The State of the Heavyweight Division
Two recent heavyweight boxing bouts have injected life into a stagnating division.
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The heavyweight division of boxing was once the most popular in the sport. At times, its immense popularity branched into aspects of American culture and history, from Muhammed Ali’s contributions to the civil rights movement to the Rocky film franchise. Over the last few decades, however, the heavyweight division has stagnated. There has not been a unified heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000. To make matters worse, boxing politics have stopped many fights between champions from taking place. These factors brought about a decline in viewership. Thankfully, though, two major heavyweight fights in the last month have brought a spark back to the sport’s most historic division.
Usyk vs. Joshua
The first fight was one between former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. With both of them being Olympic gold medalists, the match was highly anticipated, and it did not disappoint. Usyk went into the bout as a major underdog. Nobody doubted his skill, but most pundits thought that Joshua’s sheer size, which has been his selling point, would overpower his opponent. However, Usyk shocked the world with a world-class performance. He completely outboxed Joshua with expert movement and ring IQ. At the end of the 12th round, Usyk almost knocked Joshua out, with the latter only avoiding a knockout because of the bell. Joshua showed tremendous heart to finish the fight on his feet, but Usyk had shown why he was a worthy champion. Via unanimous decision, Usyk was named the new heavyweight champion of the world.
In devastating fashion, Joshua had suffered his second career loss. The result sent shockwaves across the division. There was a new wolf in the pack, one that cannot be underestimated. Usyk won three out of the five heavyweight belts in just one night.
Fury vs. Wilder
Only a few weeks after Usyk vs. Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder had a trilogy bout that would put an end to their long-standing rivalry. Their first fight was a classic, ending in a greatly debated draw. The second encounter was not nearly as close. Fury dismantled and embarrassed Wilder, eventually knocking him out in the seventh round. Their third fight was arguably the best of the trio. Fury came out strong in a match that ended up highly reminiscent of the second fight. In fact, he even knocked down Wilder, which led many fans to believe the fight was all but over. However, like a true warrior, Wilder came back in the fourth round, knocking Fury down twice within a few minutes. For some time, it looked like Fury was in serious trouble, but Fury proved why he was the heavyweight champion. He outlasted Wilder and slowly beat him down until eventually, in the 11th round, he knocked Wilder down for good.
The iconic trilogy came to a close with Fury on top, having outlasted Wilder in all three fights. The true winners, however, were boxing fans, who were able to see two gladiators put their lives on the line to put on an epic show.
As things stand, Usyk is contractually bound to give Joshua a rematch. If Joshua comes out on top, then they will likely head toward a third fight, one that will be a battle for the ages. Once that rivalry concludes, it is likely that we will finally see a bout between the winner of Usyk vs. Joshua and Tyson vs. Fury to finally unify the heavyweight division after two decades of inactivity. Whoever ends up with that title will most likely be declared the best boxer of this generation and may even rank highly among the all-time greats, Ali, Lewis, and Mike Tyson.