By Mikko Salo: The heavyweight division is entering 2016 with the most positive buzz in a long, long time. The atmosphere is the result of major shake-ups in the heavyweight landscape and the international infusion of fighting talent into the top ten during the year 2015.
First of all, in Tyson Fury we have a new Undisputed Champion recognized by both Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) and The Ring Magazine. For better or worse, the new King will surely keep himself in the headlines like no other Champion since a certain other Tyson ruled over the glamour division over 25 years ago.
Secondly, the heavyweight top ten has probably never been so diverse regarding the nationalities and origins of the contenders? Of the twelve fighters ranked in the TBRB and/or The Ring top ten two come out of Great Britain, two from Ukraine and two from the USA. Russia, Cuba, Bulgaria, Haiti, Cameroon and Uzbekistan are the countries of origin for the rest of this very international group. The current top of the division has a very global outlook compared to past decades mostly dominated by American Champions and contenders. This brings up possibilities of interesting international rivalries for fighters, their handlers and the boxing fans.
Several burning questions and storylines make the near future the most anticipated period for the heavyweights in quite a while. Will 27-year-old Tyson Fury be just a temporary guardian of the most prestigious Crown in individual sports or is he about to establish a reign rivaling legendary countryman Lennox Lewis? Is Wladimir Klitschko able to turn back the clock and regain what was his for over six glorious years? Does Deontay Wilder have the balls to step in the ring with Alexander Povetkin or anyone other of note? What will Luis Ortiz do for an encore after bursting onto the scene with a spectacular knockout of Bryant Jennings? How will the development of Anthony Joshua, the brightest young prospect of the scene, continue as he hopefully faces another top ten contender in 2016? We will get answers to these and many other intriguing questions in the coming year.
Before taking on the heavyweight year of 2016, we chronicle the glamour division scene of 2015 through the campaigns of fighters ranked in TBRB and/or The Ring top ten at year`s end. We ignore the alphabets.
Undisputed Champion Tyson Fury (25-0, 18 KO)
The motor-mouthed British giant from Manchester realized his formidable potential in 2015 by seizing the moment and grabbing hold of the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship. He also continued his headline-making and sometimes head-scratching performances outside of the squared circle before and after his Championship winning effort. Fury’s antics before the Klitschko fight included entering one of the pre-fight press conferences in a Batman suit and in a later interview going on a homophobic rant about the end of days, the devil and abortion. After the fight the Mancunian grabbed the mic in the ring and sang an Aerosmith power ballad to his wife (Fury is a better boxer than singer). One thing is certain. No matter how long Fury’s reign as Heavyweight King lasts, it won’t be boring.
Tyson Fury began his year with a February stay-busy encounter against Romanian-German Christian Hammer in London`s O2 Arena. Fury pocketed some good rounds in scoring a clear victory by RTD 8.
The next step for Team Fury was to orchestrate a chance to challenge long-reigning Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko. After intense negotiations a deal was finally reached in July for the fight to be staged in October at Düsseldorf`s ESPRIT Arena in Germany. After a five-week postponement due to Klitschko`s calf injury, the bout finally took place in November.
The 6´9´´ Fury came in with a game plan that proved to be perfect in confusing the aging Champion. By moving laterally and throwing awkward shots from different angles at his befuddled opponent, the 27-year-old Fury utilized his edge in size and reach in a way Klitschko was clearly not prepared to deal with. When the final bell tolled and the cards were read, Tyson Fury had pulled off the biggest heavyweight Championship fight upset since Lewis vs Rahman I in 2001 by scoring a unanimous decision over the Ukrainian legend.
Klitschko vs Fury will not go down in history as one of the heavyweight classics, quite the opposite. While their encounter was mostly dreadful to watch, it has set the table for a very interesting rematch hopefully in the spring of 2016. Fury vs Klitschko II will answer a lot of questions still asked about the newly-crowned Champion’s abilities.
TBRB and The Ring #1 contender Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 51 KO)
In April 2006 Wladimir Klitschko battered The Ring #1 contender Chris Byrd into submission over seven one-sided rounds. From that moment on until November 2015, Klitschko was recognized as the best heavyweight on the planet. In June 2009 he captured the Lineal Heavyweight Championship by RTD 9 victory over Ruslan Chagaev, establishing new lineage in boxing`s glamour division. During the following six years, the Ukrainian punched his first-ballot ticket to Canastota with a remarkable 11-defence Championship run.
