By Mikko Salo:The heavyweight year 2017 can be deemed a success mostly because of one fight. At long-last we saw two heavyweights in a fight-of-the-year caliber encounter with generational meaning, a fight that is going to be talked about for years to come. As a result of it we saw a legend retire with the same grace and dignity he ruled the division with. As a result of it we saw the coming-of-age of a possible new ruler. We also see the numerous possibilities year 2018 holds with potential for several superfights.
One of the great fighters of the 2000s, Wladimir Klitschko bode farewell to the fight game in 2017. He does it with his health, wealth and reputation intact as we would expect from a man of his caliber. Even though he ruled the division for years with his steelhammer right hand and one of the most effective left jabs in heavyweight history, his place among the greatest of the division will be forever debated by many. Whatever anyone´s opinion of the younger Klitschko´s place on the pantheon of Champions is, his last performance in the squared circle will arguably go down in history as his greatest, even when the fight itself ended in a TKO defeat. At 41 years old, Klitschko showed his true grit by coming back from an embarrassing points defeat to Tyson Fury by taking on Anthony Joshua, a 27-year-old KO machine, fellow Olympic Gold medalist and the hottest heavyweight prospect since Mike Tyson. In the ring, he got off the canvas to nearly stop Joshua. Even though he finally succumbed to Joshua´s youth and determination, Wladimir Klitschko finished his fighting career with a last chapter that will forever bring honour to him.
Wladimir Klitschko always showed up in great shape. He hardly lost a round during a span of almost ten years in 2006-2015 while taking on all comers. He held the Lineal Heavyweight Championship for six years in 2009-2015. These are credentials of a fighter that will be enshrined in Canastota the minute he is eligible. Thank you Wladimir Klitschko for being a great role model, a great athlete and a great fighter!
Once again, we chronicle the heavyweight year through the actions of the fighters rated in the top 10 at year´s end by Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and The Ring Magazine. We ignore the alphabets.
Tyson Fury, The Ring Champion (25-0, 18 KO)
Tyson Fury has now been absent from the ring for 25 months. There have been no truly realistic indications suggesting that he would be able to return to pro boxing anytime soon. Despite all this the Ring Magazine still recognises Fury as the Lineal Heavyweight Champion. The giant Brit never did lose his Championship in the ring. He lost it to himself outside of it. His is a troubling, but recurring tale in pro boxing of a gifted fighter succumbing to the pressures and temptations of the world proven to be too hard to handle to many a boxing champion - the dangerous world outside of the friendly confines of the boxing ring.
Here is hoping that Tyson Fury is able to fight and defeat his demons, get into true fighting shape and return to the ring with style. But that will happen only if Tyson Fury really has the passion for it. What we don´t want to see is a bloated shadow of a very skilled Champion hustling us for the cash his ring return would undeniably create.
Anthony Joshua, TBRB and The Ring #1 Contender (20-0, 20 KO)
It seems that the next decade of heavyweight boxing began on a glorious night at London´s Wembley Stadium on 29th April 2017 in front of a sellout crowd of 90000. The script was something out of a sports movie with Anthony Joshua dropping the aging legend Wladimir Klitschko in the fifth only to temporarily gas out and get dropped heavily by a crushing Klitschko right cross, then fight himself back into the match from the claws of defeat and finish the night in magnificent fashion for a TKO in 11th round. Joshua vs Klitschko had everything anyone could wish for in a heavyweight megafight. It made Anthony Joshua a superstar and the number one draw in boxing´s post-Mayweather-Pacquiao era, rivaled only by Saul Alvarez across the pond.
Following the historic event, a ridiculously lucrative rematch between the two best heavyweights on the planet was in the works for late 2017. In August the plans were scratched when Wladimir Klitschko decided to call it a career without pursuing a second encounter with the new #1. Joshua was then slated to return in October facing another high-class opponent in Bulgarian then-#5 contender Kubrat Pulev with Cardiff´s Principality Stadium as the stage. Following Pulev´s withdrawal due to injury twelve days before the fight another top ten contender, trial horse Carlos Takam stepped in.
Before the largest indoor crowd in boxing history (78000) Joshua prevailed with a methodical but unspectacular 10th round TKO against the durable Takam.
The year 2018 looks bright for the new #1 heavyweight in the world. The most mouthwatering match-up for Joshua would be a fight for the vacant Lineal Heavyweight Championship against #2-ranked Deontay Wilder. Before the possible Joshua vs Wilder fight we could see even a better script emerge. It would play out as a lucrative heavyweight tournament consisting of two highly anticipated encounters before a winner-take-all final for all the marbles. The semi-finals of this tournament would be Joshua vs #3-rated Joseph Parker and Wilder against former #2 contender, currently The Ring #5 Luis Ortiz. Facing Parker and Ortiz would definitely not be gimmes for either Joshua or Wilder. Whoever two come on top from these barnburners would then be fully entitled to fight each other for the most prestigious crown in all of sports.
