By Mikko Salo: In last year´s Top Ten Year in Review column I wrote the following: “The heavyweight division is entering 2016 with the most positive buzz in a long, long time.”
Well, the buzz did not last. Looking at the quality of the heavyweight fights in 2016 and comparing them with what we all expected, the past year has to go down in recent heavyweight history as one of the most disappointing. To sum it up: The top three heavyweights in the world - Fury, Klitschko, Povetkin - fought a combined one time and that was Alexander Povetkin´s bout against fight-day-sub Johann Duhaupas after the Russian failed a drug test the second time this year.
In last year´s TTYIR I also wrote the following:
“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.”
Answers to these questions are as follows:
Tyson Fury was just a temporary guardian of the Lineal Championship and most likely will never come close to Lennox Lewis in terms of achievement in the squared circle.
We didn´t get an answer to the Klitschko question because of the cancellation of Fury vs Klitschko II. We hope Wladimir fares better with Anthony Joshua in finally making the superfight actually happen.
Deontay Wilder didn´t have to step in the ring to challenge Alexander Povetkin, because Povetkin tested positive for PEDs before their scheduled fight. Wilder didn´t fight anyone other of note.
Luis Ortiz didn´t do much for an encore in the ring during 2016, although he was able to position himself better for future fights by changing his promotional stable.
Anthony Joshua beat three other top ten contenders - although not upper-tier ones - in 2016 so it is safe to say that his development continued with a delighting pace.
Once again, before taking on the heavyweight year of 2017, we chronicle the glamour division scene of 2016 through the campaigns of fighters ranked in TBRB and/or The Ring top ten at year`s end. We ignore the alphabets.
Tyson Fury, The Ring Champion (25-0, 18 KO)
Well, what can I say. Tyson Fury did fill the headlines in 2016 but unfortunately not for his efforts in the squared circle, quite the opposite. The Fury Tale of public rants, surfacing doping scandals, apparent lack of training and motivation, injuries, postponements of the Klitschko rematch and finally succumbing to mental issues with testing positive for cocaine tells us a very sad and troubling story. Fury is a gifted fighter who will as of now go down in history as one of the most infamous Heavyweight Champions, the one-who-never-even-defended.
In early 2016 Tyson Fury was riding high after his upset win over long-reigning Champion Wladimir Klitschko. When he wasn´t lighting Twitter on fire with his off-the-wall comments he among other things put on a good show after Deontay Wilder´s January win over Artur Szpilka by climbing into the ring to have a shouting match with the American contender.
The negotiations for Fury vs Klitschko II dragged on in the spring with problems finding a suitable date for all the parties, including the numerous TV outlets involved. Finally a date for 9th July in Manchester Arena, Manchester, England was reached. All seemed to be well in Fury Land although the Champion appeared very much out of shape in the kick-off press conference for the rematch.
The signs of trouble started appearing in May. First there were Fury´s strange comments about him retiring after the Klitschko fight because of troubles with motivation. Then came reports and Fury´s own statements about his trainer and uncle Peter Fury leaving camp due to Tyson´s poor work ethic and lack of preparation. The following day the comments were claimed to be mere jokes and mind games but in light of later events they don´t look like that now.
In late June came the first postponement. Fury had rolled his ankle while running. He had to withdraw from the 9th July date. A new date was set for 29th October, the fight was still on.
Then, the bombs started dropping.
On 23rd September, The Fury camp published a statement, declaring the Champion “medically unfit to fight”, announcing that Fury vs Klitschko II had to be postponed yet again. Soon it was revealed that “medically unfit to fight” meant that Fury was suffering from serious depression and was not able to carry on his career before getting treatment for these mental issues.
On 30th December info about Fury´s most recent failed doping test became public (his troubles with UKAD had started a few months earlier about a 2015 positive drug test taken nine months before Klitschko vs Fury I). The Champion had tested positive for cocaine in a test taken on 22nd September. The rematch was definitely off for the foreseeable future.
Early October, Fury came out with an interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, admitting the cocaine use, not training for months and “being as fat as a pig”.
Later in October Fury´s boxing license got suspended by the BBBofC.
Fury has continued his social media outbursts but is definitely out of the ring for the near future. Depending on his recovery, we might or might not see him in action in 2017. Reportedly he is back in training, eyeing a ring return in the first half of 2017.
