It’s taken long enough, but finally we’re at the point where Heavyweight Boxing looks interesting again. Last night’s coronation of Anthony Joshua at the expense of “Prince” Charles Martin adds another mouthwatering prospect to a division that, with the dominance of the Klitschkos, had seemed almost moribund not that long ago.
Vitali and Wladimir had for the most part been impregnable for years. The rankings seemed to be full of fighters not prepared to fight one another, instead waiting for their opportunity to visit Germany to be beaten by one or other Ukrainian and head home with a reasonable size cheque. It was boring in part because it was predictable; neither brother looked like losing, had a safety first approach, and effectively they pretty much cleaned out the division. It might not have been pretty, but you can’t deny that they were effective. However, there were few competitive contests and so other divisions with more interesting fights captured the attention. There was a flicker when David Haye arrived and beat Valuev – only for him to fail to walk the talk against Wladimir and then disappear. Most boxers seemed to be beaten before they even got on the flight; and that has actually damaged the reputations of the Klitschkos, who unlike the era of Ali, Frazier and Foreman – or even Lewis, Holyfield and the later-era Mike Tyson – had no-one to really prove their skills against.
Now however the picture has changed. Vitali has retired; Wladimir, possibly showing why Valuev was allowed to hold onto his title for so long without their interest, has finally lost to Fury, a fighter large enough to withstand his tendency to hold and smart enough to keep him guessing. It was a result from nowhere – few outside Fury’s camp predicted it – but it has opened the floodgates.
Now, we have Fury – a more intelligent and skilled boxer than he is often given the credit for – acting the Pantomime Villain; and Klitschko the old stager who wants to get his titles back. We have Anthony Joshua, the young and hungry fighter with speed and skills, a piece of the world title, but who is in a lot of ways still to be seriously tested. We have Deontay Wilder, in some ways in the same category as Joshua – a fighter carefully managed and yet really to be tested. We have David Haye, the joker in the pack, trying to work his way back into the picture. And then we have some of the newer names trying to force their way into the picture and who might fancy their chances against one of the current title-holders.
Are we on the edge of a new golden era? Possibly not, and we’ll only know in a few years time. Can the likes of Fury, Joshua, Wilder be mentioned in the same breath as the greats of the past? Not yet at least, and quite possibly not at all. But the division is finally starting to come alive again, and that’s good to see.