Nisar Khan

President, head writer at TheSportMatrix


The Booming Heavyweight Division

Stemming from Tyson Fury's masterclass to take the undisputed titles from Wladimir Klitschko, winning a rare decision on the cards in Germany, but ironically losing them through illegal drug use and a mental downfall, has nonetheless injected a new lease of life into a once lifeless heavyweight division.

Fury ended Wladimir Klitschko's reign that he had perpetuated for over nine years, unlocking the key to supremacy that seemed a once so arduous task, as discovered by 23 Klitschko victims who were either rendered unconscious or whose attributes were masterfully nullified over the distance.

Through 23 of the title defenses, six survivors were outclassed and denied access to his chin; strategically concealed in a sturdy defensive structure machinated by ex-trainer Emanuel Steward, while he dealt with fifteen other challengers in brutal fashion. Most will view DaVarryl Williams' loss on a technical decision, due to an accidental head-clash, as an extrication from a sustained beating down the stretch.

That is all a distant memory. Klitschko is without a belt, Tyson Fury, the man who took those belts from his waist, is taking an extended break from boxing; David Haye is on the shelf after a shock defeat to Tony Bellew, while the management of unbeaten duo Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker, respectively, saw business sense in the midst of the chaos and obtained two of the four titles initially freed up in Dusseldorf.

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Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren saw business sense and snapped up highly-rated, 19-year old puncher Daniel Dubois to an equipped stable brimming with future world champions. Dubois (2-0, 2 KO) is tall, long-limbed and possesses a piercing jab; a developing weapon n his repertoire used to initiate his sledgehammer of a right hand. But don't forget Mohamed Soltby (13-0, 8 KO), a German-based prospect, and Warren's timely acquisition soon after striking the BT Sport deal, who is of unknown substance but intriguing potential. Heavyweights are marketable, and more investment is being made in them.

A not so invigorating meeting between Scotland's Gary Cornish; the 6ft 7ins conventional contender, well known for his TKO defeat to Anthony Joshua in September 2015, and the lingering shadow of Sam Sexton, a man twice challenging for the title over his 12-year tenure in the sport; his first a stoppage loss to Dereck Chisora in 2010, then a subsequent knockout defeat at the fists of David Price two years later.

In spite of weak resumes renowned for overmatched leaps but nonexistent victories even at a semi-respectable level, Cornish vs Sexton is perceived as one of the worst British heavyweight title contests in recent memory, and, a fellow contender who expressed his lack of desire towards the fight; the tough and underrated David Allen, is targeting the same strap in the future as he looks to an important Commonwealth title fight against Lenroy Thomas on the Brook-Spence undercard at Bramall Lane.

In terms of talent in depth, the lower realms of domestic heavyweight boxing is the healthiest its been in a while. Young but old-school prospect Nathan Gorman, trained by Ricky Hatton, dominated Dominic Akinlade to stamp his presence on the rumbling division. Nick Webb, Josh Sandland, Tom Little and Kash Ali complete the fine line of prospect and contender stage.

WBC's Clean Boxing Program, introduced also in 2016, is assisting (alongside VADA) the eradication of drug cheats such as Lucas Browne who, in spite of testing positive on for a 'B' sample, was deemed innocent as peculiar events in Russia the night he dethroned Ruslan Chagaev brought WBA to the ruling of Browne "unlikely" consuming performance-enhancing drugs on a deliberate intention. But his credibility took a major hit when he then failed a VADA test having voluntarily enrollment into WBC's new system.

Browne, former European champion Erkan Teper; convicted of cheating five months subsequent to his knockout of David Price, who eradicated both the drugs and his ring vigour in decision losses to the durable but limited pair Mariusz Wach and Christian Hammer on his contentious return, and Alexander Povetkin who failed his third test; necessitating Bermane Stiverne's withdraw on fight day, are all bowdlerised shadows in the rear view mirror of Anthony Joshua's hype train - alongside WBO champion Joseph Parker, who outpointed Andy Ruiz Jr to win the title - transporting heavyweight competition to the return of its old stratum of excitement.