But everything comes to an end. On a November night in Düsseldorf, Wladimir Klitschko fell from the highest pedestal of individual sports. Now he is a former Champion faced with a long climb back to the top of the mountain.
After destroying then-TBRB #1 contender Kubrat Pulev by KO 5 in November 2014, looking pretty much better than ever in the process, Wladimir Klitschko set his sights on US soil, where he had not stepped in the ring since scoring a unanimous decision over Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden in 2008. A deal was struck to face undefeated TBRB #8 contender Bryant Jennings in April, venue being the familiar MSG. There King Wlad scored a clear unanimous decision - his 22nd consecutive victory - over game but overmatched Jennings with a performance that lacked the dominance of some previous defences, but nevertheless got the job done in orderly fashion.
Then came the Tyson Fury fight. Fury was no pushover as the TBRB #2 contender, whose considerable but underrated boxing skills had been on display in a dominating November 2014 RTD 10 victory over then-TBRB #8 contender Dereck Chisora. Nonetheless, basically nobody outside Fury’s immediate family gave the big Briton a chance to cause serious trouble to the 39-year-old Champion.
What eventually transpired on November 28th in front of 55000 spectators at Düsseldorf`s ESPRIT Arena was nothing short of shocking to most observers. From the onset Wladimir Klitschko looked clueless against an opponent bigger than him and not willing to trade punches from the distance he wanted. Klitschko was utterly unable to unload on the clowning, bobbing and weaving Fury, who was hurling an occasional awkward punch or two at him. What followed were twelve tedious-to-watch rounds resulting in a unanimous decision loss for the Champion, who connected on a stunningly meager 18(!) power shots (according to CompuBox) all night.
Wladimir Klitschko quickly exercised the rematch clause in the fight contract, with Fury vs Klitschko II being in play for possibly spring 2016. One would be foolish to question the former Champion´s determination in preparing for his chance to regain heavyweight glory. The Ukrainian legend will go back to the drawing board and do everything possible to come up with a blueprint for beating Fury and his awkward style. The problem for Klitschko is that in the reigning Champion`s corner resides a foe maybe even more difficult to beat than the Champion himself. His name is Father Time.
TBRB and The Ring #2 contender Alexander Povetkin (30-1, 22 KO)
The Russian long-time top contender continued to impress in 2015 on his way back to within striking distance of the Heavyweight Championship. He has now scored four consecutive knockouts after getting mauled by Wladimir Klitschko in October 2013. Povetkin`s two convincing victories in 2015 moved himself possibly one or two fights away from a chance to once again challenge for the Heavyweight Championship.
In May, Povetkin stepped into the squared circle in Moscow against then-TBRB #10 contender Mike Perez (21-1-1). On the line was a chance to face American top contender Deontay Wilder for taking a step closer to challenging for the Championship then held by Wladimir Klitschko. If there ever was a statement needed, Povetkin made it with frightening power at 91 seconds of the first round by depositing the Cuban-Irish Perez flat on his back on the Luzhniki Palace of Sports canvas.
The negotiations to make the much anticipated Povetkin vs Wilder commenced in the spring, but dragged on with a snail’s pace between camps headed by powerful and deep-pocketed boxing moguls Andrey Ryabinsky (Povetkin) and Al Haymon (Wilder). Issues arose over scheduling, location and other matters. In August the media was informed that Povetkin will return in November, facing Polish fringe contender Mariusz Wach (31-1) in Kazan, Russia. Wilder bout would then be held sometime in 2016.
In the boxing ring Alexander Povetkin did his part by TKOing Wach in the 12th round after a dominating performance, enabling the talks to make the Wilder fight continue. If Wilder gets through his January date with another Pole Artur Szpilka, Povetkin vs Wilder looks to be targeted for an April, May or June date, possibly in the USA. If the fight gets made, the 36-year-old tough and durable veteran from Chekhov, Russia will have a very good chance of vaulting himself into pole position for once more challenging for the Heavyweight Championship.
TBRB and The Ring #3 contender Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KO)
For years the US media has been shouting out the death of boxing`s glamour division when in truth it has been dead only in the US. The packed soccer stadiums and big money TV deals have told a completely different story on the other side of the pond, where heavyweights have thrived especially in the big markets of Germany and Britain.
