Who is the best heavyweight right now? The division, for years, could be generously described as mediocre and accurately described as dreadfully weak. That makes the question basically irrelevant.
As fight game lifer Charles Farrell described it a few years back, “In an era of splintered titles and little mainstream interest in the sport, the best fighter in a division is whoever is most loudly proclaimed to be so; there are narratives that can be constructed to point to any undefeated fighter as best. Only real boxing people can tell the difference. And that, in the world of commerce, is of very little importance.”
The way things are now, mediocrity makes things easy for the one halfway decent fighter left in the division to make his claim. Let’s look at the players, such as they were.
Anthony Joshua is the biggest star in the division, if not the entire sport. Yet, he’s not actually a great fighter. He is pretty good, though he is extremely rigid and is regarded as a chinny guy, prone to getting hurt by big punchers. He did a lot of learning on the job against Klitschko and perhaps learned even more in dealing with the supremely awkward Carlos Takam, but he is still far from a great heavyweight. Eddie Hearn has done a top-notch job of telling everyone that Joshua is the best heavyweight in the world, and the world seems to be listening.
Joseph Parker is in the midst of perhaps the most uninspiring championship reign I’ve ever seen. Before agreeing to fighting Joshua, he was on the verge of taking his belt to hide away in Japan. He is a very basic fighter, with no remarkable attribute to speak of. While he has a polished form, his power, speed and footwork are all unexceptional. His insistence that he be paid as much as possible for fighting Anthony Joshua tells me he’s simply ransoming the belt at this point. That’s good for Parker, who in a better era would never have made it this far.
Deontay Wilder, the American champion, is another story all together. No one with a shred of credibility believes Wilder is actually any good. He has some power, though it apparently abandons him when fighting anyone better than a part time boxer. After that, everything about him is all wrong. He plants his feet way too wide when he loads up to throw, which is the only way he knows how to punch. He nearly collapses anytime he gets hit with anything meaningful from even by the most average of punchers. Wilder has benefited from the investment of Al Haymon and the PBC, who have ensured he never fight anyone real. His fight against Luis Ortiz, who looked downright sluggish in his last fight, represents the biggest test of his 39-fight career. Credit to him for taking it, but I question the wisdom of risking a potential unification fight with Joshua over a grudge against a middle-aged Cuban man.
Luis Ortiz was viewed as the best heavyweight in the world by people like me – filthy, disgusting purists who lust after Cuban boxers with sound technique, mysterious southpaw stances, and frightening power – for a while, but inactivity and failed PED tests have taken him down a touch. That’s not to mention his reported health problems – chiefly high blood pressure. He’s still more technically sound than anyone over 200 pounds, but the fact he’s likely approaching 50 years of age (I don’t buy this late 30s nonsense) and has barely fought in the last two years hurts him. He was a non-factor even when he was dominant, and the last two years have effectively removed him from the big money equations.
There isn’t much else to speak of. Alexander Povetkin held a title for a while, before he was finally suspended for his rampant PED use. He looked pretty bad in his comeback fight, despite winning a near shut out decision. Most of his career has been spent trying and failing to entice opponents into coming to Russia. That ensured judges and PED tests would be in the control of Vladimir Hryunov and his ocean deep pockets. Any leverage he had gone with the loss of his title, Povetkin will have to come westward for another payday.
Tony Bellew is too small to be considered a true heavyweight, and oh yeah! He isn’t terribly good either. He defeated an injured David Haye, and is now waiting to do that same thing in the spring. The only way Bellew figures in is as a potential opponent for Andre Ward should he decide to return to the sport and take on the heavyweight division.
Kubrat Pulev is what we call in basketball ‘tall and that’s all.’ He was supposed to get knocked out by Anthony Joshua, but an injury prevented him from cashing in on that. He’s very good at being tall, but quite bad at the most basic of boxing maneuvers. Somehow, he’s ridden that to a 25-1 record, managing 13 knockouts along the way. That alone is impressive given his vast limitations.
Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, a fun character, is very large but somehow has no true power at nearly 300 pounds. Amazingly, his hand speed is quite good, and he does a good job of playing defense, but his career is so far marked by weight problems and rollover matchups in an effort to get him a cash-out fight with one of the titleholders. If he could get himself down to the 250-pound range, I believe Miller’s speed and movement would be enhanced further, but that isn’t going to happen. He told reporters that he was drained from too much cardio in his last fight, where he weighed 283 pounds.
Tyson Fury is apparently a boxer once again, though that matters little. Even with all the potential money on the table for him, Fury is a lifetime away from his fighting career. He continues to tell us via social media that he is training and Anthony Joshua is a coward. It would be brilliant to have him come back and fight AJ in the fall sometime, but there are problems; Fury was never that good even when he wasn’t exceeding 300 pounds, and he would need to prove he can still put on a credible performance. He is a fun character, full of offensive opinions that we all line up to hear in press conferences, but nearly two years removed from his win over Klitschko I have my doubts about him. I would be wary of putting him in with anyone of note in a tune-up bout. He says he plans on renewing his license before the month is out, and will defend his Ring lineal title in April. We’ll see.
Then there’s Dillian Whyte, who has already been stopped by Anthony Joshua, and was last seen putting on a sad performance against an injured and disinterested Robert Helenius. He’s being used as a bargaining tool by Eddie Hearn presently, in an effort to build up the unification fight between Joshua and Wilder. I imagine this is his ceiling.
After that, we have a slew of aggressively average-to-mediocre fighters along the lines of Charles Martin and Christian Hammer that figure to play no role at the championship level anytime soon.
Of all these men, no one is actually that good. The Ortiz of a couple years ago was a monster, but he has almost certainly fallen apart in the interim. Joshua is the best fighter in the division, and a very much over the hill Klitschko nearly stopped him. What does all of this mean?
As counterintuitive as that sounds, if one decent fighter exists in a sea of bad fighters, he can be propped up as a great champion. After Parker and Wilder have been dispatched of, there will be a period of at least five years where promoters will be lining up to present challengers for Joshua, all of them trying to cash in on the biggest draw in boxing.
Joshua fought Carlos Takam, an unknown fighter even to hardcore fans and a late replacement, and sold out a 70,000 plus seat arena – expect this to continue for some time.
There are no heavyweights that represent more than a minor threat to Joshua’s supremacy. Even though the division is awful, Joshua is in a position to improve as he blasts the competition away. Perhaps the man to beat him is currently a mere prospect, unknown to those of us who don’t go out of our way to dig up footage of unknown entities, but for now Joshua exists as the apparent king of this bad division.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good thing. Not since Mike Tyson has the division had a lightning rod like this. Could be that this helps foster a new generation of heavyweights that can return the division to its former glory. Let’s hope so.