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Joshua, leading that train, has seen his impeccable development propel him into boxing's stratosphere a lot sooner than most observers or his own team ever anticipated. Charles Martin's financial incentive forced Eddie Hearn's hand; succumbing to the IBF champion's expensive requirements to defend the belt in Joshua's hometown of London.

Nevertheless, the calculated gamble paid off and Joshua obtained his maiden title at world level, and since defended successfully versus Eric Molina and Dominic Breazeale. The routine exhibitions are over, the formidable examinations are in sight.

But it nonetheless enhances the reward, as Joshua has the chance to add two other belts to his cabinet in the £42 million ($52m)-grossing, 90,000-spectating, box office showdown with Wladimir Klitschko this weekend.

Eddie Hearn hopes it can generate one million pay-per-view buys and has already guaranteed the spectator record, set by Carl Froch vs George Groves II, drawing 80,000 (as Froch kindly reminds us) at the same stadium in 2014, will be smashed on April 29th when two superstars of distinct eras collide.

Hearn will risk his cash-cow to rake in his most lucrative payday, too. Joshua's aura and exiting technique catapulted him to pay-per-view status; milking substantial investment often from the casual fan in overmatched main events.

Irregardless of opposition calibre, Joshua's fights are considered 'events' and the sales of his uninspiring defenses, drawing 450,000 buys for his three-round destruction over Eric Molina, is abundant evidence to suggest he has all the makings to become not only a boxing superstar, but a sporting phenomenon, when the more marketable showdowns come to fruition.

Joshua's expedition starts on April 29th against one of the most skilled, experienced and formidable hitters of the modern era.

Wladimir Klitschko's astute, business-minded and almost controlling approach to those routine title defenses is what makes his stance now as the challenger, ironically on away soil, all the more compelling. He cannot dictate the thickness of the ring canvas or wrap his hands without a member of the opposition's team to observe, a well known rule in the sport, like the boxing fraternity has been inadvertently accepting for so long.

Perhaps a more important factor to consider; in the context of today's division, is that while Klitschko's best days are steeped in the modern era dominance alongside his brother, Vitali, the 40-year old remains an elite operator nonetheless. His in-ring tools are rusty but far from eroded and capable of outclassing fellow contenders. In a sense, it draws deserving appreciation to the level he reigned at in his heyday.

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To beat Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs), Klitschko will hope the tools he utilized to shut down twenty-three challengers over a decade are at their old level of efficiency and not riddled with that exact ring rust. Even should he lose, the rest is short-lived for Joshua. He has an array of contenders and champions itching at the feasibility of derailing his hype train.

Eddie Hearn outlined Joshua's 2017 route, and while it's wise to take his words at face value, there is undeniable optimism as a unification against Deontay Wilder was mentioned. "It's a big fight, it's a wonderful fight, and could be for four belts. Towards the end of the year, I don't see why not. They are two young lions, two competitors, and I think it's important they meet," said Hearn, who also has renowned interest in Joshua fighting ex-champion Tyson Fury upon his return.

There are reasons to be assured Hearn will deliver. The Matchroom owner met Wilder at a WBC convention, admitting the deal can be finalised in a phone call. Wilder is unbeaten in 37 contests; a marketable character, ginormous fanbase, lucrative promotional backers and, more importantly, has atomic bombs in either hand. It would sell astronomically on UK pay-per-view as well as in America, on Showtime, Joshua's US broadcaster.

Hearn confirmed his man will face Wilder in either late 2017 or 2018, but Tyson Fury remains a lingering shadow in the rafters; meticulously observing the movements of the titles he owned not so long ago. His relationship, as seen on social media, is not the smoothest with Hearn.

But uncle and trainer Peter Fury had brief connection with Hearn earlier in 2016, rejecting an offer of alleged substandard financial income, for his son and fighter Hughie Fury to challenge Joshua on the scrapped November 26th date. A fight between Tyson and Joshua can be smoothed, though. Both are marketable in different ways. The country would be divided in opinion, and of course Eddie Hearn is promoting the event. It's a natural showdown.

Either way, Tyson Fury remains the true king of the division. He nullified, taunted and, at times, schooled the man who Joshua is facing next April, Wladimir Klitschko, and did it in Klitschko's adopted homeland. Fury labels himself as 'the most colourful, charismatic heavyweight since Muhammad Ali' and he maintains recognition as the unofficial king of his division; a throne Joshua dreams of claiming.