The sad state of American heavyweight boxing during this millennium can be summed up in two facts. 1) The last US fighter to hold the Lineal Heavyweight Crown is Hasim Rahman, who was King for a brief 7-month period in 2001. 2) Since Rahman`s short reign an American fighter has challenged for the Heavyweight Championship only four times (Tyson 2002, Chambers 2010, Thompson 2012, Jennings 2015) with a record of 0-4 (3 KO by). This has been a tough pill to swallow for American boxing public and media, the result being the collective crying over the “bad” European heavyweights dominating the game.
The colourful 6´7´´ Olympic medalist Deontay Wilder from Tuscaloosa, Alabama might be on his way to changing all this if he is able to continue the impressive run he is on. After KOing a hoard of journeymen and has-beens 30-year-old Wilder truly arrived at the heavyweight scene in January 2015 by convincingly decisioning then-TBRB #3 contender Bermane Stiverne with a patient boxing performance in MGM Grand, Las Vegas. With the victory Wilder established himself as a legitimate American contender to seize back what belonged to US fighters for most of the 20th century.
Following the Stiverne bout, Wilder`s camp lead by Al Haymon decided against going after then-Champion Klitschko or other top ten contenders. Instead, they opted to make some easy dollars back home in Birmingham, Alabama on their fighter’s newfound fame. This was probably a wise business move since the powerful and talented Wilder still looks a bit raw and uncoordinated at times. That being said, the laughable murderers’ row of Eric Molina (23-2, losses to Ashanti Jordan and Chris Arreola) in June, Frenchman Johann Duhaupas (32-2, losses to Francesco Pianeta and Erkan Teper) in September and Polish Artur Szpilka (20-1, loss to Bryant Jennings) in coming January at Brooklyn`s Barclays Center represent a robbery as in robbing the American boxing public of its money by going back to matching Wilder up with a bunch of fringe contenders while talking smack about conquering the heavyweight division.
If he handles Szpilka, Wilder will most likely be forced to face TBRB #2 contender Alexander Povetkin in the spring of 2016 in a mouthwatering big-money match-up. That coupled with Fury vs Klitschko II would make the first half of the coming heavyweight year something to truly wait for.
TBRB #4, The Ring #5 contender Luis Ortiz (24-0, 21 KO)
When discussing the glorious past of the heavyweight division, many a boxing journalist is caught longing for the 1970s or 1990s, since those decades were - according to at least the American media folklore - much more competitive than the heavyweight scene today. Those decades could also have a very different look upon them if Cuban Olympic heavyweight legends Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon had the chance to take on the best American heavyweights of the 1970s and 1990s.
It is the 2010s and finally we seem to have a legitimate heavyweight contender from the Caribbean island that has produced an abundance of sweet science talent in the lower weight classes. Luis Ortiz defected to the US in 2009 and started his pro career in 2010 at the ripe age of 30. Ortiz had amassed a formidable amateur experience, belonging to the Cuban heavyweight elite for years and reportedly having an amateur record of 343-19. During 2010-12 the Cuban boxer-puncher went to work, fighting 19 times in USA, Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. His ascension through the ranks was halted and his integrity blemished after testing positive for a banned substance following a TKO 1 victory (later changed to no contest) over Lateef Kayode in September 2014. As a result of the offense, Ortiz suffered a nine-month suspension, returning to the ring in June 2015 at Montreal`s Bell Centre. His opponent was Byron Polley (27-18-1), the result TKO 1. Next in line was Argentine Matias Ariel Vidondo (20-1-1) in October on the undercard of middleweight showdown Golovkin vs Lemieux in Madison Square Garden. Ortiz prevailed via KO 3. These early KOs against mediocre opposition only served as a prelude of things to come.
On 19th December at Turning Stone Resort & Casino, Verona, New York, Luis Ortiz faced then-TBRB #8 contender Bryant Jennings (19-1, 10 KO), whose only loss had come earlier in 2015 via UD 12 against then-Heavyweight King Wladimir Klitschko. It was a fight of significant meaning for both combatants. In the ring Jennings was relegated to a gatekeeper role for Luis Ortiz’s grand arrival on the heavyweight scene. Southpaw Ortiz fought well from the outside and inside, rocking Jennings in the first round. The end came in brutal fashion in the seventh, Ortiz dropping Jennings with a vicious uppercut and proceeding to close the show in spectacular fashion.
