By Andreas Hale
From Jack Johnson to Joe Louis to Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, boxing’s popularity has always been tied to the happenings in the heavyweight division. Of course, there are outliers that include Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, but the mainstream appeal of the sport has much to do with the health of the heavyweight division.
And for the past few decades, heavyweight boxing in America has been as unhealthy eating three Big Macs with a large fries and super sized Coke.
With boxing seeking its next big superstar now that Floyd Mayweather is retired (we think), the attention comes to the heavyweight division. And what better time than now? Wladimir Klitschko’s reign of dominance has come to a halt and the field is wide open for the next big superstar to emerge. At this particular point in time, there are a pair of frontrunners who could become the face of heavyweight boxing: Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
The former defends his WBC heavyweight title against fellow unbeaten fighter Luis Ortiz while the latter is in for a fight later this month when he squares off with Joseph Parker in defense of his IBF and WBA titles. As long as both come out victorious, it seems to be inevitable that these two trains will collide at some point for heavyweight supremacy.
But who has the bigger star potential?
Anthony Joshua put the world on notice with his gutsy 11th round TKO of Wladimir Klitschko last April. It was an excellent fight that epitomized what heavyweight boxing should be. Up to that point, it was a challenge for Americans to see Joshua on TV considering that the Brit has fought exclusively overseas. But once they caught a glimpse, there was immediate curiosity why Joshua wasn’t already a star.
Well, he already is…overseas.
Heading into his fight with Parker, over 70,000 tickets have already been sold at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. That’s a massive number of tickets and you won’t find an arena aside from AT&T Stadium in Dallas that can house that many people for a boxing match. Europe is already quite familiar with Joshua considering that he brought England a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic games at super heavyweight. Since making his pro debut in 2013, Joshua has been a wrecking machine that has yet to see a fight go to the judges’ scorecards.
Sooner or later, he’ll have to make his presence felt in the states. But he’s certainly not in a rush to do so. But the marketability is there. Open up social media and look at the comments that women leave for the musclebound Joshua. There’s a certain level of appeal there that extends beyond the boxing community. To be honest, all you have to do is put him in a Rihanna or Beyonce video and his stock in the states will soar. He’s not a difficult sell with a crowd pleasing style and the looks of a model. The only problem is that he has yet to fight in the United States. More than likely, a fight with Deontay Wilder will be when Joshua makes his stateside debut. But, until then, we’ll have to settle for watching Joshua fight in the middle of the day.
Wilder may not be an Olympic gold medalist (he took home the bronze at the 2008 Olympics) nor may he be the model type, but “The Bronze Bomber” is one impressive specimen inside of that boxing ring. It took him a while to start gaining recognition, but stopping your first 32 opponents will get heads turning. The only person who managed to survive going the distance with Wilder (Bermaine Stiverne) met his demise in a brutal rematch last November when the 32-year-old decimated him inside of a round.
The American public has had a good look at Wilder as the 6’7” giant has had a great deal of television time in prime spots. His first fight with Stiverne cemented that Wilder was a budding star as the bout averaged 1.24 million viewers on Showtime.
Perhaps the best part about Wilder — aside from his ability to knock everyone out — is that he can sell a fight with his mouth. It’s one thing to be a great fighter, but it’s a totally different world once you learn how to sell the fight. Ask Floyd Mayweather about the importance of marketability. But Wilder doesn’t have to resort to underhanded shenanigans or showing off his earnings. He’s just really good a trash talking and an engaging individual overall.
Wilder may also have the upper hand in a popularity contest with Joshua as the product from Tuscaloosa has been very vocal about chasing down Joshua until the Brit has nowhere to go. Fans always like the guy who is openly challenging an opponent.
Both fighters are fully capable of carrying the heavyweight division into the new frontier. It’s really a matter of taste (and location). Wilder is fully equipped to shoulder the load as boxing’s biggest star. He lives in the U.S. and has already established a strong base. As for Joshua, he will eventually need to fight stateside, but he has all of the tools to be a massive mainstream star.
Either way you look at it, the heavyweight division is in the best pair of hands that it can possibly be in. The timing is right and the stars are nearly aligned. All they have to do is keep winning.