THE Q train that runs from Brooklyn to 96th Street in Manhattan was a hive of activity as a frantic Saturday night morphed into a Sunday morning. Congested carriages filled with young and old, locals and tourists, drunks and the wise, discussions raged focusing on heavyweight possibilities as passengers tried to solve the conundrums of the famed division.
Before the train pulled into the Atlantic Avenue terminal, the platform resembled something of a carnival as screams of “Bomb Squad” were only muted by the thudding sound of underground vehicles making their way through the veins of New York.
This jovial atmosphere came from what had happened shortly before inside the atmospheric Barclays Center where Deontay Wilder overcame a monumental crisis – yes it was a crisis – to retain his WBC heavyweight crown against angry Cuban, Luis Ortiz, with a brutal 10th round stoppage. The same supporters had booed viciously in the contest’s early sessions as the bout contained the awkwardness of a disastrous first date. But when the exchanges became more frequent from the fourth stanza onwards, it became a must-see affair that was a fight in every sense of the word.
Say it quietly but America is getting behind Wilder, and although it may have taken almost 40 fights for him to be recognised as one of the sport’s leading names in relation to a mainstream connection, it looks like the vast amounts of hard work into giving a heavyweight champion a profile he deserves (see Anthony Joshua) is reaping rewards. Brooklyn’s modern arena, just a few miles from Madison Square Garden, where Sergey Kovalev was fighting on the same night, managed to draw almost 15 thousand people inside and the overwhelming majority cheered Wilder like he was a Mike Tyson or Riddick Bowe, proud Brooklynites of such a different era.
For the past couple of years, ever since Joshua became IBF champion with the simplest of wins over Charles Martin, speculation has intensified regarding a mouth-watering gunfight between Wilder and AJ. America against Britain, where a brash unpredictable, wayward puncher meets a humble destroyer in a battle that is almost certain to deliver the customary fireworks that both are used to. As often is the case, the only action between the pair thus far has taken place at the negotiating table as Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, rightly believes that the gigantic financial package both fighters will share should be stacked in the Watford’s man favour.
AJ, the darling of British boxing, and a contender for the face of the sport alongside a ginger-haired Mexican, is one of all the time great pieces of promotional mastery. Adorned with lucrative sponsors all paying vast amounts of money to have their brand splurged across various fight wear items in front of crazy crowds and consistently excellent Sky Box Office customers, the Joshua brand has become a phenomenon. Despite possessing boxing statistics that scream excitement and danger, Wilder has not been able to force his way into mainstream consciousness like Joshua, but he certainly gave his cause a great push against Ortiz on Saturday.
Showtime numbers for the absorbing conflict will be assessed thoroughly when deciding the worth of Wilder moving forward and fights like the one with Ortiz, a pendulum swinging epic filled with courage and craziness, will certainly boost his standing amongst boxing fans. Will it aid his standing when it comes to thrashing out percentages? Team AJ may move their numbers down ever so slightly considering American television will pay a good sum but if Joshua is equally stunning against WBO champion Joseph Parker, in front of another monstrous crowd at the Welsh national stadium on March 31, then there’s a good chance that both fighters will be back at square one and the fight remains as distant a possibility as it is now.
The bumpy and hazardous road to Wilder v Joshua is not a trail accompanied by pleasant scenery. The journey will likely become more treacherous before it becomes a smooth path, but after watching Wilder’s unbelievable seventh round crash coupled with Joshua’s own vulnerabilities, the men managing the duo’s interests should be careful this clash isn’t thrown into disarray before a punch is even thrown. Simmering in boxing is a huge risk that has backfired countless times, but this is a fight that has been prepared thoroughly enough. The time has never been better for these two giants to meet square on, but it takes more than timing to make a spectacle of this size. Who knows where we stand in that regard following the dramatics of March 3?
A note on Andre Dirrell…
On Saturday’s undercard, Flint boxer, Andre Dirrell was beaten out of the top tier of the 12st division by a relentless Jose Uzcategui.
The Venezuelan likely punched Dirrell out of boxing altogether. Despite never holding a world title, Dirrell was never far away from the top spot of the super-middleweight division, but he always found a way to never fulfil his potential.
On nights that he did show up, he was a capable and skilled performer, but those nights were rarities and when the time came to finally step up and fulfil the potential that was prophesised for him by so many, he was found wanting for a variety of reasons.
Easy on the eye and blessed with incredible talent, Dirrell should’ve been a world champion in a time when belts were tossed around the division by guys nowhere near the level Dirrell was sometimes able to operate on. Despite possessing a sizeable sum of attributes needed to be a success in the sport of boxing, Dirrell lacked interest and it’ll be his losses to the likes of James DeGale and Carl Froch, and DQ victory over Arthur Abraham, which will define his career.