The heavyweight division got interesting again.
The fight every genuine boxing fan wanted to see – Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed championship – was finally set for Feb. 17 in Saudi Arabia. And a card featuring former beltholders Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua against separate opponents was announced for Dec. 23 in the same location.
The Fury-Usyk matchup was a no-brainer. The showdown will result in the first undisputed champ since Lennox Lewis a generation ago, which makes it arguably the most important possible matchup in the sport.
The road to the event has been rocky, however. The two were expected to meet in April but talks broke down over terms for a potential rematch, after which each man took different routes that led both of them to near disasters.
Usyk went down and was hurt badly by a body shot in the fifth round that was deemed a low blow against Daniel Dubois on Aug. 26, a controversial ruling that might’ve saved the Ukrainian’s titles and the potential meeting with Fury.
He was given time to recover, quickly took control and stopped Dubois in Round 9.
Fury ended up facing MMA star and boxing newbie Francis Ngannou in what was supposed to be a glorified – and lucrative – exhibition on Oct. 28. However, Fury, performing like a journeyman, was fortunate to emerge with a close-decision victory.
Indeed, both men were lucky to have not screwed up a chance to take part in one of the biggest fights in years.
I thought Fury would have his way with Usyk, a tremendous boxer but the much smaller man. Fury can box too and could outweigh Usyk by 50 pounds. Now, after Fury’s embarrassment against Ngannou, I’m not as certain.
Maybe Fury has lost something, as many suggested after his split decision victory. Maybe he took victory for granted, leaving him illprepared. Maybe Ngannou, who was making his boxing debut, is a natural. And maybe Fury’s problem was a combination of all of the above.
The fighters’ success combined with recent events makes Fury vs. Usyk as fascinating as any matchup.
“The whole planet will witness the biggest heavyweight fight of this century,” said Alex Krassyuk, Usyk’s promoter.
The card featuring Wilder and Joshua could be more entertaining than Fury-Joshua. Wilder is scheduled to face former titleholder Joseph Parker in what could be a difficult matchup for him while Joshua will take on solid contender Otto Wallin.
I expect Wilder to stop Parker – as Joe Joyce did last year – but the Kiwi, with victories over Andy Ruiz and Derek Chisora (twice), might be the knockout artist’s toughest opponent other than Fury.
And Wallin, who once gave Fury all he could handle, has the all-around ability to beat Joshua if the former champ isn’t at the top of his game.
Of course, the most exciting thing about the Dec. 23 and Feb. 17 cards is what might follow next year. Some possibilities:
A rematch. Fury vs. Usyk reportedly has a rematch clause, meaning a second fight would be likely if the original is competitive or controversial in any way. That could happen next summer.
Fury vs. Joshua if Fury beats Usyk and they don’t fight again. Fury-Joshua would be the biggest event in the history of British boxing (Wembley Stadium?) and massive worldwide.
Wilder vs. Joshua, assuming they win their fights. That’s another potential matchup that has been discussed for many years. And for good reason.
The Fury vs. Usyk winner (in one or two fights) could face Wilder if he beats Joshua. I wouldn’t want to see another Fury-Wilder matchup but Wilder-Usyk, a battle between relatively light heavyweights, would be intriguing.
Bottom line: This is a huge winter for heavyweight boxing. And it could get better going forward.