Hearn has lucrative permutations at heavyweight, home turf and stateside, and is fortunate to manage a fighter who is equally amenable to tackling them.

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Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora settled their acrimonious conflict; distributing and enduring 36 minutes of bearish exchanges that somewhat erased the rancour of the build-up and rehabilitated heavyweight boxing's true value.

Sure, it excites the spectrum of casual fans and trash-talking enthusiasts, but insubordinate behaviour; brawling, foul language and furniture rearrangement all created distaste in a sport that witnessed the deaths of several boxers and remains hopeful several other boxers, currently hospitalized, are able to make a full recovery.

But similarly to his effort against Vitali Klitschko, amid his controversial antics, defying all critics who insisted he was a shadow of his former self, Chisora exhibited bulldozing strength and iron will; two significant components that made him the force he once was and still is, to surge his invigoration in a battle for the ages.

In an era of scandalous titleholders, overweight and undisciplined contenders, the old fashioned slugfests that live up to the billing became distinctive occurrences over the last decade. The calibre of competition runs a few levels beneath the elite, but still illustrates the division's depth and offers an essential reminder that entertaining affairs are far from deprived in the lower ranks.

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Perhaps Whyte's inability to persist with his newly-adopted strategy of easing through fights behind the jab; rigorously selecting shots instead of recklessly bulldozing, is an unseen factor in the overall quality of the fight, and Chisora deserves credit for forcing the action which forced his rival to succumb to a war he didn't anticipate.

Chisora's valiant effort was brought to attention from a spectrum of fans who, once disliking his extreme antics outside the ring, found new love for a man who fought his heart out and, along with Hosea Burton and Frank Buglioni's epic domestic dust-up, contributed to delivering the fans value for money on a card crucified for being pay-per-view.

A rematch between Whyte and Chisora had been discussed, though both fighters opted to pursue separate routes in an attempt to climb the rankings, as Whyte battles the tall, durable Mariusz Wach on home soil while Chisora travels to Finland in a quest for revenge against Robert Helenius having lost a controversial decision in their first encounter. 

Logically, Eddie Hearn would continue the building process with Whyte, one of the most marketable and charismatic assets of his roster, as a headline act which could lead to a pay-per-view rematch with bitter rival Anthony Joshua instead of sending him abroad in a title fight he would be favoured to lose in, and a loss that somewhat diminishes the commercial value of that rematch.

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Indications of a showdown between hard-hitting but vulnerable WBC titlist Deontay Wilder and Whyte were mentioned in Hearn's interview with IFL TV, though Bermane Stiverne remains mandatory for the next shot which could complicate negotiations for that fight. Nevertheless, Whyte is headlining shows of his own and beginning to make his mark on the higher ends of the division. 

24 hours across the pond in New Zealand stands a nation hero in Joseph Parker (22-0, 18 KO), and a man assisting the spearheading of young, vibrant heavyweights in a new era instituted on that famous night in Dusseldorf by Tyson Fury. Parker outpointed Andy Ruiz over 12 rounds to claim the title; one in which its proliferation can surely secure lucrative paydays down the road. 

A back injury intervened in Hughie Fury's plans to dethrone Parker on away turf and reclaim that same title his cousin Tyson won, but the fight could potentially still happen down the line should the 25-year old New Zealander dismiss Razvan Cojanu, Fury's replacement, on May 6th as he expected to do. 

Deontay Wilder and Tony Bellew, conqueror of a once so formidable but fading force of David Haye, clashed at the weigh-in for Joshua vs Klitschko on Friday and, with Bellew confirming he is to target either a rematch with Haye or a shot at the world heavyweight title, that's a marketable matchup that could be negotiated for a date later in the year. 

It truly is a great time to be a fan of heavyweight boxing. 


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TheSportMatrix | We Live For Sport: The Booming Heavyweight Division
The Booming Heavyweight Division
Stemming from Tyson Fury's masterclass to take the undisputed titles from Wladimir Klitschko, winning a rare decision on the cards in Germany, but ironically losing them through illegal drug use and a mental downfall, has nonetheless injected a new lease of life into a once lifeless heavyweight division.
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