The four aforementioned fighters in this potential heavyweight tournament are all undefeated and a combined 111-0 (100 KO) in the prize ring. In other words, somebodies´ 0 is waiting to go, most likely with a knockout. Let us hope the True Lineal Heavyweight King is crowned in 2018 with some cracking action in the ring.
Deontay Wilder, TBRB and The Ring #2 Contender (39-0, 38 KO)
For the past two years, has Deontay Wilder been the unluckiest or the luckiest of the top heavyweight contenders? Or has he just had very clever management? These questions come to mind looking at the body of work that has lifted him to #2 status in the division during the two years passed.
A familiar pattern concerning would-be Wilder opponents continued in 2017. Two fighters slated to face the Tuscaloosa, Alabama product failed PED tests right before the fight, adding to the infamous list spearheaded by Alexander Povetkin in 2016. The first PED-positive was unheralded Andrzej Wawrzyk of Poland who was supposed to be Wilder´s opponent for a February date in Birmingham, Alabama. He was replaced by another unheralded opponent in former college football player Gerald Washington, who after starting well fell victim to Wilder´s right hand in the fifth round.
It appeared that #3-ranked Wilder was headed for the next would-be stearnest test of his career when a fight was made between him and undefeated #2-ranked Cuban Luis Ortiz for a November date. Once more the frustrating result was a failed pre-fight PED-test by a Wilder opponent. Ortiz was eventually replaced by none other than old foe Bermane Stiverne, who had been out of the ring for two years, was now 39 years old and nearly 16 pounds heavier than for Stiverne vs Wilder I in January 2015. After a few seconds had passed in the rematch-nobody-wanted it became clear that Stiverne was there for the paycheck but not much more. The debacle ended with Wilder blitzing the hapless, out-of-shape Stiverne in the first round.
After Anthony Joshua´s rise to prominence as the post-Klitschko heavyweight division´s biggest money maker it has been Camp Wilder´s number one priority to get in the same ring with Joshua as quick as possible and with as large a portion of the proceeds as possible. The eagerness is understandable when considering the flaws in Wilder´s game. The Bronze Bomber tends to be very wild and unstable with his technique at times, making him vulnerable against defensively sound counter punchers. Another question mark is the competition or lack of it Wilder has faced. Wilder fought his only top ten opponent in then-#3 ranked Bermane Stiverne almost three years ago, and Stiverne did not look good at all in that fight. Since then Wilder´s list of opponents is not exactly a Who´s Who of heavyweights.
As of now it seems that #3-ranked Joseph Parker is beating Wilder to the punch in reaching the Joshua Payday. In this situation Camp Wilder seems to be leaning towards another attempt at a fight with Luis Ortiz, now ranked #5 by The Ring. Wilder had an in-ring verbal encounter with the reinstated Cuban after Ortiz made his ring return in December. Both gentlemen expressed their mutual willingness to settle the unfinished business. Maybe Camp Wilder thinks that the aging Ortizis an opponent safe enough to let Wilder risk his perfect record against. A win over a fighter of Ortiz´s caliber would also increase Camp Wilder´s economical leverage in negotiations with Joshua´s promoter Eddie Hearn. In any case, with his undeniable power Wilder will have a puncher´s chance against anyone put in front of him, regardless of his technical shortcomings.
Joseph Parker, TBRB and The Ring #3 Contender (24-0, 18 KO)
Joseph Parker´s in-ring performances left something to be desired in 2017, but out of the ring his handlers have been able to manouver the 25-year-old rising Kiwi star close to securing the biggest payday in today´s heavyweight boxing - a chance to challenge #1-ranked Anthony Joshua.
Parker´s team spent the early part of 2017 negotiating a match with Hughie Fury, Tyson Fury´s less heralded cousin. The fight went to a purse bid with Parker´s promoter Duco Events securing the event to be held in Auckland, New Zealand on May 6th. Two weeks before the fight, in a turn of events not very surprising considering the lack of interest shown by Team Fury in traveling to fight down under, Hughie Fury pulled out citing a back injury. A late replacement Razvan Cojanu was summoned to provide rounds for Parker. The Romanian journeyman did just that by staying upright for twelve rounds, a slightly disappointing unanimous decision for the Kiwi fighter.
Eventually Hughie Fury´s camp got what they wanted with Parker agreeing to travel to Manchester to take on the Brit in September. The result was a pedestrian affair with a passive Fury content on potshotting the chasing Parker, who at times looked somewhat clumsy and slow with his awkward opponent. In the end Parker did enough to keep his perfect record intact with a majority decision.
