By Jake Donovan
Even without a winner being produced in the memorable heavyweight title fight showdown between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, or going 12 more months without Wilder and Anthony Joshua colliding in the ring, 2018 will still go down as a year that saw restoration in
the sport’s most storied division.
That’s a very good thing for boxing.
It wasn’t a year where Wilder and Joshua challenged each other—at least where it matters—but where both faced serious challenges and manage to persevere in the face of adversity.
Photo Credit: Showtime Boxing Twitter Account
Some 17 months after recovering from the lone knockdown of his career to knock out former World champion Wladimir Klitschko in their 2017 Fight of the Year, Joshua found himself in a tough assignment versus Alexander Povetkin this past September at Wembley Stadium in London, England.
The official scores had Joshua ahead through six rounds, but even many among the partisan crowd of 80,00 in attendance along with those watching live via Sky Sports or DAZN saw the unbeaten, unified champ having a difficult time keeping the former titlist at bay while fighting through the sight of his own blood. It changed in a hurry, thanks to a pair of knockdowns in round seven putting away Povetkin for good.
It was a far more memorable night at the office than was his unification clash versus New Zealand’s Joseph Parker earlier in the year. The fight itself turned out to be a disappointment, especially when playing to the backdrop of a unification bout between unbeaten titlists coming in front of 78,000 in attendance.
The threat of a war never quite broke out, as Joshua was content to box his way to victory in going the distance for the first time in his pro career. The feat came four weeks after Wilder would stare down adversity for the first of two times in 2018, rallying from early struggles versus Luis Ortiz to put away the previously unbeaten Cuban southpaw in the 10th round of a terrific heavyweight battle worthy of Fight of the Year consideration.
The feat was far more definitive—and considerably less controversial—than his relying upon a pair of knockdowns and suspect scoring to escape with a 12-round draw in Saturday’s instant classic versus Fury at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. Most had Fury winning, but the unbeaten 6’9” Brit was also forced to rise from adversity—literally, as he twice peeled himself off the canvas following hard knockdowns in delivering arguably the best performance of his wild career.
That Fury survived the 12th and final round simply should’ve been enough to give him the win and Wilder’s alphabet title along with it. Only one judge saw it that way, with Robert Tapper scoring the contest 114-112 for the former unified heavyweight champion.
Mexico’s Alejandro Rochin lived down to every negative stereotype heaped upon the sport, disgracefully turning in a 115-111 card in favor of Wilder, including his inexplicably scoring the first four rounds for the defending titles. England’s Phil Edwards ruled the bout 113-112 to produce a stalemate—and the possibility of a rematch during the first half of 2019.
Of the four aforementioned bouts, only Joshua-Povetkin didn’t feature unbeaten heavyweights on both sides of the marquee. It’s not at all a bad exception, considering that Povetkin had only lost once in his pro career prior to his September showdown versus Joshua—that defeat coming five years prior in an Oct. ’13 points loss to Klitschko.
It’s always a letdown when we can’t get a fight between the two best boxers in the division particularly when they are both unbeaten and in their respective primes. But at least we were given the next best thing throughout 2018—a steady stream of heavyweight fights worth caring about and not even limited to the very top level.
On the heels of his first pro defeat, Parker was eager to remain in the mix and claw his way back toward the too of the divisional heap. In doing so, he agreed to yet another away game in England, his third straight. He’d only go 1-2 on his road trip, having outpointed Hughie Fury in 2017 prior to his loss to Joshua, only to suffer a second straight loss in falling short versus top contender Dillian Whyte this past July.
The win was enough to keep Whyte in the title hunt, as the UK-based heavyweight is the frontrunner to land a coveted showdown versus Joshua next April. Such a bout would give Whyte a shot at avenging the lone loss of his career, having suffered a 7th round knockout in Dec. ’15, Joshua’s final fight as a contender before blasting out Charles Martin in two rounds for his first title win four months later.
Even with the lure of a lucrative rematch, Whyte decided there was plenty of room to make at least one more statement. Rapidly approaching is a December 22 rematch with Dereck Chisora, whom he barely edged in their 12-round thriller in Dec. ’16.
If the sequel is even half as good as the original, then the clash will serve as a fitting close to what was a fantastic year for the heavyweight division. Even better, the final month of the year will figure to set the stage for two more big bouts right out the gate in 2019 in Joshua-Whyte II and Wilder-Fury II.
Given Joshua’s massive drawing power in the United Kingdom and the instant buzz that came with Saturday’s thriller between Wilder and Fury in Los Angeles, the upcoming calendar year will boast two true super fights in what has once again become the sport’s glamour division. That’s what happens when the best in the world consistently square off, even if it stops short of a promised pairing between the very best.