TBRB removed Tyson Fury as Champion from its November rankings after he had not fought in 12 months and it had become evident he will not defend his Crown anytime soon. The Ring Magazine still considers him its Champion but that too will probably change if Fury doesn´t fight within 18 months of his November 2015 victory over Wladimir Klitschko. Right now it seems more likely than not that The Ring Championship will also be taken from him. After that Tyson Fury will be an ex-Champion trying to climb up the ladder again. One thing about his comeback is sure. His ring return will generate vast sums of revenue.
Alexander Povetkin, TBRB #1 contender (31-1, 23 KO)
Tyson Fury´s demise was not the only sad tale in heavyweight boxing during year 2016. Alexander Povetkin, the long-time top contender provided us with his version of the doping scandal involving Russian athletes in different sports.
The arduous negotiations between Povetkin´s promoter Andrey Ryabinsky´s World of Boxing and Deontay Wilder´s negotiating team dragged on with no results in early 2016. The fight went to a purse bid in February 2016 with Ryabinsky´s $7 million offer winning the bid. The fight between then-TBRB #2 contender Povetkin vs #3 contender Wilder was finally on, headed to Moscow with a date set for 21st May.
About a week before the fight was supposed to take place, news surfaced that Povetkin had tested positive for meldonium, a substance declared banned from the beginning of 2016. Povetkin insisted that he had indeed taken the substance but had taken it last year before it was banned. As a result the fight had to be postponed for further investigation on the matter.
Eventually the Povetkin & meldonium matter was so messy with several clear and one failed test during the build-up to the fight, that Povetkin was kept in the picture for a showdown with Wilder who had swiftly moved on to fight an easier opponent in Chris Arreola.
The next step for Povetkin´s team was to win another purse bid setting up a fight between Povetkin and then-TBRB #8 contender Bermane Stiverne. The date was set for 17th December in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
One day before the fight was to take place, Povetkin tested positive again, this time for a banned substance ostarine from a test taken on 6th December. Stiverne called the fight off on the morning of the fight date and headed home to Las Vegas.
Frenchman Johann Duhaupas, then-TBRB #9 contender, replaced Stiverne on shortest of notices, getting knocked out in the 6th round by Povetkin. The week after the fight it was published that a test taken on 13th December from Povetkin came up clean. in other words, the script was exactly the same as in the “postponed” Wilder fight.
An investigation is held to what transpired with Povetkin´s drug testing this time. Whatever the end result is, Povetkin´s formidable career is in limbo. The Ring has removed Povetkin from its rankings. TBRB is still maintaining his #1 contender status, waiting on the ruling and possible suspension before making a move on the Russian.
Wladimir Klitschko, The Ring #1 contender (64-4, 53 KO)
Wladimir Klitschko spent the year 2016 training for a fight that never materialized. As we all know Fury vs Klitschko II caved in as a result of Fury´s personal problems. After the Fury fight was called off, Klitschko was in negotiations for a stay-busy fight against Australian Lucas Browne for a December date, but eventually a deal was made for Klitschko to face the up-and-coming-superstar-in-the-making Anthony Joshua, who currently holds the TBRB #2 contender status. The superfight is scheduled to take place at Wembley Stadium, London and is set to sell 90000 tickets, being the biggest fight of the boxing year 2017.
In December, TBRB removed Klitschko from his #1 contender status because of his over 12-month-long inactivity. The Ring is ranking him as its #1 contender for the Championship still held by Tyson Fury.
If Joshua vs Klitschko really materializes, it will be the biggest heavyweight showdown since Klitschko vs Haye in 2011. Wladimir Klitschko is a living fighting legend who is trying to turn back the clock one more time. Anthony Joshua is the face of the new heavyweight generation. It doesn´t get much better than that. Several past champions have tried what Klitschko is setting out to achieve, most have failed. We will see how Klitschko fares against the most feared fighter of the new generation of heavyweights vying for what Klitschko once owned: The Undisputed Heavyweight Championship (both TBRB and The Ring Championships).
Anthony Joshua, TBRB #2, The Ring #5 contender (18-0, 18 KO)
The hottest young heavyweight commodity Anthony Joshua disposed of three American top ten contenders with such ease in 2016 that the boxing media especially in Britain is already crowning him as the next King of the heavyweight division. He might well become that in the future, but he has to get past an aging legend first in the toughest fight of his young and bright career.
