Blake Chavez breaks down the mess at the top of the heavyweight division
These are the players in the current edition of “Who’s the Champ of the Heavyweight Division.” I’ve arranged them in the order that I feel designates their claim to the crown based on talent and merit: Tyson Fury. Anthony Joshua. Vlad Klitschko. Yes, Vlad is coming back and shall be a major dance partner for the trio in determining the ultimate King. Deontay Wilder brings up the rear.
I shall lay out the formula for arriving at the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but first let me state the elite quartet of this division are from The Land of the Giants. They stand either 6’ 6’"or 6’ 7" tall. Yes. Every danged one of them.
Fury. His claim of, "I beat the man who beat the man who beat the man" is legitimate. He beat Vlad in the ring, then lost his crown outside of the ring. And Vlad was recognized universally as The Man. So... sorry to all the cry-babies out their claiming Fury deserved to be stripped but; he didn’t test dirty when he beat Vlad. And that made Tyson Fury The Man. Point blank, period.
Then Fury takes a couple of years off, melts off some tonnage, and with one dinky tune-up bout under his belt, he takes on Deontay Wilder in a country foreign to Tyson No worries. He gave Wilder a proper boxing lesson, clearly beating Deontay. Fury was naturally a bit rusty and so he got caught on two occasions and said hello to the canvas. But for the entire whole of the other 36 minutes, Fury beat Wilder to the punch and basically schooled him quite easily. Tyson has uncanny smooth moves. The Gypsy King is my King.
Joshua. He didn’t fight and beat Fury, so he cannot be The Man. However, he did fight and beat Vlad, who was universally considered The Man before Fury upset him up in the ring. That and his skill-set, his amateur pedigree, and the heart he showed by climbing off the deck and coming back to stop Vlad slots Anthony in the Number Two Spot on my list.
Klitschko. Vlad was The Man for a decade, then he nearly tore Joshua’s head off. A monster display by a legend. He didn’t stay on Joshua to finish him, and so Father Time strolled in and slapped Vlad across the chops... and Joshua rebounded to take Vlad out. A scintillating fight. But when you are 43 years old and not the champ, you have to fight your azz off to rise above the lower end of my list. And Vlad has yet to make that comeback fight that’s sure to come.
Wilder. Deontay only weighed 213 lbs. versus Fury, and so it was no surprise that with those dainty bird-legs and with no heavyweight-type azz in his trunks, the power to take out a true super-heavyweight just is not there for Wilder at the elite-level. Deontay was laboring and exhausted... yet again. Wilder failed to cut up or even swell up Fury’s face to any degree whatsoever.
His wide telegraphed punches won’t land on a rust-free Fury, as it was pure luck that Deontay got a hold of Fury coming off a loooong lay-off and sporting a wobbly gut. Won’t happen twice in his lifetime. Even an older Vlad would probably jab Deontay to death.
WILD CARD ALERT!!!! Yes, there is a hidden gem that changes this quartet into a quintet. The five (or even six) players that will move the pieces on the chess board of the heavyweight champion chess board.
Oleksandr Usyk. Yup.Usyk is a stud and a problem for any fighter of any size in the world. He can box and he can fight and he can get ugly real quick. He was unified cruiserweight champion and punked everyone in the division. He’s "only" 6’ 3" tall, but he’s a strapping physical specimen that can easily put on some more weight/muscle to likely outweigh Wilder who melts down to 213lbs. He would have the speed and athletic advantage over any of the competition. But his real edge is that he’s only had 16 fights and thus is extremely fresh. Heavyweight fights/sparring takes a lot out of a man. He lacks name recognition. That can change faaaaast.
Vlad is an old man whose next bout will be his 70th! Wilder has engaged in over 40 pro fights.
Fury and Joshua are fresher by far than Vlad and Deontay, and Usyk has very, very little wear and tear as he has exclusively engaged only sub-200 pounders in his career. I also listed Usyk because in addition to being universally recognized as Fighter of the Year for 2018, his heavyweight availability will also be a key to breaking the log-jam in that crowded title picture complicated by competing promoter and broadcast interests. I mentioned Andre Ward because he has name recognition, is undefeated, and is moving into the heavyweight ranks. He might help to move the mixing--matching needle because he would be the most vulnerable player, and nobody is afraid of him at heavyweight.
