By Corey Erdman
There is no shortage of great storylines or intriguing upcoming fights in the world of boxing today—but at long last, it is how it how one might say it is supposed to be, with the heavyweight division being by far the most interesting.
The feud between Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, the three men with claims to the heavyweight throne at the moment, is like a perfectly scripted reality show. The latest episode saw Anthony Joshua flatten Alexander Povetkin inside seven rounds in front of a packed Wembley Stadium crowd, battering and bloodying the Russian for the TKO after a vicious left hook-right hand combo sent him to the mat.
But one of the necessary tropes in all reality shows is the insistence that the stars “be vulnerable,” and Joshua, Wilder and Fury have all shown to be plenty vulnerable inside the ring. Within the reality television world, vulnerability typically means being open to finding love, to finding emotional stability through wrestling with past trauma, or whatever the show topic may be. In boxing, it means that you consistently show that there’s at least a chance that you could lose on any given night.
Joshua looked susceptible against Povetkin in the early going, as he was rocked at the end of the first round by an uppercut, and later busted open by a series of flush left hooks. In his title-winning effort over Wladimir Klitschko, he had to stage a heroic comeback after being dropped and badly hurt by the aging champion. Before that, he was on shaky ground against Dillian Whyte in their fiery crossroads showdown in 2015.
Both Wilder and Fury have had their scares as well. Wilder has long been accused of having punch resistance issues, and although they have never cost him, we’ve seen him in a tad bit of trouble against Eric Molina, and a whole lot of it against Luis Ortiz, before rallying to stop both. In Fury’s case, the smaller the opponent, the more trouble he tends to have, as he was dropped hard by Steve Cunningham, and worse yet, by Neven Pajkic. Just as Wilder and Joshua did each time they were under duress, he came back to win both fights by knockout.
The relative vulnerability of each fighter is precisely why the heavyweight trio is both an intriguing and polarizing topic. It’s clear that these are the three best heavyweights in the world, and you can make respectable arguments based on a variety of factors for each of the three being the true No. 1. But in a head-to-head contest, even the most steadfast supporters of each man can’t truly be sure their pick would prevail over the other two, and they know it.
The first part of the mystery will be solved on December 1, as Wilder and Fury announced over the weekend that they will clash on Showtime PPV, at a venue in either Los Angeles or Las Vegas. That this fight—between a UK-based fighter in Fury, and Wilder, who is consistently judged on his drawing and ratings power—is on pay-per-view, say something. Sometimes, when a fight heads to PPV it means that the fight cost more than a network could afford to pay. In this case, it may have been more than Showtime wanted to pay for a Championship Boxing episode, but not because it doesn’t think it will be a profitable venture. The fight very well could have gone to the UK and been aired during daytime hours in North America like almost every other major fight involving a UK star in recent memory, but it didn’t—it’s coming to an American boxing mecca. If enough public interest wasn’t perceived to be there, that would never have happened.
One of the reasons the heavyweight division enjoys this level of interest again is because these three have refused to be okay with just being “boxing famous.” All three are driven to be notorious beyond the confines of their sport’s fickle media and fanbase. The trio are all acutely aware of the power of the web: Joshua is one of the most-followed athletes in the world on social media, Fury was at one point one of the most searched globally on Google, and Wilder has been expertly placed on tastemaker programs such as Desus and Mero and The Breakfast Club. Each has also assumed their role in the plot, as well—Fury as the crazed antagonist, Wilder as the self-assured showman, and Joshua as the straight man purportedly above all the antics.
“Fury should take a leaf from my book, focus on Wilder, that’s all he needs to worry about, no one else, and he’ll do a good job that way. Focus on other stuff and he’ll get distracted, but maybe he’s got his game plan and that’s his remedy, so good luck to him,” Joshua told IFL.tv after the Povetkin bout.
Ultimately, the best reality television happens when the curtain is truly pulled back. At the moment, Joshua, Wilder and Fury are more than happy to give us a lens into their drama, but only enough to create more debates. But the true beauty of these three fighters is their willingness to throw away the script and challenge themselves, to fight the best fighters out there—one another. Boxing is, above all else, the ultimate revealer of reality—where all the questions you’ve ever had about any two fighters will be revealed as long as they’ll step in the ring with each other—the ultimate act of vulnerability.