A New Era Of British Heavyweight Dominance
By Oliver McManus
Across eight years, between 2002 and 2010, British boxing fans were embroiled in, and enthralled by, a dozen grudge matches between a quartet of heavyweight hopefuls.
For Audley Harrison, Danny Williams, Michael Sprott and Matt Skelton it barely mattered what path they intended to weave: the four were innately intertwined and, inevitably, produced a series of gripping fights with equally gripping storylines.
Fast forward to a new decade with a new crop of heavyweights and the Brits are very much back in the driving seat of the kingpin division.
The four belts are held by two British behemoths: Anthony Joshua with the WBA, WBO and IBF (plus the smaller IBO title) and Tyson Fury occupying the WBC’s throne. Add into that mix a recently defeated Dillian Whyte, an ageing yet ever present Dereck Chisora, former world title challenger Hughie Fury, Queensbury’s protege Daniel Dubois and, his protagonist, Joe Joyce and we have ourselves the ingredient for bombastic brutality and nothing less.
Things, as always in boxing, aren’t as simple as having the ingredients: usually some smallprint or fine details prevents the whisk from being turned on and everything combining in harmony. Whilst it seems unlikely that we’ll get that same throng of match-ups as we did in the early 2000s there are still plenty of fights to be made; with that in mind we’re going to look at those in the running and assess the playing field.
You can look at who is the top dog in the heavyweight division in a number of different metrics: some will look at Joshua holding more belts and suggest he’s the man whilst others point to Fury’s history of upsetting the odds and insist he’s the one to beat.
Certainly a case can be made either way, on personal preference, but Fury is the head honcho for me. Having initially upset the applecart to comprehensively out-box and, essentially, embarrass Wladimir Klitschko in 2016, the Gypsy King had to recover from self-made implosion out of the ring to regain a fraction of the belts he ripped off Klitschko. And twice he schooled Deontay Wilder – one of the most feared punchers of the division. In equal part it is Fury’s turmoil out of the ring that afforded Joshua his first shot at the world title (Charles Martin’s IBF belt).
Either way the obvious fight out there is a unification to become the undisputed heavyweight champion and, with it, best of the Brits. Anthony Joshua is beset by mandatory appointments and looks set to face Kubrat Pulev in December this year: a fight which he should come through relatively breezily. Should being the operative word.
December is also the month pencilled in for the trilogy contest between Fury and Wilder – a contest still dangerous for the Mancunian despite his previous showings. All being well the champions will successfully navigate past those contracted challenges and 2021 should surely be the year for all the belts to find one home.
Though we did say that about 2020. And 2019.
A fight definitively made is Daniel Dubois vs Joe Joyce for the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles – a nifty trio. Initially slated for April 11th, then July 11th, the latest is that the pair will meet on October 24th in front of a packed 02 Arena with 16,000 fans in attendance. Covid cautions aside, and with it the scepticism over just how “packed” the 02 will be, this has the potential to shape the heavyweight division of the future.
The pressure appears to be firmly on Dubois’ shoulders with Frank Warren pinning his hopes on the prodigy since his teenage years.
Dubois has been in this situation before: against Nathan Gorman we were fed an, arguably false, narrative that he would be taken into deep water. A 50-50 fight according to the bookies but Gorman was blown out of the ring by Dubois’ crisper timing, snappier hand speed and brick-breaking fists.
Joyce is a more proven counterpart than Gorman and has racked up better wins, amateur and professional, than the two combatants. Despite Silver at Rio 2016 (and everyone knows it should have been Gold) and a host of prestigious medals (Bronze at the 2015 World Championships and 2013 European’s; Gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 European’s), the Juggernaut has been perennially underappreciated.
Whether that’s down to his age – now 34 – limiting potential opportunities or his polite, personable persona not quite fitting with the brash business of heavyweight boxing, or anything in between is by the by. As a boxer he is talented: that is unquestionable.
What next for the winner? And, indeed, the loser?
Well two names that fit neatly into that picture are the recently defeated Dillian Whyte and continually resurgent Dereck Chisora. Joyce vs Chisora had been talked up substantially when David Haye managed Joyce’s affairs: to the point where Chisora offered to take just £1 purse if he lost.