After the Jennings victory the 36-year-old Ortiz, co-promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, is eyeing the biggest names in the division. The Cuban is nearing the twilight of his fighting days so moves have to be made fast. The three spectacular knockouts in 2015 serve as his calling card for bigger paydays. If he continues winning, a chance to challenge for the Heavyweight Crown in 2016 or 2017 might materialize.
TBRB #5, The Ring #4 contender Kubrat Pulev (22-1, 12 KO)
After suffering his first defeat at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko by KO 5 in November 2014 Kubrat Pulev did not pull a “Povetkin”. That is, he did not return fast against respectable opposition, aiming to get right back in the Championship mix.
Instead, Pulev took 11 months off and returned in October in Karlsruhe, Germany against 41-year-old George Arias (56-13). Pulev got the work in, scoring an eight-round unanimous decision over the Brazilian trial horse. Next appearance came in December against American journeyman Maurice Harris (26-20-3), a KO 1 victory for Pulev in Wilhelmsburg, Germany.
Right now Pulev seems to be quite far removed from chances to fight other top contenders for big money. As of now, he doesn`t have a fight scheduled for 2016.
TBRB and The Ring #6 contender Bermane Stiverne (25-2-1, 21 KO)
The Haitian-Canadien Stiverne had his chance of getting close to challenging for the Heavyweight Championship in January, when he entered the MGM Grand Arena ring against Deontay Wilder. Stiverne did not make use of his big opportunity, losing in lackluster fashion to Wilder, who boxed clever utilizing his size and reach advantage.
Stiverne`s lone other appearance in the ring in 2015 was a November tougher-than-expected 10-round unanimous decision over journeyman Derrick Rossy (30-10) in Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Since the Wilder fight 37-year-old Stiverne has fallen off the radar and is quickly becoming not much more than an afterthought on the fast-developing heavyweight scene. He was considered as an opponent for then-unranked Luis Ortiz for October in Madison Square Garden, but according to Stiverne`s manager Camille Estephan, promoter Don King blocked the deal. In December Estephan informed that he is parting ways with Stiverne citing differences with King.
Stiverne doesn`t have a fight scheduled for 2016 yet, but according to Don King he might appear on the undercard of Wilder vs Szpilka in January.
TBRB #7 contender Carlos Takam (33-2-1, 25 KO)
In 2014, French-based Cameroonian Carlos Takam was the only heavyweight in the world who faced three then-top ten contenders during the year (Perez, Thompson, Povetkin), going 1-1-1, earning a top ten ranking in the process.
In 2015 it was a different story as Takam`s opposition can be described as pathetic for a top ten contender. He stepped in the ring three times scoring an April KO 4 over Marcelo Luiz Nascimento (17-8) in Noisy-le-Grand, France, a June KO 5 over Michael Sprott (42-23) in Paris and a November UD 8 over George Arias (56-14) in Turin, Italy.
As of now, the 35-year-old Takam doesn`t have a fight scheduled for 2016. With his 2014 momentum gone, he will probably toil as an upper tier trial horse for some years, but it is unlikely the Cameroonian lands more major fights in his respectable career.
The Ring #7, TBRB #8 contender Vyacheslav Glazkov (21-0-1, 13 KO)
Promising but unspectacular “Czar” Glazkov kept his top ten position in 2015 with one quality win and one stay-busy encounter. In March the 30-year-old Ukrainian squared off in a crossroads fight against then-TBRB #9 contender Steve Cunningham (28-6), their fight being a co-feature with light heavyweight showdown Kovalev vs Pascal at Montreal`s Bell Centre. Glazkov came out as the winner by a unanimous decision in a very close contest.
Czar returned in August, scoring a tune-up KO 4 over journeyman Kertson Manswell (24-12) in Krasnodar, Russia. For the rest of the year, Glazkov was linked to several other top heavyweights, most of the talk surrounding Wladimir Klitschko (before Klitschko vs Fury), Tyson Fury (after Klitschko vs Fury) and Deontay Wilder. Eventually none of these materialized due to a laughable mess of alphabet politics. Now Glazkov ends up fighting unrated Charles Martin (22-0-1) on the undercard of Wilder vs Szpilka at Brooklyn`s Barclays Center in January 2016.
