The holder of the heavyweight crown was once known as the toughest man on the planet, and nearly the entire world would stop to watch a fight for the heavyweight championship. But things have changed considerably since those days. No longer to people recognize the heavyweight champ by name, and with the crown splintered off by four sanctioning bodies, the legitimate claim is that much harder to distinguish.
The last significant heavyweight bout was when Lennox Lewis edged by Vitali Klitschko on cuts back in 2003. Some might even argue that Lewis's fight previous against Mike Tyson was the last to really conjure any sort of global attention. Sure, it’s common knowledge that Wladimir Klitschko was the last recognized champion of our time, but how many can actually remember how he earned that title? Even I had to go through BoxRec to remember when it was he officially won a belt simply because there wasn’t a memorable fight solidified in our minds. There was no Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, no Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield—there was Wladimir Klitschko vs. Chris Bryd, followed by a number of mandatory defenses that composed of the Ukrainian giant pawing his opponent for about 4 rounds before knocking out or tediously dominating someone we've never heard of.
That all changed when Tyson Fury upset the champ late last year, and a couple of weekends ago, one new heavyweight champ emerged, another one kept his stake, and a former fan favorite won his way out of retirement. At this moment, we technically have three heavyweight champs (legitimately there are probably two), but also a number of rising contenders that could make the division interesting. Here's a look at the heavyweights ruling the landscape and the ones that are coming up to challenge that rule.
Luis Ortiz 24-0 (21KO)
Anyone calling himself “The Real King Kong” deserves a space for conversation, but beyond that, Ortiz most recently gave an impressive showing against Bryant Jennings—a fighter who went the distance against Klitschko and KO’d the opponent that was giving Deontay Wilder trouble two weekends ago. The undefeated Cuban fighter also brings an impressive amateur pedigree from the school that has dominated the amateur ranks for decades. Ortiz throws clean to the body and has a dangerous uppercut from either hand. It’ll be interesting to see him in higher profile fights.
Anthony Joshua 15-0 (15KO)
The up-and-coming British star that has been making waves in the news about his potential. Plenty of sites will acknowledge that Joshua is still green, and at only 15 fights, that statement is fitting. But Joshua does also carry a 100% KO ratio, and his last bout against Dillian Whyte certainly showed that the kid has grit. Joshua has plenty of rungs to climb to the championship, and perhaps can’t yet be considered a top contender, but it’s worth keeping an eye on him.
Joseph Parker 18-0 (16KO)
New Zealand native Joseph Parker has been appearing on the sport’s “Top 10” lists and has been thrown around in boxing circles as a potential player for the heavyweight crown. As an undefeated contender with an 88% KO ratio, Parker has collected a number of regional championships, such as the WBO Oriental heavyweight title, WBA Oceania heavyweight title, PABA heavyweight title, WBA Eurasia Pacific Boxing Council heavyweight title, WBO Africa heavyweight title, and the OPBF heavyweight title. Now, all those designations mean close to nothing, especially given that we’re in an era where there is a surplus of “championship” belts, but its mention is more to acknowledge that Parker is graduating from being a regional champion into an international contender. He’s also beaten guys like Frans Botha and Kali Meehan, who aren’t the most impressive names, but both did contend for a legitimate heavyweight championship at one point. Like Joshua, Parker is also worth watching in the near future.
Charles Martin 23-0(21KO)
Charles Martin is like the “accidental” heavyweight champ of the bunch, and the title comes almost in a literal sense since he won the IBF belt due to a self-inflicted knee injury sustained by his much more qualified opponent Vyacheslav Glazkov two Saturdays ago. He holds his hands low and doesn’t have good form, and Martin is the one heavyweight on the list where I don’t recognize any of the names on his ledger. But he’s technically the holder of one of the legitimate heavyweight belts, so deserves mention. He’s also only the 6th southpaw heavyweight champion in the history of sport, has an entertaining and competitive attitude, and Mormonism saved his life. That last fact doesn’t really have bearing on his boxing ability, but serves as an interesting character tidbit in what has recently been a pretty bland division.
