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Heavyweight state of play – Part Two

As the boxing world awaits this autumn’s planned showdowns involving Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, Luke G. Williams assesses the current state of play among the Boxing Social heavyweight Top Ten. Today, he counts down from Oleksandr Usyk at five to Tyson Fury at one…

5. Oleksandr Usyk (18-0)

Arguably the greatest cruiserweight of all-time, Usyk’s sojourn at heavyweight has – thus far – been solid but uninspiring, with a seventh-round stoppage of Chazz Witherspoon and a unanimous decision victory against Dereck Chisora. Of more concern – however – is the fact the Ukrainian has fought just twice since his 2018 destruction of Tony Bellew. Have injury, inactivity and an incursion into the unlimited weight class blunted the edge that once made the charismatic Usyk one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world? We will soon find out.

Dream fight: He’s already got it lined up – a huge stadium showdown against Anthony Joshua in September. It will be the eighth time in a row that Usyk has fought an opponent on enemy soil – a remarkable sequence that has seen him victorious in the United States (twice), the UK (twice), Latvia, Germany and Russia.

Interesting match-up: Mairis Briedis gave Usyk by far the toughest and most thrilling fight of his career. Now that the Latvian is also eyeing a permanent move to heavyweight, a rematch between the duo would be most welcome.

Nightmare match-up: Tyson Fury. I can’t imagine this being anything other than an awfully messy match-up of styles.

Most likely next fight: AJ, of course, Covid and unforeseen injuries permitting.

4. Andy Ruiz (34-2)

Possibly the most infuriating heavyweight in the Top Ten (and that’s saying something in a division renowned for its dysfunctionality), Ruiz’s rich talents are matched only by his legendary corpulence and ill-discipline. His fast hands, hefty punch and excellent fundamentals sensationally accounted for AJ in June 2019 at Madison Square Garden, but that performance is increasingly looking like an outlier in a career that has already lasted 36 fights over 12 years. with few other notable highlights. However, if anyone can get the best out of Ruiz it is surely his new trainer Eddy Reynoso. The fact the Mexican-American scaled 256lbs for his showdown with Chris Arreola – his first fight under Reynoso – was a good sign.

Dream fight: A rubber match with AJ. Sadly, Ruiz’s chances of securing such a fight disintegrated when he came in at 284lbs for their second showdown in Saudi Arabia, prior to a performance of utter impotence.

Interesting match-up: A showdown with Dillian Whyte. Thrills, spills and knockdowns would surely be guaranteed.

Nightmare match-up: A fit and motivated Fury would surely have too much in the way of size and skills for Ruiz.

Most likely next fight: There was talk of a Charles Martin showdown in October, which would have been spicy given that ‘Prince’ Charles is trained by Ruiz’s former coach Manny Robles. However, Ruiz has since undergone surgery on a troublesome right knee and now hopes to return in December.

3. Deontay Wilder (42-1-1)

Wilder is currently the joker in the heavyweight pack. Since he was humbled by Fury he has looked – and this is being generous – somewhat unbalanced and disturbingly deluded. So much so, that it would be no surprise if he is finished as a major force. However – as the old cliché goes – the last thing a fighter loses is their punch and Wilder still possesses ludicrous, murderous power. Whatever your opinion of the 35-year-old Alabaman, he also remains the most exciting KO artist in the division. For now at least…

Dream fight: Wilder thirsts for revenge against Fury. The fight has been rearranged for October and what will happen when (if?) the two men get in the ring again is anyone’s guess.

Interesting match-up: A showdown with a motivated and in-shape Andy Ruiz would be a fun shoot-out.

Nightmare match-up:  The ice cool Usyk wouldn’t be perturbed by any of Wilder’s antics and would surely relish fighting a rare heavyweight of a similar size to him, but with far less boxing ability. If Wilder failed to land one of his big shots, he would most likely be in for an embarrassing night.

Most likely next fight: Well, Fury … but after all that has happened no one is taking their planned October showdown for granted.

2. Anthony Joshua (24-1)

The most bankable star in the heavyweight division, AJ mixes grit with glamour. However, after losing his unbeaten record to Ruiz in 2019, doubts persist about his punch resistance and stamina. Technically sound, but somewhat robotic, it’s still unclear just how good Joshua really is. At 31, he is probably at his peak and his thirst for the big occasions is evident – after all, no one else in the Top Ten has fought the consistently testing opposition that AJ has. However, his failure thus far to broker potentially legacy defining fights against Fury and/or Wilder needs to be rectified soon. At the same time, though, AJ can’t afford to take his eye off the ball ahead of his September showdown with Usyk who has the skills, technique and mobility to give him fits.

Dream fight: The long awaited and ever elusive all-British clash against Fury. It’s got to happen sometime… doesn’t it?

Nightmare match-up: Joe Joyce. Relentless and possessor of an extremely sound chin, Joyce would test Joshua’s stamina and whiskers – and might just prove too rough and tough for AJ.

Most likely next fight: Barring calamity or Covid, Usyk in September.

1. Tyson Fury (30-0-1)

If we knew who the real Tyson Fury was we could ask him to stand up. But we don’t, so he can’t. And even if we did know who he was and asked him to stand up he probably wouldn’t anyway – you know, just to piss us off. All of which is a somewhat round-about (and pretentious) way of saying: who on earth knows what to expect next when it comes to the most charismatic, unpredicable and compelling figure that heavyweight boxing has produced since Mike Tyson. Given his much-publicised mental health battles it’s something of a miracle that – at 33 – The Gypsy King is still unbeaten. Mind you, he’s only fought six times in six years. Remove Wladimir Klitschko and Wilder from his CV and it’s distinctly ordinary, but no one else in the current Top Ten can match those two signature victories. Furthermore, on his day, there is also surely no one who can match Fury for size, skills and ring IQ. Enigma that he is, though, we never know which Fury may turn up next, what he might do, when he may lose. Or if he’ll turn up at all.

Dream fight: AJ, Wembley, Battle of Britain and all that. Don’t hold your breath.

Interesting match-up: Wilder III. Despite all the skepticism and negativity it remains one of the best fights that can be made in the heavyweight division. It’s a genuine grudge match, Wilder always has that puncher’s chance and what the last fight and the ensuing inactivity has done to both men is anyone’s guess.

Nightmare match-up: Joseph Parker. The duo are friends and both have Andy Lee as part of their training set-up. If it ever happened, one senses it would resemble a glorified and not very entertaining sparring session.

Most likely next fight: Okay, I’ll say Wilder but in boxing – as in life – nothing’s guaranteed, is it?

Read ‘Heavyweight state of play – Part One’ here.

Main image: Anthony Joshua. Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.