By Cliff Rold
The leader of the heavyweight division is easy to identify right now.
There are still a couple fights to win to declare WBA/IBF/IBO beltholder Anthony Joshua (19-0, 19 KO) as the indisputable heavyweight champion, but he’s firmly the man of the moment. His win over Wladimir Klitschko is superior to any of the other current beltholders.
The approximately 160,000 tickets he’s sold in just two fights this year makes him the market alpha as well.
The frenzy building around Joshua is arguably the most significant boxing story of 2017 and one of the most exciting for its future.
For the story to reach its full potential, Joshua won’t be a one-man show. Ultimately he may not even turn out to be the best fighter. Time and fights will tell and the way to build momentum is to let the rivalries emerge.
We know, for now, Joshua is number one.
Who’s number two?
For $24.99 on pay-per-view (3 PM EDT/12 PM PDT), fight fans in the US can find two guys duking it out for their claim to that spot this weekend. On Saturday, 25-year old WBO heavyweight titlist Joseph Parker (23-0, 18 KO) will attempt his second title defense against 23-year old Hughie Fury (20-0, 10 KO). If the last name of the challenger sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the cousin of the man who dethroned Klitschko as lineal king in 2015 and still hasn’t found his way back to the ring.
Hughie isn’t Tyson, but he’s still a Fury and long term he might be the better one. Hughie Fury has quick hands, a good corner, and serious size. We may be looking at a pick ‘em affair. There was a time when Parker looked neck and neck with Joshua as the most promising prospects in the division.
Joshua has pulled well ahead. Parker got some quality rounds in against veteran contender Carlos Takam and against the talented, if rotund, Andy Ruiz. He won a vacant belt against Ruiz; combined with his distance battle against a less than average Razvan Cojanu in his first defense and the questions are mounting.
Parker has gone twelve rounds in three of his last five fights. Are his early power statistics more a credit to his matchmaker than his fists? If so, does he have the boxing ability to make up for it? The hand speed is still impressive but his feet seem slower as his weight has moved into the 240s consistently.
This is a critical fight for both men as the winner will not just be fighting to win a belt.
Every fight at heavyweight right now is about positioning. When a rainmaker emerges in any weight class, a beauty pageant quality is added to every fight around them. Who can earn, in the ring and in terms of public desire, an avenue to the biggest payday in the class?
Fighting at the Manchester Arena this weekend, if either man can impress, their road to Joshua may get shorter. A Joshua showdown with Tyson Fury might be the biggest single event that could be made at heavyweight right now, but will that Fury ever fight again?
If not, and his cousin can grab a belt this weekend, it would be a fine substitute.
Attempting to impress might be even more important right now because the public impression of the number two spot is already, in the minds of some, set to be determined.
On November 4, WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KO) will defend against 38-year old Luis Ortiz (27-0, 23 KO). Ortiz is sort of a Sonny Liston figure in this era, the physically imposing fighter perceived as avoided and even feared. The carefully developed Wilder now gambles against the current ‘most dangerous man in the division.’
It’s a thrilling match and one that has some scratching their heads. Why is Wilder risking the chance at Joshua against Ortiz?
Maybe what we’re seeing this weekend explains a little bit. American fans might see Wilder as the biggest fight in the division for Joshua. He might even be that. However, when a fighter can do the numbers in tickets and local pay-per-view Joshua can already do, define biggest?
Competition can spread like a contagion. When the money gets bigger, the contagion can gather a Randall Flagg level of intensity. Wilder-Ortiz makes sense as a fight where the winner has a real demand earned in blood.
Parker-Fury isn’t just its own single night of competition. It will battle with whatever happens in November as Joshua works through an October mandatory in October versus Kubrat Pulev (25-1, 13 KO). Barring Pulev shocking the world, who will the most people pay to see against Joshua when the dust settles?
What we see in the ring between now and November 4 should answer that question.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]