The heavyweight division, always one punch away from chaos, looks a little bit like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates these days.
You never know what you’re going to get.
The wild uncertainty is there and increasing in the wake of Tyson Fury’s bloody Saturday in Las Vegas and Andy Ruiz Jr.’s historic upset on June 1 in New York. It was a one-two, a chaotic combo both entertaining and exasperating.
Trainers, promoters and pundits like to say it has always been that way. The heavyweights, they say, are just different, almost a separate sport from the rest of boxing. Heavyweight power is a dynamic that creates its own drama. Creates its own turmoil, too.
But today’s chaos hasn’t always been there. Not really. It, in fact, has emerged from the clockwork predictability of the Wladimir Klitschko era. You knew exactly what you were going to get in those days. Klitschko would win and win, again and again. That all began to change when Fury beat Klitschko, scoring a unanimous decision that ended an era on Nov. 28, 2015, in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Since then, there has been only the chaos that descended with Ruiz becoming the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent with a seventh-round stoppage of Anthony Joshua, who on one night at Madison Square Garden wasn’t quite the generational athlete he had been advertised to be. Ruiz, a late stand-in for a fighter disqualified by a positive performance-enhancing drug test, beat him to the punch. Beat him up.
Then, there was the bloody fury Saturday night at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. Otto Wallin, an anonymous Swede. Wallin lost a one-sided decision, but he left a bigger, more skilled Fury covered in blood from a two-inch gash above his right eye and a secondary cut on his eyelid.
So where do we go from here? Don’t ask Fury or anybody with him. No way they can really know. After getting 47 stitches for the cuts, there are questions about whether he’ll be ready to face Deontay Wilder on Feb. 22 in a rematch of the crazy — and yes, chaotic — draw in December when Fury got up from a crushing Wilder punch at Staples Center.
For now, the best that can be said is that the heavyweight division is headed to Saudi Arabia. Ruiz and Joshua are scheduled for a Dec. 7 rematch in Diriyah. But the decision to go to Saudi Arabia by Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn was controversial the day it was announced weeks ago. At first, Ruiz balked. Then said OK. But skepticism about whether it will really happen is still there, especially in the wake of a weekend attack that left Saudi oil fields in flames.
For his part, Ruiz said he is ready and willing to fight anybody. In a tweet following Fury’s victory over Wallin, Ruiz said — in so many words — that he would beat Fury with one hand tied behind his back. For now, he holds most of the major belts. He has three of the four. Wilder has the fourth. Meanwhile, Fury calls himself the lineal heavyweight champion, a claim based on his victory over Klitschko, whose career would end a couple of years later in a 2017 TKO loss to Joshua.
At the top of the division, there is Wilder, Fury, Ruiz and Joshua. Rank them any way you like. Throw them into a box, shake it up and you still can’t be sure of what you’ve got.
Wilder has the biggest punch. It is boxing’s biggest equalizer. But his overall skill set is wanting, which figures to be tested by Cuban Luis Ortiz in a rematch on Nov. 23. Ortiz was leading Wilder on the cards when that equalizer landed and ended his chances at an upset in the 10th round in March 2018.
Fury is the toughest, most resilient of the four and perhaps more. He got up from Wilder’s punch. He survived the cut from Wallin. After beating Klitschko, he came back from a suspension and a lifestyle that included drug use and, he says, thoughts about suicide. His weight ballooned to more than 400 pounds. In terms of adversity, he’s faced and beaten it all. Hard to pick against him.
Ruiz is the most unlikely of them all. He has all of the muscle definition of an unmade bed. But he has blinding speed in his hands and he knows how to use them.
Then, there’s Joshua, who looks like a Greek statue and sometimes is as quick as one. He was schooled by Ruiz. The question is whether the lesson serves as motivation. If he learned from it, maybe he can still become all he is supposed to be.
There’s a fifth possibility: Oleksandr Usyk. Usyk, an Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, got a lot of mention in the pound-for-pound debate as a cruiserweight. He was mobile, powerful and unbeaten, 16 victories with 12 knockouts. But he was fighting at 200 pounds, or 54.4 pounds lighter than Fury was Saturday. Can he hold his own against the big boys?
Fury thinks so, or at least he did before Wallin turned his face into a bloody mask.
“Maybe Oleksandr Usyk,” Fury said last week when asked whether anybody could challenge him. “He’s an awkward-looking guy, southpaw, a unified world champion, an undefeated world champion. So maybe he can be the next, toughest challenge.”
On Oct. 12, Usyk will give a hint at whether he can. That’s when he is scheduled for his heavyweight debut against Tyrone Spong in Chicago.
Other possibilities at heavyweight include Joseph Parker, a New Zealander who beat Ruiz in a narrow decision and lost to Joshua. There is Derek Chisora and Adam Kowanaki, too. Even Wallin has to be considered.
“Otto showed he is undoubtedly a top heavyweight,” manager Dmitriy Salita said Saturday while Fury was getting stitched up. “He landed more punches on Fury than anyone ever has, according to CompuBox. He was relentless and fearless.”
A week ago, Wallin was also just another unknown. If he were known, it just wouldn’t be so wildly chaotic.