This is how the competing camps are set up for the heavyweight champion campaign and this is how it works. I’ll use Top Rank as an example but the working models for all the players is virtually the same.
Tyson Fury belongs to promoters Top Rank, and, on a co-promotional agreement with Frank Warren of England’s Queensberry Promotions, that puts Fury in the ring a minimum of twice a year. Top Rank broadcast its cards via ESPN & ESPN+. ESPN is a basic cable channel that lost 2 million viewers in 2018, but when you start the year with 92 million subscribers as ESPN did, it’s not a massive bleed. Nevertheless, ESPN parent Disney is battling the cord-cutting with direct-to-consumer initiatives such as streaming service ESPN+, which charges a fee over and above that of ESPN. BT Sport broadcasts Fury fights to the U.K. Further, ESPN has a content deal with Top Rank in which Arum delivers roughly one fight card per week. Here is where Uncle Bob develops his stable. Having Fury added incredible cache to the network’s boxing biz.
I must give the old guy his props, as he and his company are by far the best in the business in developing talent. Bob will sprinkle Top Rank’s developing fighters throughout the card, but the main event invariably boasts a Top Rank fighter with at least some marquee value and the bout is contested for one assorted trinket or another.
You can tell which fighter is in the Top Rank stable just by their physique and obvious conditioning superiority. Top Rank’s prime beef also sport snazzy trunks and jackets that match their corner men’s garb.
The "opponent" for Top Rank’s "house fighter" will invariably be outfitted in ill fitting trunks accompanied by at least a modicum of flab at the mid-section. In other words, the opponent is hamburger, a bum who hasn’t fought in quite a while, and when he did last fight he was likely annihilated.
The bums are typically imported from the dreary boxing circuits from off the beaten path, such as Kentucky or Indiana, opponents are also yanked from the boxing graveyards and junkyards; a burnt-out former quality fighter, now obsolete and hard on the skids whose name faintly resonates from campaigns long, long since gone.
The outcomes of most of the fights are a foregone conclusion, but good action bouts can break out on the undercard when the matchmakers pit two evenly matched fighters well-past their salad days who are durable and professional and give it their all. They bleed and swell for low dollars but often give the most on any given night. Action can also bathe the audience when two young very early prospects are matched and "baptized" by fire to see who is really the prospect and who is actually the suspect. These areas are often where fans get their boxing fix and their money’s worth on the night.
The main events are usually "show-case" affairs. Top Rank rolls out one of its Ferraris to be oooohed & ahhhhed by the fighter’s adoring audience as he steamrolls over a prospect in over his head or a once-vaunted journeyman who has a great chin, steel ballz and little else. But the promotion has crowed all month during the build-up that this fighter is quite capable and dangerous. Uncle Bob puffs on his cigar and smiles all the way to the bank. Every week.
ESPN+ pumps a lot more drama into their main events-- which roll around once per month--as the more coin of the realm that is paid, the more closely matched your fighters shall be.
In theory that should hold true, but Uncle Bob wants to keep his fighter winning and heading up future main event cards, so Bob usually can’t help himself and matches his "A" fighter with either a "B" fighter on the top of his game, or a faded "A" fighter who can draw a crowd, but should not upset the applecart by winning.
Now here is where it often gets tricky at this level because the "A" sides are usually elite-level pros and they fight so well, it’s easy to match them with someone who only lasts a round or two. It’s better for all concerned if the opponent at least shows some flashes of being competitive and holds out hope for the audience that the star of the night just might have his hands full.
So, with fighters and matchmakers being human, sometimes the unexpected happens and the supposedly faded fighter has one last hurrah in him and/or the "A" side has been protected for so long everyone forgot he’s really only a "B" fighter and he gets sucked into a knock-down-drag out haymaker festival with that other "B’ fighter and we all witness a real barn-burner.
The same thing happens with the PBC on FOX and ShowTime with Uncle Al Haymon playing the Uncle Bob Arum role. Deontay Wilder is aligned with this group.