More recently we’ve seen Frank Warren dangle the carrot of Whyte vs Dubois though neither contest looked particularly likely to happen… that is, of course, until Alexander Povetkin threw a bombshell into the mix and forced parties to reevaluate their plans.
Whyte, of course, will be keen to avenge his loss with the Russian at the earliest possible opportunity but, should that not arise, then Dubois would be a rather logical step back into contention.
His younger compatriot holds high rankings with the WBC (7th and set to rise in their next publication) and the WBO (2nd, poised to swoop should the belt have to be vacated) and, if you believe Whyte, offers little to fear for the more experienced man.
For Dubois it is an opportunity to test himself against a ‘name’ in the division knowing full well that a win puts him in the top five whilst being young enough to learn and go again should he suffer a setback. That’s a fight I’d be keen to see though, unfortunately, is unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon.
Perhaps more realistic if Joyce against Chisora: the elder statesman is lined up to face Oleksandr Usyk at the backend of this year but would surely relish a clash with Joyce in 2021. It would be a perfect platform to really build a narrative and storyline around Joe Joyce and is another domestic clash to capture the imagination of Chisora and, indeed, the wider public.
You get the feeling that when it comes to fighting fellow Brits we get a little bit more from Chisora who demands respect and wants to show the ‘young pups’ (or slightly older pup in Joe Joyce’s case) that he’s not to be taken lightly.
And at his level he is not to be taken lightly. His level, naturally, has dipped over the years but he’s still a really challenging night for all except the very elite of the sport. We saw that against Dillian Whyte in which he was unlucky not to get the decision first time round then lead comfortably in the second before getting knocked out by a peach of a shot: that, they say, is heavyweight boxing for you.
Chisora earns his money outside of the ring as much as he does on the night. He attracts attention and sells a show. If he wasn’t boxing he’d be crusading the markets of London like a 21st century Derek Trotter – he’s not called Del Boy for nothing! Eyeballs follow him and he provides a staunch test for those that get in the ring with him.
Joyce, as alluded to, doesn’t necessarily have time on his side but has plenty of big fights in him: this clash with Chisora would be explosive and, if we’re honest, make Joyce a handsome sum of money.
We then come to Hughie Fury who doesn’t quite place into this jigsaw we’ve pieced together. He is the forgotten man of British heavyweight boxing and someone that is easy to ignore for any world class boxer. At 25 years old there is still plenty of time for Hughie to develop the momentum required to really stick it out at a top level.
Unfortunately, for him, on the three occasions he has stepped up (Joseph Parker, Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Povetkin), Fury has fallen short and not implemented the lessons learned.
He does have strong backing, however, and has built up a solid profile in the seven years since he turned professional. Mick Hennessy has a large part to play in that and brought some massive viewing figures with him to Channel 5 and now Eddie Hearn has hopped on board to try and push Hughie onto the next level.
With that team around him you can be sure of a good environment for growth and, whilst Hearn is looking at pitting him against Dave Allen, a fight with Martin Bakole makes perfect sense and is another in-house fight to watch.
Below those seven names you have the likes of David Price looking for a fight though the way he’s been brutally stopped on seven occasions you’d suggest it’s probably time for him to pack it in. And that’s from a place of affection for the Liverpudlian who has provided plenty of entertainment over the years but, as of late, has looked frozen whenever put under pressure.
Nathan Gorman and Dave Allen will both look to stay present with Queensbury and Matchroom, respectively, with Gorman rebuilding from his loss to Dubois and Allen looking for another decent name to get in the mix with.
The most exciting fighter outside of the upper echelons, at least for now, is Fabio Wardley who has boxed beautifully since gaining exposure on Sky Sports. Indeed he did so previously on the small hall circuit with natural power and flair to go with his likability on camera: a potently marketable combination to have and someone destined for big things.
Finally you look at the few fight novices such as David Adeleye (3-0), Franklin Ignatius (1-0) and, if we can claim him by virtue of being Dillian Whyte managed, Alen Babic (4-0) and you know heavyweight boxing in Britain is in a good place now and for the future.