The mirage of the heavyweight division

Anthony Joshua heavyweight division
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In his Snipes & Snipes column Eric Armit considers the plight of the heavyweight division in the modern age

I have decided to rename the heavyweight division the Mirage Division. It is now thirty-years since we had a universal heavyweight champion and that was Mike Tyson who held the IBF, WBA and WBC titles. In May of 1989 Italian Francesco Damiani won the inaugural WBO title and since then no fighter has held all four belts. Despite what they may say promoters, TV and sanctioning bodies are quite happy with multiple champions. If there is just one champion then only one promoter has a heavyweight champion, with one champion cable TV will be lucky to get three or four heavyweight title fights a year to boost their ratings and the sanctioning bodies will be scrambling to get their share of the sanctioning fees and arguing over who appoints the officials etc. With more than one champion there is pie for everyone.

The “one champion” dream is like a mirage. When Wladimir Klitschko held three titles the heavyweight division was like a desert with no oasis in sight but Tyson Fury was a breath of fresh air, a fighter who genuinely seemed to want to unify the titles. His problems allowed the IBF and WBA to strip him and get their own champions which Klitschko’s dominance had been denying them so a sanctioning sandstorm obliterated the one champion mirage and we were back to sand and cacti. Along came Anthony Joshua who singly handed – well with the help of a great fight against Wlad Klitschko who received more praise in defeat than he had received when a champion – and the mirage loomed again. All it needed was a Joshua vs. WBC champion Deontay Wilder unifier. And the mirage would become reality. Joshua was the money man but Wilder’s ego got in the way. Ego is like any other obstacle if you pile the money high enough it can be overcome but Wilder seemed to think he was worth the Atlas Mountains so the desert sands blew again. Last year the Wilder vs. Fury fight was a bold commitment by both fighters and all we needed to set up a unifying Joshua fight was a clear winner – instead we got a draw. That only muddied the waters – OK a bad simile for a desert setting but you know what I mean.

Anthony Joshua heavyweight division

All of the talk after the fight was of a quick return and the mirage popped up again until Bob Arum suddenly appeared on the scene and snapped up Fury. That’s like being attacked in the desert by a shark. Where did that come from? Bob Arum doesn’t do heavyweights! Whilst Don King was still bedazzled by heavyweights Arum was making great fights with smaller fighters. Now King has all but faded and Arum is still probably the No 1 promoter in the world (sorry about the probable bit Bob). With Fury on board and ESPN at his side he is now a huge player in the heavyweight triumvirate of Joshua, Wilder and Fury and it is now impossible to forecast what lies ahead for the division. Wlad Klitschko to return and Oleksandr Usyk moving up – I feel like I blinked and the mirage disappeared – once again. I just hope that at the end of the year the triumvirate does not consist of Jarrell Miller, Dominic Breazeale and Tom Schwarz – now I have moved from mirage to nightmare.

Other notes

The iron fist in the velvet glove and speak softly and carry a big stick are both old sayings which are both useful, sensible approaches to a variety of problems. I could wish the WBC would adopt one of them. To their credit that have been the most vocal and the most visible in the fight to combat the use of banned substances in boxing. They made it clear that anyone who didn’t sign up to the WADA drug testing programme would not be rated by them. Good approach but not a consistent one. Their handling of French heavyweight star Tony Yoka has been more a case of a feather duster in a velvet glove. Just over a year ago Yoka was the biggest thing in French boxing. He had won a gold medal in Rio and signed a multi-million Euro contract with French TV. Yoka “missed” three appointments with the drugs testers in July 2016, September 2016 and March 2017and after a very long and intense investigation finally in March 2018 his home French Federation gave him a one year suspended sentence for missing those tests. On June 23 he beat British fighter David Allen and appeared for the first time in the WBC ratings issued on 5 July at No 29. No harm there as it was a suspended ban. In August the French Anti-Doping Agency (FADA), the testing authority in France reviewed the evidence and overturned that suspended ban and instigated a full one year ban on Yoka. In September after the full ban had been instituted and despite Yoka not having fought since the Allen fight he had climbed from No 39 to No 23 in the WBC ratings. In December despite still being under a ban by the recognised FADA and not having fought since June Yoka had climbed to No 11 in the WBC ratings a promotion from 39 to 11 whilst banned in his own country and without fighting. He is No 12 in their current ratings.  That is disgraceful behaviour from a body that prides itself on being tough on drugs. They ignored the fact that both his home Federation and the FADA carried out months of investigation and suspended Yoka and instead promoted him 27 positions in their ratings when inactive. It is true that Yoka had never given a positive test but what signal does that send out? It seems that you can sign up for the WBC testing process and get rated safe in the knowledge that to avoid the damaging positive test you can dodge the testers with impunity and may even improving your rating. The process is stringent in France and the intentions by the WBC are clearly aimed at fighting the use of banned substance but the Yoka example shows that without the iron fist or the big stick and unless you support FADA and WADA instead of undermining them you are not going to stop people cheating.