The 27-year-old Joshua stepped in the ring for the first time in 2016 in April, facing then-TBRB #9 contender Charles Martin in O2 Arena, London. The fight was dubbed as a clash between two up-and-comers, but as soon as the bell rang it was evident that Joshua was in a different class from Martin. The Watford native decked his hapless foe twice with his right hand, ending matters in the 2nd round.
Joshua kept himself busy after the Martin fight. Next in line was then-TBRB #9 contender Dominic Breazale in June, again in the familiar O2 Arena. Breazale fought gamely but had little chance. Joshua floored the 6´7 American twice in the 7th round on his way to TKO 7.
Joshua´s third ring appearance of 2016 took place in December at Manchester Arena, Manchester. The opponent was then-TBRB #10 contender Eric Molina. The result was a 3rd round brutal TKO with Molina having a terrified look on his face from the opening bell.
Wladimir Klitschko sat ringside at Manchester Arena, and for a specific reason. After the Molina debacle was over, Klitschko stepped in the ring with Joshua to announce a superfight the whole boxing world had been waiting for. Joshua vs Klitschko will take place on 29th April 2017 at Wembley Stadium. Let us hope this fight really goes through and doesn´t end up in the same place all the best scheduled heavyweight fights did in 2016.
Deontay Wilder, The Ring #2, TBRB #4 contender (37-0, 36 KO)
Deontay Wilder kicked off the heavyweight year by KOing Artur Szpilka in the 9th round on 16th January at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York. After the Szpilka fight negotiations to face Alexander Povetkin dragged on, going to purse bid in late February. As a result then-TBRB #3 contender Wilder was being forced to travel to Moscow, Russia to challenge TBRB #2 contender Povetkin. Wilder was about to face by far his toughest opponent to date on hostile soil. As documented earlier in this article, the fight fell through due to Povetkin testing positive for a banned substance. Wilder moved on very swiftly from the dangerous Russian.
With the Povetkin fight off, Wilder returned to his patented way of making ends meet: facing journeymen in his home state of Alabama. This time it was badly faded former top ten contender Chris Arreola who was given a chance to make a few bucks as Wilder´s opponent in July. The result was RTD 8 for Wilder, but it came with a price. Wilder broke his hand and tore his biceps, having to go through with two procedures to repair the damage.
In November it was reported that Wilder was fully healed and back in training. About a month later his ring return was published, following the familiar pattern of facing journeymen in Birmingham, Alabama. The opponent for the 25th February fight will be Polish Andrzej Wawrzyk, whose most notable “achievement” to date is a May 2013 TKO 3 loss to – guess who – Alexander Povetkin.
Luis Ortiz, TBRB #3, The Ring #4 contender (27-0, 23 KO)
During the year, the Cuban heavyweight standout´s promotional situation generated more media interest than his somewhat mediocre performances in the ring. At the end of the year, Ortiz finally seems to have reached a position where big fights are possible in 2017.
Ortiz´s first appearance in 2016 was a March encounter in Washington DC against old trial horse and former top ten contender Tony Thompson. Thompson collected his paycheck with Ortiz knocking the American out in the 6th round.
Next in line was supposed to be a September showdown with Russian giant Alexander Ustinov on the undercard of Alvarez vs Smith, but the fight fell through with Ortiz´s co-promoters Dade Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions feuding. Eventually the purse bid for Ortiz vs Ustinov was won in August by the sole bidder Alexander Ryabinsky who then targeted the fight for October in Russia. Shortly after the purse bid Ortiz´s parting with Golden Boy by way of a buyout deal was announced. In September Ortiz vs Ustinov finally fell through because of a drug testing dispute between the sides.
On 8th October news were made public about Luis Ortiz signing on the dotted line with British promoter Eddie Hearn, who also holds rights to Anthony Joshua. With a fresh start in his quest for the Heavyweight Throne the Cuban returned to the ring in November against Malik Scott in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The result was not what Ortiz or his new promoter had hoped for. Ortiz did score a victory, but he wasn´t able to knock out Scott, who was concentrated in surviving the 12 rounds rather than really take on “King Kong”.
Hearn kept Ortiz busy by giving him the next date in December on the undercard of Joshua vs Molina. The opponent was David Allen and the fight ended with a TKO 7.
Ortiz remains a high risk-low reward opponent who none of the other top contenders want to fight yet. But with Hearn pulling the strings, it might be possible that Ortiz lands a big payday in 2017.