After Anthony Joshua got past late replacement Carlos Takam in October, Team Parker set their sights on the newfound biggest cash cow of heavyweight boxing. Right now it seems that Joshua and Parker are fairly close to coming to terms on a superfight in Britain in the spring of 2018, bringing together the #1 and #3-ranked heavyweights in the world.
Kubrat Pulev, TBRB #4, The Ring #6 Contender (25-1, 13 KO)
The Bulgarian long-time top ten contender has rebuilt his career for three years after a 2014 KO loss to Wladimir Klitschko. In April he outpointed gatekeeper Kevin Johnson in Sofia, Bulgaria and was finally in line for another big payday in the form of Anthony Joshua. Joshua vs Pulev was set for October 28th in Cardiff, Wales. Unfortunately, Pulev suffered a chest injury and had to withdraw less than two weeks before the fight, leaving Joshua to fight late replacement Carlos Takam.
Technically sound Pulev can still give trouble to any heavyweight in the world, but he is 36 years old and not getting any younger. The Joshua fight might have been his last chance at a big payday.
Alexander Povetkin, The Ring #4, TBRB #5 Contender (33-1, 23 KO)
Alexander Povetkin spent the year rebuilding after a catastrophic 2016, which saw him fail two PED tests and fight only once. The year 2017 went without hiccups for Povetkin in the PED department. In the ring he was able to work his way back into contender status.
The early part of Povetkin´s year was spent fighting in the courtroom, not in the squared circle. The Russian lost a civil case to Deontay Wilder concerning their ill-fated fight in May 2016, cancelled at the last minute due to Povetkin´s failed PED test.
In the boxing ring Povetkin´s first fight took place in July in Moscow, opponent being Ukrainian Andriy Rudenko. The Russian started to work his way back into the Championship picture with a unanimous decision victory.
The next step in the rebuilding project was a December fight in Yekaterinburg against then-#8-ranked Romanian-German Christian Hammer. Povetkin showed that despite his 38 years of age, he still belongs in the top echelon of heavyweight contenders. Hammer didn´t stand a chance as Povetkin scored a whitewash points victory, further positioning himself for bigger paydays in 2018. This, of course, only If he can stay clean in the PED department.
Luis Ortiz, The Ring #5 Contender (28-0, 24 KO)
During the year 2017 the undefeated Cuban contender was in the headlines for all kinds of reasons other than his performances in the ring.
In March Ortiz made yet another managerial change when he inked a pact with Al Haymon. The first performance under the PBC banner was slated for April against journeyman Derrick Rossy, but a hand injury forced Ortiz to withdraw.
As the year progressed, Ortiz´s name was linked to several current or former top ten contenders – Miller, Stiverne, Whyte, Joshua – but nothing materialized until a November date was secured against Deontay Wilder. This match-up was something the fans had been clamouring for, #2-ranked Ortiz vs #3-ranked Wilder, both men possessing serious concussive power in their fists.
Until the Cuban failed yet another PED test in late September (he had suffered a 9-month suspension back in 2015 for a PED violation). This time the PED mess was about a prescribed blood pressure medication. The Wilder fight was called off and Ortiz replaced by Bermane Stiverne. Eventually the PED debacle resulted in Ortiz keeping his boxing licence partially intact with alphabets giving different rulings on the case. As a result TBRB removed the Cuban from its rankings, but The Ring Magazine still ranks Ortiz as the #5 heavyweight contender.
In the ring Ortiz fought only once in 2017, a December tussle against a guy named Daniel Martz in a place called Hialeah, Florida. Ortiz KO´ed Martz in the 2nd round. After the fight Ortiz and Wilder – who just happened to be colour commentating the event – had an entertaining verbal confrontation in the ring even with Ortiz speaking no English. It seems that the gentlemen are finally getting it on next spring - if Ortiz manages to stay clean in the PED department this time.
Dillian Whyte, TBRB #6, The Ring #8 Contender (22-1, 16 KO)
The entertaining British contender made two ring appearances in 2017, maintaining his chances for a big fight in 2018.
Whyte was first slated to face Polish veteran Mariusz Wach in June, headlining at O2 Arena, London. The bout had to be canceled with Whyte injuring his foot. He finally fought in August, making his US debut in Lincoln, Nebraska on the undercard of light welterweight showdown Crawford vs Indongo. Whyte´s opponent was Malcolm Tann, the result TKO 3.
During the fall Whyte and his promoter Eddie Hearn engaged in a war of words with #2 ranked Deontay Wilder and his camp. The objective was to lure Wilder into fighting Whyte before he could get to Hearn´s #1 cash cow Joshua. Wilder didn´t bite and seems to be leaning towards facing Luis Ortiz as of now.