It is still not clear whether the IOC will allow boxing at the 2020 Games. AIBA finally saw sense with President Gafur Rakhimov stepping down and a new interim President Mohamed Moustahsane from Morocco being appointed. Whilst that might be a positive step it still does not address the IOC’s concerns over the “governance, ethics and financial management” of the AIBA. The IOC has said they will not consider a report into these issues until 20 May and there is no certainty that any decision would be made then. The clock to Tokyo is clicking. I recall seeing that the WBA had offered to step in and take over the duties of the AIBA and when I saw the favoured WBA word “interim” I thought my worst fears had been realised.

Whether we like it or not Olympic boxing is going to change with a reduced number of male divisions and an increased female component. The male divisions will be 52, 57, 63, 69, 75, 81, 91 and 91&kgs and the female 51, 57, 60, 69 and 75kgs. From the male view it seems tough on those countries that are strong in the 49kg division which has produced some great fighters.

Omar Chavez returns to the ring tomorrow night (6 April) on a show in Cancun. He faces welter Andres Villaman who is 15-1-1. If he loses it will have been a bad week for the sons of the fathers. Last weekend Jorge Paez Jr was stopped in two rounds by Gustavo Lemos. Neither Julio Cesar or Jorge Snr seems to have passed on a full complement of genes and neither of their sons will come near to achieving what their father did. Julio Cesar has already urged Omar to retire but Omar has not yet given up on the dream. In the top fight on the Cancun show two former world minimumweight champions will clash as former WBO and IBF champion Francisco Rodriguez faces former WBC champion Oswaldo Novoa.

An all-Canadian fight will be the feature in Indio on April 25 when Yves Ulysse 17-1 takes on 27-5-2 Steve Claggett. The current Canadian ratings have Claggett at No 1 and Ulysse No 3 but Ulysse will start favourite.

Still seems to be some doubt over who Gennady Golovkin will fight in New York on 8 June. Brandon Adams was the name in the frame but now French sources have WBC Silver champion Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam as a possibility seeing it as a WBC final eliminator for a shot at Saul Alvarez. N’Jikam ended Martin Murray’s career with a win in December but performed poorly against Ryota Murata so that will not sell well.

Can’t get too excited over the April 27 fight for the vacant IBF lightweight title between Robert Easter and Rances Barthelemy. Good fighters and ex-champions but can’t see their styles providing a good fight.

Polish sources say that Demetrius Andrade will be putting his WBO Middleweight title on the line against Maciej Sulecki on June 8. Sulecki is 28-1 with his lone loss against Daniel Jacobs in April last year and he is coming off a victory over Gabriel Rosado.

World title fights to look forward to this month includes on the 13th Jamie Munguia vs. Dennis Hogan for the WBO super welter, Clarissa Shields vs. Christina Hammer with the WBA, WBC and WBO female middleweight titles. Surely one of the best female matchups of all time, on 20th Terrence Crawford vs. Amir Khan-who is going to need a miracle to win, 26th Srisaket vs. Juan Francisco Estrada for the WBC super fly title and Daniel Roman and TJ Doheny to unify the IBF and WBA super bantamweight titles, 27th Regis Prograis vs. Kiryl Relikh for the WBA super welter, and Zolani Tete vs. Nonito Donaire for the WBA and WBO bantam titles. Boxing – the sport that keeps on giving!

At the end of last month Brazilian boxing fans were celebrating the 83rd birthday of the great Eder Jofre “The Golden Bantam”. The best boxer ever produced by Brazil and arguably one of the greatest bantamweights of all time who went 47-0-3 at the start of his career and  lost just two of his 78 fights-and still going strong.

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