In what proved to be a momentous fortnight for British Boxing at the start of the month, the two flag bearers for British Heavyweight boxing headlined two massive fights that had more than simply bragging rights on the line.
Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury went into their respective fights with contrasting approaches. For Joshua, the defence of his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belts didn’t go to plan at to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in October, with undefeated Ukrainian challenger Oleksandr Usyk emerging the victor on points after a dominant display in London.
Later that month in Las Vegas, Tyson Fury undertook the first world title defence of his career in the third and final fight of an epic trilogy with Deontay Wilder. With two classic previous encounters and a plethora of insults thrown both ways in the build-up, there was a tangible animosity between the two that had thrown the fight to the fore of world boxing. After suffering two knockdowns himself, Fury emerged victorious in a classic heavyweight encounter that saw drama unfold right the way through to the 11th round stoppage.
For many, Joshua’s impending handling of Usyk was viewed as a prelude to the fight the British public had been clamouring to see; Joshua v Fury. With both fighters locked into other fights after appearing to be unable to finalise the details of their own contest, October put forward two impressive cards for British Boxing.
Whilst relatively unknown in comparison to the high-profile Wilder, in Usyk, Joshua had an unbeaten opponent who, like him, had risen to prominence with Olympic Gold. Since then Usyk had gone undefeated throughout his professional career, building a reputation as an efficient and ruthless fighter, able to work over his opponents before closing out fights in the later rounds; a tactic that had seen him claim 13 KO’s in his 19 professional fights. With a significant height and weight disadvantage, Usyk had only recently moved into the heavyweight division and found himself facing Joshua in just his 3rd fight in the division.
In a clinical display, Usyk outboxed the 6’6, 109kg Joshua to silence a fervent north London crowd.
In a rather subdued performance, AJ struggled to land any meaningful punches, with Usyk commanding the presence around the ring as well as being too quick to be caught by any of Joshua’s powerful advances. If the result itself was not enough of a shock, then the manner in which it occurred most definitely was.
Since the fight, Joshua quickly enforced a clause in the contract to allow a rematch which will now be occurring in the Ukraine in Spring 2022. Some strong criticism was directed towards Joshua’s tactics and skill execution throughout his loos on points and the general public’s lack of belief in his technical ability opened to door for Fury to claim the crown of British Boxing, albeit in a subjective manner.
In a long awaited third edition of the Fury v Wilder trilogy, Las Vegas provided the stage for a modern classic heavyweight encounter. After a controversial draw was followed by a 7th round TKO win for Fury, fight fans had to wait 20 months for the fight that was billed ‘to end it all’. Fury contracting COVID in July only served to exacerbate the drama surrounding a further postponement and added to the scrutiny that both fighters faced in the build up to the event.
After the inevitable pre-fight antics from both boxers, an early drop of Wilder in the third round hinted at an early but dominant win for Fury and the end of their long-lasting rivalry. Incredibly, Wilder found his legs once more and worked his way into a classic, with both fighters trading powerful blows that saw both hit the canvas on more than one occasion.
In the end, Fury proved too much on the night, with a classy display resulting in him finally landing the knockout punch in the 11th round.
Who is the best in the world?
The landscape of professional boxing can be a confusing one to convey to those unfamiliar with the sport as an entity. Essentially, there are four independent governing bodies under which the sport is run, each one holding a belt.
At the start of the month, all four belts were in British hands with Anthony Joshua holding 3 and Fury the other, alongside his claim as lineal champion.
Such a resounding win by Fury maintained his status as the lineal champion which he has held since his defeat of Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015. Essentially, Fury has remained the man to beat in world boxing since that victory.
For Joshua, he surrendered his three belts with defeat at Tottenham’s impressive stadium and, as such, must claim victory next year to be restored as the IBF, WBA and WBO World Heavyweight Champion. To be undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world, a fighter must hold all four belts simultaneously. For British Boxing fans, the clamouring for Joshua and Fury to settle the debate once and for all as well as giving the worlds’ first undisputed heavyweight champion of the world since fellow British boxer Lennox Lewis claimed the crown in 1999.
Despite the overwhelming public desire for such a fight, Joshua’s defeat has left such an opportunity even further away. A need to reclaim his titles is almost a pre-requisite to instigate a fight with Fury (33) and with Joshua (32) also on the wrong side of 30, time will be ticking against them to finalise the details of what would be the greatest fight in British Boxing history.
For the time being however, it looks as though another British fighter in Dillian Whyte is favourite to fight Fury and place his 28 wins on the line from his distinguished 30 fight professional career. Known as another big-hitter, Fury will be looking to maintain his status as the world’s very best against Dillian Whyte before what all British Boxing fans hope will be the impending colossal career finale to two of British Boxing’s greats as Joshua and Fury finally go head to head with the undisputed title on the line.