Kubrat Pulev, The Ring #3, TBRB #6 contender (24-1, 13 KO)
The Sauerland-promoted solid Bulgarian veteran stepped in the ring twice in 2016, still rebuilding after his KO loss to Wladimir Klitschko in November 2014. In May, he scored a SD 12 victory over quality gatekeeper and former top ten contender Dereck Chisora in Hamburg, Germany. At one point Pulev was mentioned as a possible opponent for the rising British star Anthony Joshua, but eventually he ended up fighting in December, facing completely out-of-shape and badly faded former top contender Samuel Peter in Sofia, Bulgaria. Pulev prevailed when a gassed out and battered Peter didn´t come out for the 4th round.
As of now, Pulev doesn´t have a fight scheduled for 2017. The Bulgarian, like the Cuban Ortiz, is a high risk-low reward option for other top contenders. That is why Pulev continues to be on the outside looking in when big money fights are made.
Joseph Parker, TBRB #5, The Ring #6 contender (22-0, 18 KO)
The 24-year-old New Zealander is touted as one of the future stars of heavyweight boxing. In 2016 he stormed the top ten scene with two wins over legitimate contenders. If Parker´s development continues to follow the right path, the Kiwi fighter might be one of the main contenders vying for the vacant Lineal Championship in the coming years.
After getting past journeyman Jason Bergman with a TKO 8 in a January fight staged in Apia, Samoa, Parker faced his toughest test yet in then-TBRB #8 contender, experienced trial horse Carlos Takam. On 21st May in Manukau City, New Zealand, Parker prevailed over the game Cameroonian by way of UD 12, vaulting himself into top ten contention.
Next up was a July stay-busy encounter with Solomon Haumono, the fight being staged in Christchurch, New Zealand, Parker scoring a TKO 4 win.
As late as in September, while Parker was preparing for an October showdown with former top ten contender Alexander Dimitrenko, the Kiwi fighter was being mentioned as a possible opponent for Anthony Joshua in November. After Parker KOed Dimitrenko in the 3rd round the talks shifted to a possibility to make a lucrative fight on home soil in New Zealand against unbeaten Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. At the same time Joshua´s camp started leaning towards a superfight with Wladimir Klitschko rather than facing Parker. Eventually the camps of both young stars shifted away from facing each other in a crossroads fight at these stages of their fighters´ careers.
Joseph Parker laced up against 27-year-old Andy Ruiz Jr. on 10th December in Auckland, New Zealand in a battle of two unbeaten up-and-comers. The New Zealander was able to edge the Mexican-American in a tactical fight by a majority decision, cementing his status as a legitimate contender for the now vacant Lineal Championship. Future looks bright for Parker with several lucrative options in the horizon for 2017.
Carlos Takam, TBRB #7 contender (33-3-1, 24 KO)
The durable French-based Cameroonian stepped in the ring only once in 2016. In May he gave the rising Kiwi star Joseph Parker a tough test in Manukau City, New Zealand, suffering a unanimous decision loss.
The 36-year-old Takam is a rugged fighter with good showings against other top ten contenders on his resume, but the big win has never come Takam´s way. Lack of a big win and lack of marketability has resulted in him being cast in the role of a premium gatekeeper in the mold of what Tony Thompson was a few years back. In that role Takam can make a fighting living for a couple more years before age catches up on him.
Bermane Stiverne, The Ring #7 contender (25-2-1, 21 KO)
The 38-year-old Haitian-American contender had a quiet 2016. Eventually so quiet that he had zero fights during the whole year. In the summer Stiverne was being mentioned as one of the possible opponents for Anthony Joshua, but as time went by, Joshua´s handlers went for other, more lucrative options.
Subsequently a fight with Alexander Povetkin was made for December, but as we know, Stiverne left the fight site of Yekaterinburg, Russia on the morning of the fight date after receiving information about Povetkin´s failed drug test.
As of now, Stiverne´s last fight is still a November 2015 UD 10 over journeyman Derrick Rossy. The veteran doesn´t have a fight scheduled in 2017. Time is running out for Stiverne to make his mark on the heavyweight scene.
Andy Ruiz Jr, TBRB #8, The Ring #9 contender (29-1, 19 KO)
Since starting his professional career as a 19-year-old in 2009, Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr has climbed steadily through the pro boxing ranks. In 2016 he finally reached top ten contender status with a spirited effort against rising star Joseph Parker.
