Unification for the Heavyweight Division within Reach?
By: Eric Lunger
With negotiations with Wladimir Klitschko fizzling out late last month, Eddie Hearn and Matchroom have announced that Anthony Joshua (17-0, 17 KO’s) will defend his IBF Heavyweight title against Eric Molina (25-3, 19 KO’s) of the United States on December 10th in Manchester, England, on Sky Sports PPV. The reaction in the British media was muted, with one prominent observer, John Dennen of Boxing News, characterizing Molina as “not an appealing replacement” for Klitschko.
Molina, 34, most recently traveled to Poland and knocked out Tomasz Adamek (50-5, 30 KO’s) to win the vacant IBF Intercontinental heavyweight title. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Molina matchup makes sense in two ways. First, Molina has traveled to his opponent’s home ground and boxed very well, making him an attractive candidate to travel to England to face a very popular Anthony Joshua in front of Joshua’s home fans. And second, let’s remember that Joshua is relatively young and inexperienced. With his undefeated record, his IBF title, and his potential earning power, it makes sense to let AJ face another good heavyweight before stepping into the ring with the hugely experienced Wladimir Klitschko.
For their part, the WBA gave their blessing to the Joshua vs. Molina bout last week by granting “special permission” for Klitschko to fight Joshua, “at a date to be determined, with the WBA Super World heavyweight title at stake.” In short, the WBA is allowing Joshua a tune-up against Molina in order to sanction a future Joshua vs. Klitschko super-fight that would unify the WBA and IBF titles. Also in the wings is Luis Ortiz, (25-0, 22 KO’s), trained in Cuba but now based in Miami. The powerful and slick southpaw recently joined Matchroom, and is finally back in action this weekend against Malik Scott (38-2-1, 13 KO’s) for the WBA Intercontinental title.
That leaves WBC world champion Deontay Wilder (37-0, 36 KO’s) in an interesting and potentially advantageous position. Wilder, 31, won the belt in January of 2015 by defeating Bermane Stiverne in a 12 round unanimous decision. Since then, Deontay has racked up four successful title defenses, including a 9th round KO of Eric Molina in June of 2015. Most recently, Wilder stopped Chris Arreola in eight rounds in July of this year, breaking his right hand in that bout.
Tim Smith (vice president for communications at PBC, Wilder’s promoter) told me on Friday that the hand is healed and that Deontay is in the gym working out with both hands. Deontay is “staying ready and is on track” for whatever bout appears for him on the horizon.
Right now, Deontay is planning to fight in the first quarter of 2017, according to Smith, and, as the belt holder, he “will abide” by whatever the WBC mandates. Inexplicably, the WBC currently ranks Alexander Povetkin of Russia as the number one contender (despite testing positive for meldonium last summer), and Stiverne as number two, essentially jumping the line ahead of several worthy contenders. Asked whether PBC’s newly announced big slate of fights, combined with Deontay’s popularity with American fans, could work to Deontay’s benefit in accelerating the path to unification, Smith’s optimism was tinged with a bit of skepticism: “This is boxing, if the fans made the fights, we would have a different slate of fights.”
Even so, Smith mused aloud on this scenario: if Joshua (IBF) defeats Molina as expected, and then takes on Klitschko in the first quarter of 2017 for the IBF and WBA Super, then Wilder (WBC) vs. that winner could unify three of the four major belts (IBF, WBC, and WBA). Pretty heady stuff, granted.
That leaves the vacant WBO title. Joseph Parker (21-0, 18 KO’s) of New Zealand is reportedly set to face American Andy Ruiz, Jr. (29-0, 19KO’s) for the vacant title on December 10th. Parker, a dynamic and exciting fighter, but not especially well-known to US fans, is currently ranked first by the WBO, and Ruiz third.
Think about it: a plausible path to three champions all with undefeated records. 17-0, 21-0, 37-0. Joshua, Parker, Wilder. England, New Zealand, USA.