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FALKENTALK: Delicious Disarray in the Heavyweight Division



FALKENTALK: Delicious Disarray in the Heavyweight Division

The days are getting cooler, but there’s still time to enjoy a little summer nostalgia, boxing fans. Recall how we eagerly awaited the looming heavyweight showdown for all the belts between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.

We might be looking back at a unified British champion but for the dragging negotiations. But summer is over, and so are any hopes of seeing Joshua standing across from Fury anytime soon.

Plenty of fans are crying in their British beer following Joshua’s loss to former unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk after his dominating victory last weekend. In Great Britain, Joshua is the equivalent of LeBron James, one of the nation’s biggest sporting heroes.

Wipe your tears. It’s time to make boxing fun again, and there’s a gap-toothed Ukrainian all about it leading the revolution.

Are we having fun yet?

Photo: Ian Walton Matchroom Boxing

An all-British showdown would have been fun, sure. I’m more interested in seeing a man daring to gamble on himself and trusting his talent to take him as far as he can go with a smile on his face.

We all know how we got here. The Deontay Wilder lawsuit, the COVID cancellation, and the WBO mandatory defense. But Anthony Joshua could have tossed the WBO belt. He didn’t need to give Usyk the fight. He shrugged off the possibility of an undersized heavyweight in only his third fight in the division, and his 19th pro bout would threaten him.

For his part, Usyk hasn’t asked for anything but a chance. He’s never won any world titles on his home turf in Ukraine, and he hasn’t fought there since 2015. He didn’t demand an outrageous payday. He was willing to fight in a tournament setting, and he emerged the winner of a thrilling World Boxing Super Series final as the unified cruiserweight championship.

Oleksander Usyk now possesses the IBF, WBA, WBO, and IBO Heavyweight World Titles. Photo: Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing.
Winner Oleksander Usyk with his belts.

Now he’s added three of the four heavyweight titles to his trophy case – although he still considers his Olympic gold medal his finest achievement. He’s done all this in just 19 professional fights against world-class opposition.

Even better, he’s having FUN doing it. If you don’t follow Usyk on social media, you must rectify that situation. Search for his antics trolling Bob Arum, or having fun with fans on the streets of Chicago, or calling out “DDeeeerrrreeeeeeck” to opponent Dereck Chisora with a devilish sense of humor (and Chisora playing along).

While attempting to respond to a reporter in English, a now-infamous comment stuck with Usyk. When asked how he felt going into his 2017 fight in the World Boxing Super Series, Usyk said, “I am feel, I am very feel.”

 No one's having a better time than Oleksandr Usyk - win or lose. Photo: Matchroom Boxingheavyweight division

No one's having a better time than Oleksandr Usyk – win or lose. Photo: Matchroom Boxing

Initially, fans got a good laugh at Usyk’s expense. But Usyk brilliantly deflected it by embracing the hilarious outtake as his own. It’s almost like he planned it all along. Today it completely sums up the ‘what, me worry?’ approach Usyk takes to boxing, embracing all it’s got to offer and enjoying the process. Who’s getting the last laugh?

Usyk’s natural gift is taking his sport seriously, but never himself. He loves the gym, blasting Eastern European techno-metal nonstop. When he’s not boxing, he’s dancing or juggling. He’s certainly not wasting his energy on posturing, arguing with promoters, or making unreasonable demands. No tense negotiations, no delays. He digs right in and goes about his business, and business is good.

Now he’s an undisputed champion in one division, and a belt shy of doing it again a second time. In 19 fights. How fucking refreshing!

Our man Tom Jones predicted as much 18 months ago. We've got this handy reminder for you.

The winning mentality

Go check BoxRec and see who Joshua, Fury, Wilder, and any number of champions fought in their 19th pro fight. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Credit to Joshua – he fought Wladimir Klitschko. The other two? Kevin Johnson and Daniel Cota.

Put the other names claiming greatness to the same “19” test. Who did they fight in their 19th bout? Who are they fighting now? We have yet to get the top lightweight talents in the ring. The welterweight division has disappointed us more than satisfied.

Fortunately, there are SOME young fighters willing to bet on themselves. Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Jaron Ennis have the same mentality as Oleksandr Usyk, if not the opportunities just yet. His talent might not match up but it seems Tim Tszyu might have the same mindset.

Hold that thought.

heavyweight division

Photo: Ian Walton, Matchroom Boxing

The cool breeze you’re feeling? It’s not a lost opportunity (unless you’re Eddie Hearn). It’s a maverick blasting past. Usyk is precisely what boxing needs. Especially right now. No, we aren't getting the heavyweight unification fight we expected. We're getting the unification fight we need. Thanks, Oleksandr Usyk.

This is what fans claim they want: top talent willing to fight any opponent. Give Anthony Joshua loads of credit. He could have sat on the sidelines waiting for countryman Fury, but he didn’t. A rematch looms for Joshua, but rematches generally don’t go all that well for the vanquished.

We may well get Fury vs. Usyk early in 2022. Or Wilder vs. Usyk. We might also get Joshua vs. Wilder as part of a de facto tournament. Don’t discount the potential of Joe Joyce entering the mix or another ambitious contender.

Our advice: Embrace the chaos and enjoy it.

A little heavyweight division disarray is delicious, and it’s the shot of adrenaline boxing so badly needs, just in time.

Eddie Hearn, Frank Warren, Bob Arum, and Tom Brown will need to work harder than anticipated. Sorry boys. A little hard work never killed anyone.

Gayle Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist and the only woman journalist who is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). She is West Coast Bureau Chief based in San Diego, California.