In other words, we could have had two up-and-coming top ten contenders fighting each other in Wilder vs Glazkov, instead we have both Wilder and Glazkov facing fringe contenders on the same card. Great.
The Ring #8, TBRB #10 contender Bryant Jennings (19-2, 10 KO)
You can`t blame Bryant Jennings for ducking anyone. His readiness to face the toughest possible opposition earned respect in 2015. But winning is the name of the game. The cold hard truth is that Bryant Jennings lost both his 2015 fights, sending him back to the drawing board in search for answers to how his career will shape up in the future.
Early in 2015 Jennings’ camp jumped to the chance to score the payday called Wladimir Klitschko upon the then-Champ’s US return after seven years of fighting exclusively in Europe. A deal was struck for April at Madison Square Garden. The fight went pretty much as expected with the shorter Jennings giving it his active best, but being unable to score anything fight-altering on Klitschko. In a losing effort by unanimous decision, Jennings acquitted himself well in the eyes of most observers. Despite the loss the game effort enabled him to maintain the TBRB top ten ranking.
Talks concerning Jennings’ return to the ring against dangerous Cuban Luis Ortiz went on in the summer with the American turning down a proposed MSG date in October on the undercard of Golovkin vs Lemieux. Eventually Jennings and Ortiz touched gloves in December at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. From the first round on it was clear that Bryant Jennings was in with a fighter that was both stronger and more experienced than him. Ortiz buzzed Jennings in the early going and Jennings had to work to get back in the fight. In the seventh round Ortiz scored on a massive uppercut sending Jennings to the canvas for the first time in his career. The Cuban smelled blood, ending the bout with a TKO. Jennings was gracious in defeat, but questions linger about his future in the top ten. As of now, Bryant Jennings does not have a bout scheduled for 2016.
TBRB #9, The Ring #10 contender Anthony Joshua (15-0, 15 KO)
The heavyweight hero of the London Olympics, Anthony Joshua turned professional with much fanfare, making his debut at London`s O2 Arena in October 2013. With 15 straight KO victories on his resumé by the end of 2015, the 6´6´´ hulking 26-year-old evokes memories of the great British Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis.
Joshua’s 2015 campaign began with bouts against two usual suspects: a KO 3 over Jason Gavern (26-19-4) in April in Newcastle and a TKO 2 over Raphael Zumbano Love (36-10-1) in May in Birmingham.
Next opponent was American trial horse Kevin Johnson (29-6-1), who in his long career had finished fights upright in losses to Vitali Klitschko (2009), Tyson Fury (2012) and Dereck Chisora (2014). No such luck against Joshua, who KOed the faded Johnson in the 2nd round at O2 Arena on the undercard of Brook vs Gavin / Linares vs Mitchell.
In September, previously undefeated Gary Cornish (21-0) got manhandled by Joshua for a TKO 1 in the O2 Arena ring, where Joshua headlined for the first time. On the same card Dillian Whyte (16-0) KOed Brian Minto to set up an all-British bad-blood encounter between two undefeated up-and-comers.
The December match-up at O2 Arena against Dillian Whyte proved to be the first time Joshua ran into some trouble in the ring. Whyte rocked the bigger man in the 2nd round, but was unable to capitalize. Gradually Joshua took control of the fight for good, ending matters with a vicious uppercut in the seventh.
The brightest prospect in the game will return at the familiar O2 Arena in April against an opponent yet to be named. The options thrown around have included a rematch against Whyte and another domestic alternative in former top ten contender Dereck Chisora (24-5).
The Ring #9 contender Ruslan Chagaev (34-2-1, 21 KO)
Former top three contender Ruslan Chagaev`s best days are clearly behind him. He has not fought anyone of note since a unanimous decision loss to Alexander Povetkin in 2011, but The Ring is still willing to keep the Uzbek veteran in the top ten mix.
During recent years, the 37-year-old Chagaev has fought very sparingly. His 2015 campaign consisted of one fight, against Italian Francesco Pianeta (31-1-1) in Magdeburg, Germany in July. Pianeta fell by KO in the first round.
Chagaev is slated to return to action in March 2016 in Akhmat Arena, Grozny, Russia. The match-up is a semi-interesting one, against undefeated Australian Lucas Browne (23-0).
Be sure to "LIKE" the SecondsOut Facebook page.
January 5, 2016