There might be a crisis in the heavyweight division unless the television companies, the promoters, the chancers, the tyrants at the sanctioning bodies, the fixers and the fighters start to realise that they are part of a rich history.
The heavyweight division is not a random board game, a place where a good spin can turn the world upside down and a place where all sense of perspective is lost. It is not a game, but it is being run like a crazy game of chance.
Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are circling each other with very little real indication that they will fight each other. In many ways, the crisis point was a long, long time ago.
There was a bold claim about six months ago that Saudi Arabian riches would transform the heavyweight division, a claim that over $400m was on the table for the leading four men to meet on one night in two fights. A lot of so-called media were delivered to Riyadh and told the hefty Four Kings would fight, it would be in December, and the heavyweight fairy tale would be complete.
The chosen insiders were quick to assure everyone that the money was real, the conviction was real and that it would happen. It fell apart; Fury walked away, Usyk kept busy, Wilder and Joshua are still, in theory, part of a crazy plan. However, even their fight in Saudi in January or February is starting to look more and more like a mirage in that fighting desert.
Eddie Hearn, the promoter of Joshua, has not yet ruled the fight out. Usyk’s promoter, Alex Krassyuk, has not yet ruled out a Fury fight. Wilder’s people flew to Saudi to do a direct deal with the promotional company there, so presumably they are still part of the circus. Fury, meanwhile, will fight in Riyadh next month, but his fight with former UFC champion Francis Ngannou is being promoted by another branch of the Saudi government. It is difficult to keep up with this soap opera with blood.
Ngannou, incidentally, has never had a single boxing match as an amateur or a professional; his 10 rounds with Fury have recently been given a belt by the WBC. It will not be for Fury’s actual WBC heavyweight title, which I guess is a small mercy. The new Saudi belt, complete with diamonds and gold, is still a belt and that means Ngannou, who is being trained by Mike Tyson, will fight for a WBC belt in his first-ever appearance in a boxing ring. Shame on the WBC and their desperate attempt to be relevant. I have no problem with the fight and no problem with crossover events, but the WBC’s decision to award the winner a belt is pathetic. The WBC representative in Riyadh will need sharp elbows to get his face on television because the Saudi families tend to flood the post-fight ring.
Ngannou has been measured to possess the hardest punch in history. It is hard to invent this glorious nonsense. Fury has gone down this route because the money is there, and he is sick and tired of the relentless negotiations for a fight with either Usyk or Joshua. He is, it must be said, not entirely innocent. Although it is hard to blame Fury for going down the Ngannou route, talk of a rematch under mixed martial arts rules is slightly alarming. It is probably harmless chat, but the WBC needs to decide how long they will let their champion loose in the lawless playground of celebrity and crossover fights. There is simply no order, no strict rules and nobody in a position to call a halt to the anarchy.
In the last 12 months, Joshua has fought twice, staying busy and learning with his new coach; Fury has not fought since beating Derek Chisora for the third time last December in defence of his WBC title; Wilder has not been near a ring this year; Usyk stopped Daniel Dubois last month to retain his WBO, WBA and IBF titles. Dubois, incidentally, officially launched an appeal against the decision in that fight, claiming that the fight should have been stopped in Round 5 when he landed what he considers a legitimate body shot. Usyk was instead given nearly four minutes to recover. Krassyuk has ruled out a rematch, insisting that the punch was low and illegal.
It means that in 2023, with two champions owning four recognised belts, with a lot of television backing and with a lot of quality contenders, there will be only one world heavyweight title fight. It is crazy and self-harming, and no other sport would survive such idiocy. Boxing has always been in a race against time, a race to get as much money as possible, as quickly and safely as possible, but this decaying state is so bad for business that it will hurt the business going forward.