The PBC also provides weekly content to FOX whilst also providing a premium boxing event once per month. Note: ShowTime also is top-heavy with PBC fighter appearances.
And let’s not forget MatchRoom Boxing with Eddie Hearn playing the Uncle Bob Arum role. Eddie controls Anthony Joshua. MatchRoom also supplies content to DAZN to the tune of 32 fights.
Vlad Klitschko operates on a slightly different model as he has appeared in the USA numerous times. He was aligned with K2 Promotions but with retirement his team may be in a state of flux.
Loyalties lie nowhere. Golden Boy also hit the jackpot with a streaming deal to provide content to FaceBook.
Note: The same promotional dance also happens with Golden Boy Promotions with Oscar De La Hoya playing the role of Uncle Bob Arum for DAZN. They have jumped in bed with the huge Canelo Alvarez and GGG deals as well as a content deal. But Oscar is on the outside looking in as he has no major player amongst the heavyweights in his stable.
And do not forget, the PPV arms of the above entities pull out all the stops when a PPV event is in negotiations and then hits yet another higher gear when the bout is announced. All designed to maximize viewers and dollars.
The value of having the big names is that it gives the networks and promoters bragging rights and shiny objects for viewers to lust after. So now that you can see who the main players are, it’s easy to recognize that none of these entities wish to jeopardize their crown jewel. Risk is out of the question at the present date. The promoters will first milk their heavyweight cash cow damned-near dry. Then, and only then will they even begin to consider actually putting them in a contest where a loss is part and parcel of the mega pay-out proposition.
This is where a pawn such as Usyk or even Andre Ward comes in. They can be utilized to help break the logjam. The "Big 4" won’t try to duck n dodge Usyk or Ward as it would be unseemly for super-heavyweights to dodge the kings of the under two-hundred-pound fighting men. It would stain their brand.
And so, with Usyk perhaps being very capable of surprising Wilder and outhustling the old statue Klitschko, that would considerably open up the remaining match-ups demanded by the public. Conceivably Ward might do the same. All of a sudden, the duo left dragging their feet, Fury and Joshua, would be very motivated to cash in that monstrous payday their fight would bring. If they won’t negotiate in good faith, the fans would demand one of them fight Usyk or Ward instead. Since that money would be very short comparatively, and not worth the risk, it’s likely that in the above scenario we would see a Fury vs Joshua match finally made.
Perhaps this hypothetical formula substitutes Wilder disposing of Usyk... therein would lie grounds for one of the remaining giants to next also dispose of Usyk. You see, Usyk The Pawn, can be quite valuable in getting movement from the kings. The same goes for Ward The Pawn. The fans would compare performances and the purse potentials would become more stable instead of the nebulous fantasy numbers that paralyze the kings and make them fearful of losing a king’s ransom by being first to commit.
It would likely become a game of musical chairs as the "Big four" maneuver to get a fight with whom they perceive is the weakest link and has the least chance of beating their golden goose. With the addition of Usyk and Ward, there are more chairs in the game which translates to more opportunities for action.
At some point greed takes over. Perhaps the fans are clamoring and getting pissed off and just a mite bit disinterested? The fighters do NOT want to get boned out of that money they’ve been promised. The fighters have been frothing at the mouth and their families are crying about getting their hands on that life-changing money. The wife doesn’t want to wait any longer. Neither does the fighter’s mom or his brothers and sisters. The fighter wants that mega money now. They can taste it. And at some point, the dam bursts and they say to hell with waiting, gimme that $100 million guaranteed. To hell with Shelly Finkel. To hell with Al Haymon. To hell with Bob Arum and Frank Warren. To hell with Eddie Hearn. They GOT theirs. It’s time to get MINE! That’s what will make the un-makeable fights makeable.
Eventually one of them is going to grab a fantasmic offer and then the dominoes will fall into place. We may well end up crediting Usyk and Ward in the future for stimulating the situation by forcing the stirring of the pot. Either way it goes, someone has to arrive on the scene and holler, "Let’s get busy"! One small move begets a reaction which in turn begets another reaction. And yet another.
Until we finally have just one true King of the Heavyweights.
Blake "RaceHorse" Chavez answers all of his emails.