Column: Heavyweights step up, just not against each other
Tyson Fury, the big British heavyweight who breaks into song at the most unexpected moments and would be fun to meet for a beer, will be fighting next month. So will his countryman, Anthony Joshua, who will venture across the pond to make his Garden debut.
And then there’s Deontay Wilder, who kicks things off Saturday night with another chance to press his case that he is, like Mike Tyson liked to say, the baddest man on the planet.
No, they’re not fighting each other, for reasons both as old as boxing itself and as new as the DAZN streaming service. Still, the three top heavyweights in the world — all of whom can legitimately claim the title of champ — will be in action in New York and Las Vegas within a four-week stretch.
And should things go as planned, that’s just enough time to bring some clarity to a heavyweight division that is suddenly must-see TV once again.
“The excitement is back in the heavyweight division,” Wilder said. “The fire is lit.”
That’s somewhat true, even if Fury is fighting a relatively unknown German named Tom Schwarz instead of a rematch with Wilder while Joshua is defending his titles against a late substitute in Andy Ruiz Jr. Wilder might be taking the biggest risk in his title defense against Dominic Braezeale, whose loss to Joshua is the only blemish on his pro record.
Just how long the fire is expected to smolder, though, may be of most concern to boxing fans.
Joshua and Wilder should have been made by now, even if it might be even bigger next year because of the wait. Wilder and Fury should be fighting a rematch this summer, but money and boxing politics put a quick end to those plans.
So the three fight on, and the wait goes on.
Wilder says Joshua is ducking him and that Fury wants no part of a rematch after almost being knocked silly only to get back up in the final round of their fight in December that ended in a draw.
Fury and Joshua say that’s nonsense and that Wilder shouldn’t talk so much.
“I am ready for Wilder, I’ve been ready for Wilder,” Joshua said last week after arriving in New York and inspecting Madison Square Garden for his American debut June 1 against Ruiz, who got his shot at Joshua’s titles after Jarrell Miller tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. “I’ve done a good job maintaining my place and he is the guy I want. He has a lot to live up to. I’ve got confidence flowing now.”
That confidence could get another boost against Ruiz, a roly-poly fighter out of Southern California who doesn’t look like a world beater but has lost only once in 33 fights. Ruiz fought just last month, and was eager to get the call to replace Miller.
Perhaps just as important for Joshua’s confidence is a big performance while venturing outside his native Britain for the first time. Joshua drew 90,000 for his fight last year with Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium and is wildly popular at home, but largely unknown in the U.S. and is looking to make a dramatic debut.
“I know the history that has been here and the sports that have been here,” he said at his Garden visit. “When I come in here to fight June 1, it will be very special.”
In a perfect world, Joshua, Wilder and Fury would be fighting each other, of course. Any thoughts of a quick rematch after the draw between Wilder and Fury went out the window when Fury signed with Top Rank, which has a deal for fights with ESPN.
Wilder, meanwhile, is sticking for now with Showtime for his fight Saturday night. And Joshua has a contract with DAZN, a streaming service that touts access to big fights for $100 a year.
Between the competing broadcasting interests and promoters, that means the top fights will be difficult to make. Each fighter has his own interests to protect, and each fighter has his own story to tell.
“Go back and study it. Go back and see, who really is the king of the division?” Wilder said. “Who really tried to make these fights?”
Boxing fans really don’t care, because all they want is to see the fights.
Until that happens, the next month is about as good as it gets in the heavyweight division.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/timdahlberg