With the Wilder business stalled, Whyte was back in action in October on the undercard of Joshua vs Takam in Cardiff, Wales, facing former top ten contender Robert Helenius. The faded Finn wasn´t able to trouble Whyte in a slow-paced affair, a clear unanimous decision for the Jamaican-born Brit.
At the end of the year Whyte was linked to Australian Lucas Browne for an early 2018 fight, but several other names have also been thrown around. Whyte´s main goal in 2018 is to get in the ring with either Wilder or Joshua in a lucrative match-up.
Carlos Takam, TBRB #7 Contender (35-4-1, 27 KO)
The proven trial horse from Cameroon got one more shot at heavyweight glory in 2017. In October Takam came in as a late replacement when Joshua vs Pulev caved in due to Kubrat Pulev´s injury. Takam provided Anthony Joshua with a solid outing, but was not able to cause any serious problems for the new #1 heavyweight. Takam bowed out with a TKO loss in the 10th round after hanging tough with the British superstar.
The two other appearances by Takam were in small shows in Macao, China – KO 4 over Marcin Rekowski in January – and in Saint Vincent, Italy in June with a KO 2 over Ivica Bacurin.
Andy Ruiz Jr., The Ring #7 Contender (29-1, 19 KO)
The Mexican-American contender had a very quiet 2017. In fact so quiet that he didn´t fight at all, but The Ring Magazine still kept him in the rankings. It seems that Ruiz Jr. is now slated to return to the ring in February in Corpus Christi, Texas against an opponent yet to be named.
Jarrell Miller, TBRB #8, The Ring #10 Contender (20-0-1, 18 KO)
The motor-mouthed 29-year-old ”Big Baby” from Brooklyn, New York worked his way into top ten contender status with a step up in competition during 2017.
During the early part of the year Miller was linked to Luis Ortiz, but nothing materialized. Finally after an 11-month layoff he stepped in the ring in July on the undercard of Garcia vs Broner in Barclays Center, Brooklyn. His opponent was Gerald Washington who in February had given a fairly good showing against Deontay Wilder as a late replacement. Miller vs Washington played out as a crossroads fight between two American heavyweight hopefuls. ”Big Baby” came on top by retiring Washington after eight rounds. The win over Washington brought Miller a top ten recognition from TBRB and possibilities of bigger fights in the near future.
The next chance for Miller to raise his stock came in November. He was slated alongside Daniel Jacobs as a co-feature headliner in Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York against Mariusz Wach. The 37-year-old Pole was at the tail end of his career, but the durable veteran had only suffered losses against top heavyweights Klitschko and Povetkin. Miller came in at 283 pounds – 15 pounds lighter than against Washington – and was able to control the fight. Wach had to retire after nine rounds due to a worsening hand injury.
Miller talks a good game and has an entertaining persona. If his management handles him well outside of the ring and he keeps winning inside of it, ”Big Baby” might be in for a big match-up in 2018 or 2019.
Dominic Breazeale, TBRB and The Ring #9 Contender (19-1, 17 KO)
Dominic Breazeale stepped in the ring twice in 2017, both fights dubbed as crossroads encounters. He emerged victorious in both of them, earning a place in the top ten at year´s end.
In February, Breazeale fought in Birmingham, Alabama on the undercard of Wilder vs Washington. His opponent was undefeated Polish up-and-comer Izuagbe Ugonoh. The heavyweights provided the crowd with a barnburner, both men coming back from the brink of defeat to deck the other. The violent affair ended in the 5th round with Breazeale finally knocking Ugonoh out after being heavily floored in the 4th.
In November Breazeale was in action again on Wilder vs Stiverne undercard, this time in Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York. In a fight between two American contenders Breazeale retired Eric Molina after eight rounds. This puts the Eastvale, California native in position for some potentially lucrative fights in 2018.
Tony Bellew, TBRB #10 Contender (29-2-1, 19 KO)
The British former undefeated WBC cruiserweight champ broke into the heavyweight top 10 in 2017. Bellew´s ascendance came via an all-British grudge match victory over former world Cruiseweight and WBA heavyweight titleholder David Haye, whose achilles tendon broke down in their March encounter in O2 Arena, London.
While the 36-year-old oft-injured Haye might not have been the best measuring stick to truly gauge Bellew´s chances as a top heavyweight, it did earn Bellew a nice fortune and positioned himself for a well-paying rematch (slated originally for December 2017, but delayed for May 2018 due to another Haye injury). If Bellew is able to get past Haye for a second time, the Liverpoodlian might go through with retirement or try to snatch one more big heavyweight payday against one of the other British top heavyweights.