely attest to that. Mercer destroyed him in 1991. A Morrison fight against Mike Tyson in the 90s for the heavyweight title would’ve been as big as Larry Holmes against Gerry Cooney in 1982 and for all the same reasons. The “Duke” had come along in 1988 not unlike the final Great White Hope of heavyweight boxing before the Ukrainian Klitschko brothers flipped that script post-Lewis and passed it off to the Caucasian, Tyson Fury, for the moment.
Imagine Fury-Wilder. Or Fury-Joshua. Black plus white still equals green.
W-BOgus title aside, Mercer never did get a shot at the real world heavyweight championship during his 20 year pro career; a shame really. As a contender, Marvin Hagler used to believe he had three strikes against him: he was black, he was southpaw, and he was good. Luis Ortiz is all three as well. Hagler’s title shot ultimately came but it came late. Ortiz could find himself facing a similar fate or being shut out altogether. As a Cuban boxer who draws comparisons to talented African American heavyweights from the pre-Klitschko, pre-European era, “King Kong” Ortiz, 25-0 (22 KOs), is just the kind of dangerous, high-risk challenger that champions avoid. Ortiz and the rest, including Kiwi KO artist Joseph Parker, will have to wait for now though.
It was announced last week that Fury will rematch Wladimir Klitschko on July 9 in Manchester. Klitschko would love nothing more than to regain the title in Fury’s backyard and stop the gravy train that’s getting ready to leave the station without him. The eyes of the boxing world are fixed on the result of that pairing. A second Fury victory and perhaps the sweet science is on the verge of another great heavyweight era like the one experienced in the 90s. There are finally signs of life and new big fights on the horizon. A furious new Tyson has again reinvigorated the heavyweight division. And the young guns are primed to fire.
History is repeating itself.
It always does…