IBHOF inductee Graham Houston surveys the raft of intriguing heavyweight encounters in the remainder of 2021 including Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk, Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder III, Dillian Whyte vs Otto Wallin and more.
Some 20-odd years ago promoter Cedric Kushner ran a series of all-heavyweight cards that were televised on various US channels and even worldwide. The series was titled Heavyweight Explosion. (I was actually a ringside TV analyst for a couple of those, one in Tacoma, Washington, the other in Boise, Idaho.) That “heavyweight explosion” tag comes to mind as I look at the fight schedule for the next several weeks.
We have more significant heavyweight fights in the pipeline than I can remember in any three-month stretch. And the great thing is that all are intriguing in their way. There isn’t one of the big-men clashes where one could select a winner with certainty. Here’s a rundown of the fights (and I’ve ventured a 1-10 rating based on the importance and fan-appeal of each of the contests).
September 25, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London: Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk
Joshua puts four belts on the line in the most compelling of all the big heavyweight bouts on tap. While Joshua is favourite, it’s easy to make a case for Usyk winning. Usyk is undefeated, a southpaw, and excellent technician. Joshua, 31, is the younger, bigger man and the puncher in the fight, but he has never met anyone as slick, speedy and skilled as the 34-year-old Usyk. While AJ blasted out left-hander Charles Martin in two rounds he had a sitting duck in front of him that night. It will be very different when he’s in the ring with Usyk, who was the best in the world at cruiserweight. Each man is an Olympic gold medallist. Joshua is looking slimmer heading into the fight, Usyk looks more muscled than he has in the past. As heavyweight bouts go, this is as good as it gets.
Rating: 10 out of 10.
October 9, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas: Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder III
Fury defends the WBC title in his trilogy match against former champion Wilder. After Fury ran right over Wilder in seven rounds in February 2020 it seemed there wouldn’t be any demand for the two to meet again. But the long delay before the third meeting has fight fans wondering if Fury is such a sure thing as he seemed to be 17 months ago. Wilder has a new trainer in former opponent Malik Scott. Is it possible that Malik might be able to work some magic? Last time, in the rematch, Wilder supposedly fought under the handicap of a biceps injury. He also blamed the weight of his elaborate walk-out outfit weakening his legs. But, whatever, it clearly wasn’t the same Wilder as the one who twice dropped Fury in their first fight. But that might have been because of the pressure-fighting style that Fury brought to the rematch, which might have taken Wilder by surprise. Fury never allowed Wilder to get into the fight. The “weakened legs” excuse seems a bit of a reach. But if Wilder really did have a biceps injury in the fight, it could at least in part explain why he was so ineffective. Fury is the favourite, but as time has gone by one has started to wonder if maybe we will see a much better version of Wilder in the ring than the one who was frankly outclassed and overwhelmed in the rematch.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
October 9, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas: Adam Kownacki vs Robert Helenius II
This a rematch that is scheduled for 12 rounds, as was the initial meeting between Kownacki and Helenius in March 2020. Poland’s Brooklyn-based Kownacki seemed well on his way to beating “Nordic Nightmare” Helenius in that fight, only to get caught and hurt in the fourth round. Kownacki was steaming straight ahead in his usual way when the much taller Helenius beat him to the punch with a beautifully timed right hand. Kownacki never recovered. He suffered a heavy knockdown moments later and was rescued by the referee after 68 seconds of the fourth. It was Kownacki’s first defeat. We know what we get with Kownacki. He fights one way: constant pressure and workrate. But he’s hittable. If Kownacki can close the distance without walking into Helenius’ right-hand cannon he can likely wear his man down. But Helenius has demonstrated that he needs just one clear shot to put Kownacki into a world of trouble. Kownacki has been installed as the favourite but it’s an “anything can happen” type of fight.
Rating: 8 out of 10
October 9, T-Mobile Area, Las Vegas: Frank Sanchez vs Efe Ajagba
Two undefeated heavyweights meet here in a scheduled 10-rounder. It’s a fight that should tell us which one can advance into the division’s upper echelons. Sanchez (18-0, 13 KOs) is a product of the Cuban amateur system. Ajagba (15-0, 12 KOs) boxed for Nigeria in the Olympics and he’s two years the younger man at 27 and a couple of inches taller at 6ft 6ins. Sanchez looks the more complete fighter but Ajagba’s right hand has to be respected. Each man has had underwhelming nights. Sanchez is the favourite but this is a fight he could lose.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
October 30, O2 Arena, Greenwich, London: Dillian Whyte vs Otto Wallin
Whyte will be defending the WBC interim heavyweight title in this 12-round match-up. You’ve got to hand it to Whyte. He takes tough fights. Wallin’s southpaw style and accurate punching are likely to give Whyte problems. Whyte has the firepower advantage and he’s got the more varied arsenal but Wallin is steady and keeps plugging away with the jab and left hand. Betting odds hadn’t been posted at time of typing. Whyte will be the favourite but it’s what the British fight fraternity calls a “banana skin” fight.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
December 18, Manchester Arena: Joseph Parker vs Dereck Chisora II
Parker and Chisora fought 12 tough rounds at this same arena in May. Now they do it again. Once more it’s scheduled for 12 rounds. There’s no title at stake. But, of course, a good fight doesn’t need a title tag. Last time, Parker survived a flash knockdown in the first round to win a split decision. It was a fan-friendly fight. Chisora as ever rumbled forward and let his hands go while Parker produced some sharp jabbing and countering. The rematch is likely to follow the same pattern. Parker is the betting favourite but plenty believed Chisora won the last time so there should be lively wagering action.
Rating: 8 out of 10.