David Haye 27-2 (25KO)
At heavyweight, David Haye may be known more for his mouth than his fists, but since we’re talking about interesting heavyweight contenders, it would make sense to include him. He was also quite skilled during his cruiserweight career, and fought some of the more known competition at heavyweight, names like John Ruiz, Nikolay Valuev, and of course Wladimir Klitschko. Though the bout against Klitschko proved to be much less action packed than sold for, it was probably the first time in a long time where fans got excited for a heavyweight bout. In his return against Mark De Mori two weekends back, not much could be seen on his current level of skill given that the fight only lasted 131 seconds, but of all the heavyweights listed, he holds one of the better resumes and has shown some legitimate boxing skills inside the ring. I wouldn’t mind seeing him against any of the names mentioned here.
Alexander Povetkin 30-1 (22KO)
Former world champion and current WBC mandatory, Alexander Povetkin has lost only once in the ring, and that was against Klitschko in a unification match. Many experts have even ranked him above Wilder given the resume of competition and display of fighting skills. That debate should be soon settled, however, as Wilder has gone on record with an intention to fulfill his mandatory obligation for the WBC in his next fight. Povetkin is a rather undersized heavyweight for today’s standards, but has emerged victorious against the veteran names of the sport. He’s certainly still in the running.
Deontay Wilder 36-0 (35KO)
When Deontay Wilder outpointed Bermane Stiverne for the WBC belt last year, he effectively became the first American heavyweight champion since 2007. Since then, he’s made three defenses against solid, yet not quite elite opponents, and a number of flaws have been seen in those defenses. Perhaps most glaring is his tendency to carry his hands low and jump wildly while throwing punches. Just look at his knock out win over Johann Duhaupaus last September. Still, of all the heavyweights mentioned, Wilder ranks on the higher side of skillset, and makes for entertaining fights. He also carries his power late into the fight, knocking out all of his last three opponents beyond the 9th round, and is seemingly willing to fight anyone. Wilder is certainly a flawed champion, but give me a fighter who is flawed and willing to fight over an elite fighter who avoids the toughest challenges any day.
Wladimir Klitschko 64-4 (53KO)
As most fans know, Klitschko was the last recognized heavyweight champion, ruling the division for nearly a decade, though his inability to secure the WBC claim denied him the right to be called “Undisputed”. That distinction last belonged to Lennox Lewis. Still, by a few leaps and measures, Klitschko has the most refined skillset of all the current heavyweight contenders, and more likely fell short in his bout against Fury due his age (39 years old) and his history of folding under pressure (Lamon Brewster and Corrie Sanders), rather than a lack of boxing ability. The other downside is that both his personality and fighting style tend to be a bit bland, and the combination of both has resulted in the world not really knowing or caring about the once revered division of the sport. A rematch against Fury is in the works, but if the action in the second meeting is anything like the first, I’m just about done with the era of Klitschko.
Tyson Fury 25-0 (18KO)
Though Tyson Fury is now the recognized heavyweight champion of the world, his resume is actually a bit underwhelming compared to the rest. Aside from Klitschko, the only other notable name Fury has faced off against is Dereck Chisora, and maybe Kevin Johnson (Steve Cunningham was better at cruiserweight). His actual in-ring skills are also nothing to brag about. His win against Klitschko was probably one of the more drawn out and uneventful matches in recent time, and at least in my mind, he’ll always go down as the man who famously punched himself in the face. Instead, what has really carried Fury to media headlines has been his ability to draw attention and sell a fight. From donning the threads of the Dark Knight to his WWE-style interruption of Wilder’s post-fight interview, Fury is by far the most entertaining of the current crop, and undoubtedly bringing a much-needed revival to the heavyweight division.
Basically, the current manifestation of heavyweight boxing is a crop of under-skilled fighters with entertaining personalities. It’s not the days of Ali-Foreman-Frazier, or Tyson-Holyfield-Lewis, but given what we’ve seen in the last decade of heavyweights, I’ll take it.
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