Showtime’s well reviewed “The Kings” has been a solid dose of nostalgia looking back on a nine-fight series which, taken as a whole, surely stands the test of time. One thing documentaries or written accounts of history can never capture is the passage of real time.
A four-hour show or 400-page book can be consumed in fairly short order.
Those nine fights took ten calendar years to complete. Eras don’t happen overnight.
The thought came to mind as indications, including a Wednesday tweet from Yahoo’s Kevin Iole, increase that boxing fans will see unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KO) against former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KO) in September. Those who had pinned hopes on seeing Joshua challenge lineal world champion Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KO) may remain disappointed but Joshua-Usyk is no one’s consolation prize.
Fury facing Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KO) for a third time in July is no consolation either. Not getting a monster event like Fury-Joshua is never a good thing(and seeing how things rapidly played out since the Fury-Wilder arbitration ruling could leave many to wonder if the public was the victim of a massive tease), but getting two very big fights in its place is just fine.
This is not a case where the best aren’t fighting the best.
It’s more a matter of sequence, and this sequence works just fine.
The heavyweight era we’re in right now is already easy to call the post-Klitschko era. There are no hard and fast lines between eras in boxing but there’s a period where we can already see a shift in the focal point at heavyweight. The sibling stranglehold overlapped just enough with the current crew to allow some torch passing by way of Wladimir Klitschko’s bouts with Fury and Joshua.
The box office and drawing power of Fury, Joshua, and Wilder already sets them apart as the center of the heavyweight universe but the supporting cast is proving fun as well. Usyk is the enigma for the moment.
When he won the World Boxing Super Series and unified all the major alphabet belts at cruiserweight, Usyk drew comparisons to Evander Holyfield because it was the best run at cruiserweight since Holyfield’s 1980s unification run.
So far at heavyweight, Usyk hasn’t impressed in the way Holyfield did when he joined the unlimited class. Usyk has won both his fights in decisive fashion but without showing the comfortable mastery he appeared to have found to close his run one division below.
Is Usyk ultimately a lesser force at heavyweight or will the challenge of facing the best remind boxing fans just why he was so highly regarded after the WBSS?
It would take a special sort of cynicism to pretend it’s not a question worth asking. We can throw a little history on it too. A Joshua-Usyk fight would be only the second time since the splitting of the heavyweight class at the 1984 Olympics that the heavyweight and super heavyweight gold medalists from the same Olympics faced off as professionals.
Usyk and Joshua won their medals in 2012. In 1988, it was Ray Mercer and Lennox Lewis winning top amateur honors. Eight years later, they made for one of the best scraps of a memorable era at heavyweight. It’s not much precedent, but it’s at least a standard to live up to.
If and when we get Joshua-Usyk, it will be in the aftermath of Fury-Wilder III.
Having seen them for nineteen rounds against each other, the logical pick there is pretty clear. Tyson Fury has probably won, at minimum, 15 of the 19 rounds between the two so far. Fury basically shut out and beat down Wilder in the second fight and it can obscure a reality that remains.
In the first fight, one punch left Fury on the deck and Fury beat the count by a single tick. Wilder, with over a year to try to come up with an alternative approach to landing his massive right hand for a finish, may come to find he’s just not good enough to do it. With power like his, there’s never a reason to blink. In July, this rivalry either decisively ends or the door opens for a fourth fight to find a winner later on.
It’s at least the mirage of an unofficial tournament. More significantly, it’s the movement of an era still in progress. We haven’t seen Fury-Joshua or Joshua-Wilder yet. We haven’t got a real answer yet as to whether Usyk can play the part of fourth tentpole with the others. All of it remains possible no matter what happens between July and September.
Just imagine the further comedy of the WBC trying to explain the need for a bridgerweight division if Wilder and Usyk is the battle for all the belts when the dust clears?
Those are just some possibilities related to the four names on deck right now. A rubber match between Joshua and Ruiz, an all-American clash between Wilder and Ruiz, and the rise of new names along the way leaves this work in progress worth progressing with. Three established heavyweight stars and arguably no worse than the second best cruiserweight of the last forty years being combined in any fashion might not be what everyone wanted, but it’s pretty damn good.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com