By Cliff Rold
For the purest of purists, or at least those who adhere strictest to lineage, Tyson Fury (26-0, 19 KO) isn’t just fighting this weekend.
He’s defending the heavyweight title for the second time.
Viewed in that light, his reign isn’t off to much of a start. Of course, everyone doesn’t recognize merit in the lineal claim of Fury after his retirement and two years out of the ring. Heavyweight moved on without him. If and when Fury gets done with Francisco Pianeta (35-4-1, 21 KO) this weekend, Fury’s real career looks ready to get started again.
And heavyweight will be moving on with him again in a big way.
WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KO) did more in ten rounds on March 3rdof this year to prove his place in the division than he had in any previous fight. Wilder beat the sort of widely perceived danger that appeared to have previously been lacking on his ledger and walked through serious fire to do it. He showed not just already obvious power and athletic ability.
He showed the grit and character of a champion.
At heavyweight, being a champion pays well. Being THE champion, the perceived very top of the class, is unlike any other position in the class. That doesn’t necessarily require holding all the belts.
Wladimir Klitschko was viewed by just about everyone as THE champion when he stepped into the ring with Fury. He only had three belts. That was more than enough because of the men he beat along the way for a decade to stake his claim.
Still, having all the belts doesn’t hurt.
When Anthony Joshua (21-0, 20 KO) won his third major title in a unification match with Joseph Parker in April, the possibility of a four-belt unification of the class looked possible. It was hard to find a fight fan that didn’t want to see Joshua-Wilder.
We’re not getting that fight. Joshua is taking a mandatory against Alexander Povetkin. Wilder?
He’s in Belfast for tomorrow’s card (YouTube, 4 PM EST). At social media stoking appearance at pre-fight festivities, Wilder and Fury have already resumed the jaw jacking hostilities that followed Wilder’s win over Artur Szpilka.
Of the three men who can claim to be heavyweight champion right now, these are the two with the biggest personalities, the most likely to entertain every day leading up to a fight. If we’re not going straight to Joshua-Wilder, Wilder-Fury is the best-case alternative. That’s true on two levels.
For Wilder, Fury might be the one opponent out there who can genuinely make a Joshua fight bigger. This isn’t both guy going about their business for an all-too standard round of marinade. Wilder is taking on an opponent who can carry his weight in promoting him from solid ratings drawing heavyweight into an actual event fighter.
These two are going to talk this thing into a financial success. The pay-per-view numbers might not be jaw dropping, but they’ll be probably be more than enough to significantly close the earning gap between Wilder and Joshua.
That’s one level.
The other level is that Wilder-Fury is a proof of concept for whether Joshua-Wilder is the real finish line for the division in the first place.
No matter how one views Fury’s claim to the heavyweight crown, the fact is he is the man who beat the man. He didn’t lose his physical belts in the ring. If he’s back active, no one can truly be called THE champion without beating him. Even if Joshua-Wilder had happened first, Fury would still have been there.
It wouldn’t really have been for all the marbles yet. Mike Tyson won all the belts in class but didn’t eliminate all arguments to his place on the throne until he wiped out lineal champion Michael Spinks.
Fury-Wilder clears a path for a true all the marbles affair. Maybe that affair won’t be Joshua-Wilder after all.
Fury will have a chance with Wilder to not only add a belt back to his waist but add teeth back to his lineal claim. Wilder can add history’s championship to his WBC belt.
For either en route to an inevitable clash with Joshua, assuming Joshua stays in the position he now occupies, it up’s the competitive stakes for everyone involved.
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]