Luke G. Williams looks at the current malaise in the heavyweight division that has seen the title picture remain frustratingly dormant due to the shadow of boxing politics and maddening spells of inactivity from the weight’s leading men.
These are melancholy days in the not so green and not so pleasant land of England.
The pandemic is over but not over, political ‘culture wars’ and bitterly divisive rhetoric stalk social media menacingly, and the memory of the morale-boosting progress and performances of a genuinely admirable English national football team have dissolved into a recriminatory and all too predictable haze composed of disgusting racist bile and painfully broken dreams.
In times of uncertainty and chaos, it’s never a good idea to look to boxing for salvation.
And so it proves today.
While the British pugilistic landscape does possess a few fragile shards of light right now (Scottish super-lightweight Josh Taylor’s four-belt achievement chief among them), I can’t shake the overwhelming feeling that boxing, and heavyweight boxing in particular, has lapsed into one of its periodic but all too frequent states of depressing dysfunctionality.
Viewed purely in the cold hard currency of world title belts and world rankings, Britain could be said to dominate the heavyweight landscape right now.
Anthony Joshua holds the WBA, IBF and WBO belts, while Tyson Fury is the WBC and lineal ruler. Both men possess charisma and talent in abundance as well as genuine star quality.
The rugged and authentically old school Dillian Whyte and the charmingly and disarmingly honest Joe Joyce are also both comfortably ensconced in Boxing Social’s Top Ten rankings and chasing world title shots. Fascinating young turk Daniel Dubois, meanwhile, is a only a victory or two from being close up behind this aforementioned quartet.
By any metric you can devise or apply, this is a compelling cast of characters and diverse personalities who could and should be choreographed into all manner of compulsive contests and rivalries.
And the timing would be oh so perfect right now. Among the general public – wearied and claustrophobic as they are after months of alternating lockdowns and social distancing strictures – there exists a desperate and genuine hunger for transcendent events that can transport us back to happier days, happier times, happier feelings.
Sadly, heavyweight boxing does not look capable of providing such moments.
The on-off saga of Joshua-Fury negotiations – a saga played out tortuously and tiresomely for months on a crazy carousel of social media and YouTube platforms – ended up providing us nothing but the very definition of a mirage.
In the final analysis, it was not so much a fight as it was pure moonshine – a tantalising dream as unreachable and untouchable as Jay Gatsby’s green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age masterpiece.
The dangled promise of Wilder-Fury III on July 24 was scant consolation for the collective failure of the sport to broker a contest between two icons of British sport for the undisputed heavyweight crown, but it was – at least – a consolation of sorts; a fight that could be sold on the flimsy but unknowable factors of ‘what has Wilder got left amid the wreckage of his ego?’ and ‘has Fury gone off the boil?’
Now that Covid has run rampant through the Fury camp, however, we’re not even left with that.
So what remains? Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk? A fight we have repeatedly and monotonously been assured is near to being signed but remains resolutely unsigned?
Perhaps. Or perhaps not.
Right now that fight, too, remains a mirage.
All we can really rely on right now are facts and dispiriting ones at that. Here they are: Joshua has fought just twice since that sensational reverse against the pudgy fists of Andy Ruiz Jr – a fight which feels like it happened in another era, another age.
Tyson Fury has fought just six times since dethroning Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.
Usyk has fought only twice since that heady night in Manchester when he demolished Tony Bellew in 2018.
When even the effervescent Steve Bunce – whose cheery glass half full optimism and enthusiasm so often enliven the sport and lift my spirits when a bout of boxing melancholy takes a hold of my psyche – is moved to remark of the last few months that “it has been a disgraceful shambles at the top of the heavyweight division“, then you know things really must be bad.
It’s time for heavyweight boxers and their promoters to stand up and make something of the opportunities that currently exist.
Am I holding my breath in anticipation? No.
But neither have I given up hope.
Maybe the permanently battered and bruised sport that we all still love despite ourselves and despite our best instincts will surprise us all and the mirage will become reality.