Andy Ruiz Jr started his 2016 campaign in May by retiring 45-year-old former contender Ray Austin in four rounds in a fight staged in Studio City, California. He proceeded to score a TKO 3 over Josh Gormley in Detroit, Michigan in July and a September UD 10 over Franklin Lawrence in Lemoore, California.
At one point Ruiz was slated to face Hughie Fury on the undercard of the ill-fated Tyson Fury vs Wladimir Klitschko rematch in October, but Ruiz withdrew citing managerial problems. Soon the Mexican-American received his chance to go big time with a shot to face Joseph Parker, one of the most promising heavyweight prospects, in a lucrative bout with significant exposure. Ruiz took the trip to Auckland, New Zealand and on 10th December, he gave Parker all the young Kiwi fighter could handle in suffering a majority decision defeat. The effort against Parker brought Ruiz recognition with both TBRB and The Ring acknowledging him in their respective top ten rankings. The Parker fight will probably carry over for Ruiz in 2017 with him being targeted as a possible opponent for other top ten contenders. It is hard to imagine though that Ruiz would ever be a legitimate contender for the vacant Lineal Throne.
David Haye, The Ring #8 contender (28-2, 26 KO)
The former Cruiserweight King and top heavyweight contender resumed his fighting career in 2016 after a 3,5-year layoff. The 36-year-old Haye´s object is clear and in line with professional boxing´s basic principles: Make as much money you can with as little risk possible.
Haye began his comeback with a January date facing completely unknown Mark de Mori in O2 Arena, London. The mismatch resulted in beefed-up 227-pound Haye battering the hapless Aussie into submission in the 1st round. What followed was a May fight in O2 facing another nobody called Arnold Gjergjaj, whom Haye dispatched in the 2nd round.
These two fights were enough for Haye to receive a top ten ranking from The Ring Magazine. During the year Haye has, as we have come to get used to, called out pretty much all the other top heavyweights and then some. For his next fight he has settled for a domestic bad blood showdown against TBRB #5 cruiserweight contender, light heavyweight-turned-cruiserweight-now-turning-heavyweight Tony Bellew, the fight being staged at O2 Arena in March. Make as much money you can with as little risk possible, that is professional boxing a la David Haye.
Christian Hammer, TBRB #9 contender (20-4, 11 KO)
The 29-year-old Romanian-German Christian Hammer is best known for his RTD 8 defeat at the hands of Tyson Fury in February 2015, Fury´s stay-busy fight before he dethroned Wladimir Klitschko later that year.
Christian Hammer stepped in the ring twice in 2016. In March, he KOed faded British journeyman Michael Sprott in the 1st round in Bucharest, Romania. In October Hammer scored his biggest win yet by outpointing dangerous Erkan Teper via SD 12 in Wilhelmsburg, Germany. Hammer is slated to fight in March 2017, but his opponent is yet to be named.
Dillian Whyte, TBRB #10, The Ring #10 contender (20-1, 15 KO)
Of the 18 fighters Anthony Joshua has faced, 28-year-old Dillian Whyte has given him the most trouble. After giving the superstar-in-the-making a scare in the 2nd round of their domestic showdown in December 2015 Whyte finally succumbed to a TKO loss in the 7th round. By the end of the year 2016 the Jamaican-born Whyte has earned a top ten ranking with his active 2016 campaign culminating in a fight-of-the-year candidate with Dereck Chisora.
After suffering the first loss of his career to Joshua, Whyte got busy fighting four times in the second half of 2016. He returned to the ring in June 2016 by KOing Ivica Bacurin in the 6th round on the undercard of Joshua vs Breazale in O2 Arena, London. Next up was a July domestic fight with David Allen, Whyte scoring a UD 10 victory in Leeds, England. In October he scored a RTD 10 win over Ian Lewison in Glasgow, Scotland.
In the fall talks began about Whyte facing quality gatekeeper and former top ten contender Dereck Chisora. The fight was scheduled to take place in December on the Joshua vs Molina undercard. The build-up went as expected with tables flying in a press conference, separate weigh-ins and other such antics we have grown accustomed to with Chisora being a part of a professional prizefight.
When the opening bell rang for Whyte vs Chisora, the audience was treated to a terrific barnburner which will certainly appear on several fight-of-the-year lists. In the end it was Dillian Whyte who prevailed via a razor-thin split decision. Do we see a rematch in the horizon for 2017? That or a rematch with Joshua would definitely be Whyte´s most lucrative options for the coming year.