One champion, one name. The road to the undisputed. The biggest star in boxing. As we approach Saturday’s complex bout between unified heavyweight world champion, Anthony Joshua and the ever game Andy Ruiz, there’s a part of me which poses the question; will AJ ever fulfil the prophecy spouted by his constantly giddy and optimistic promoter?
Boxing is, notoriously, full of shit. The battles fought behind camera lenses or through indirect tweets have muddied the water, seemingly pushing London’s Joshua and Alabama’s own world champion, Deontay Wilder, further apart than a year in the life of Luis Ortiz. Eddie Hearn had initially incensed Shelley Finkel with his immature swipes at the legendary manager, whilst simultaneously attempting to negotiate a fight that already seemed problematic. It just doesn’t work that way.
Embarking on a promotional jaunt to the USA has added humility to Hearn’s resume, yet even now he appears unable to initiate contact with the WBC champion’s team. No champion, no name. But just how important is the Deontay Wilder fight when assessing the career of the undefeated Olympic gold medalist? In years to come, would we shake our heads over a pint of lager, furious that the pair had never collided, for ‘the fans’?
The road to undisputed; beset with roadworks, speed bumps and terrible drivers – an unhealthy combination.
This weekend, in fighting Ruiz, the Watford man is playing the cards he was dealt. The truly tough sell is to follow, with a mandatory defence against Kubrat Pulev devaluing his reign further, sadly, with fans struggling to get excited about watching him pummel older, slower and less gifted opponents. Joshua has retained his professionalism, taking on all challengers and accelerating his own progress where possible. However, due to network politics, personal grudges and everything in between, it seems unlikely that a bout between himself and the Bronze Bomber will materialise.
Where does he go from here, then? Drop the belts and work his way up the WBC rankings? Switch to Bareknuckle Boxing, as seems to be oddly familiar? I wouldn’t have thought so. Joshua can still continue building his legacy, fighting the best available opponents and demolishing anyone that shares the ring with him. But that’s exactly what he has to do. Eddie Hearn this week has called the Madison Square Garden’s card ‘one of the best I have seen’- which is nonsense, isn’t it?
For Anthony Joshua to force Wilder into irrelevance, he must throw himself into battle with the division’s toughest tests. Beating fighters such as Oleksandr Usyk, Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte would leave the American licking his wounds, recounting routine victories over Bermane Stiverne and Dominic Breazeale, sat plonked down at an empty negotiating table.
Matchroom and Hearn have been on the offensive for long enough, desperately chasing the belt that currently eludes them. It’s boring. It’s played out. Nobody really cares anymore. In continuing to regurgitate the issues they’ve faced in negotiations, they are infact the ones making it an issue – not the media and not the fans. An insistance on bringing up Wilder’s name every single time the microphone is thrust upon them only serves to cement the avoidance of both parties in the memories of the fans that fund their very existence. Move on – most of us have, by now.
Hopefully when the clock strikes Sunday, we can watch highlights of an exhilarating knockout from the IBF, WBO, WBA & IBO heavyweight world champion, glancing feverishly into the future and gossiping about potential opponents. If he never wins that green and gold honour, then so be it. The remainder of this year looks out of the question, with Wilder fighting sixty-four year old Ortiz in the Autumn, a fight which he hopes to use to rid fans of any ‘doubt’ from their first meeting – where he bludgeoned the Cuban in the tenth round. Go figure.
I put it to you that perhaps there’s already one champion and one name. Perhaps the road to undisputed took a detour and this is as good as it gets. Joshua is, debatably, the most exciting and marketable fighter on the planet. Without knowing it and often underplaying it with their baiting of Wilder, the team behind his heavyweight reign have positioned him as the division’s kingpin. Nobody batted an eyelid when Samuel Peter held the WBC title and nobody took it too seriously when it was captured by Bermane Stiverne. Throughout that period, however, boxing respected Wladimir Klitschko.
But before all of the ifs, buts and maybes continue to plague our screens and rear their ugly heads once again, there’s a fight to get excited about. Try your best.
Article written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209