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Power Shots: Evaluating The Heavyweight Division

Posted on 09/25/2021

By: John “Gutterdandy” Walker

The lack of buzz for the upcoming clash later on tonight between unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua of the UK and Oleksander Usyk of Ukraine has been a bit puzzling. 

After all, “AJ” is the holder of a number of HW straps, and Usyk was once the totally unified champ of the cruiserweight division, the still unbeaten conqueror of the formidable and now fellow heavyweight Murat Gassiev. One would think that boxing fans would be looking forward to this clash of the titans with rabid expectation. 

But in actuality, the event has been very under the radar. UK sportswriters have largely written off Usyk as being “too small” to beat their muscled Adonis. There has been a certain degree of ennui in the press reporting in general, with no small amount of resentment that Usyk has gotten in the way of the fight that “everyone” (everyone in the UK at least) wanted to see: AJ vs Tyson Fury. You’d think the name Andy Ruiz Junior just might have occurred to some of the boxing “experts” claiming that great size and sculpted muscles always determine a heavyweight fight, but alas, how soon they forget. 

The final presser for Joshua vs Usyk yesterday was very civil and did little to create the kind of freak show atmosphere that people who follow was is loosely called “boxing” have gotten used to over the last couple of years, thanks to Zoomer “influencers” (one of the more annoying terms I’ve ever heard) like the notorious Paul brothers.  

People argue over whether the “YouTuber,” celebrity boxing scene is good or bad for the sport, but one thing that seems sure is that a segment of people now expect a boxing match to provide a carnivalesque, freak show atmosphere that the Usyk vs Joshua title bout is sorely lacking (though Usyk did at least wear a colorful outfit to the presser that was apparently a partial tribute to The Joker). 

Everything Old Is Old Again 

So, is a mere high level boxing match just not good enough anymore? Would people rather shell out $70 or more to see 58-year-old Evander Holyfield look like a pitiful shell of his former self? Holyfield apparently was not deterred by his recent disastrous return to the ring against one Vitor Belfort, and still wants to face old ear-biting nemesis Mike Tyson — who is partly to blame for this trend of old fighters getting back on the boards, after cleaning up financially with his glorified sparring session against an out of shape Roy Jones Jr. — for a third time.   

Fortunately, the spectacle of the always fit-looking Holyfield nevertheless looking every bit his age in the ring was so shocking that the people looking to put Riddick Bowe back in the ring have now decided against it. Anyone with a brain in their heads who has listened to Bowe talk in the last decade should have known better than to ever entertain the idea of a ring “comeback” for the man, but it took Holyfield’s ring misadventures to finally convince Bowe’s backers to back off.   

But have no fear, lovers of car-crash style, old-guy boxing. Holyfield may be down, Bowe may be out, but never a guy to be outdone, James Toney is gearing up for his comeback! The only question left is: where the heck is Shannon Briggs

Hrgovic and Makhmudov: Young Guns With No Targets 

All the attention on boxing’s old-timers lately has left true up and coming possible heavyweight superstars – Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic and Montreal’s Arslanbek Makhmudov – out in the cold, begging for table scraps. The sport’s lack of structure means that truly fearsome talents like these are ignored for as long as possible by the guys at the top of the division. 

Makhmudov (13-0, 13 KOs) fought last evening in Quebec against the “best” name he could convince to share a ring with him, Germany’s Erkan Teper (21-4, 13 KOs), and what some anticipated as being a “test” of the hulking Russian-born fighter’s abilities quickly developed into a farce, as the pudgy Teper, who looked like he had literally just gotten off his couch and strolled into the ring, tasted the power of the “Lion” and quickly looked for the exits.

One round was enough, as Teper stumbled around, fell down, tried to hold on, and finally got knocked down by Big Mak. Teper had no intention of coming out for round two. 

Makhmudov, a truly genial fellow, sheepishly addressed the Montreal crowd following the win: “He’s a good boxer, but not in the best shape,” he said charitably of his fallen German foe. 

Anglo-America’s Ukrainian Nightmares 

It pays to remember the reaction of the boxing world in Anglo-America when the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, essentially took over the heavyweight division for a decade and moved it to Germany. American and British boxing scribes who should have known better engaged in all sorts of xenophobic ranting about the dominant brothers, often cynically attributing their dominance to mere “size.” 

Yet when the Klitschkos finally retired, and huge men like Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, all as big or bigger than the Klitschkos, came along, that “size” argument disappeared literally overnight.  

No, the real problem was that the Klitschkos had snubbed America, and England, and absconded to continental Europe with the heavyweight belts. Given the hysteria and nastiness that followed, one can only imagine that the idea of a Croatian heavyweight champion or a Russian-born, Quebec-based heavyweight champion doesn’t fill someone like Eddie Hearn with glee. Britain is now the center of heavyweight boxing, and therefore Hearn and others who run the sport are in no hurry to risk a Hrgovic or Makhmudov again taking the “glamor division” away again.

So there they sit, these young guns like Hrgovic and Makhmudov getting older by the minute, forced to sit for long periods of time and then only fight guys who can’t even begin to test them. They remain unknown by all but the most ardent followers of the sport, while the Paul Brothers and other social media celebs get all the attention, and make millions of dollars to boot. 

The biggest threat to the current order for the moment, however, is posed by Oleksander Usyk, who seeks to follow in the footsteps of his countrymen the Klitschkos and take the heavyweight belts home to Ukraine. Perhaps there’s been so little buzz about this fight in boxing circles, and such casual dismissal of a great fighter like Usyk, because the latter man is the biggest threat to the new order since the brothers from Ukraine first spoiled things for the Anglo-Americans.

The powers that be simply can’t allow themselves to imagine a Usyk victory over Joshua. And no doubt should Usyk prevail, the first words out of Eddie Hearn’s mouth will be: 

“Rematch clause!” 

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