For a century, the heavyweight division was the crown jewel of boxing. It gave the public superstars like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, and several other legends.
Heavyweight champions transcended sports and became household names. They inspired movies, Nintendo games, and rotisserie grills. Even one-hit wonder “Buster” Douglas got a video game for Sega Genesis.
Then the division slowly decayed. Icons were replaced by tomato cans. Nowadays the casual boxing observer would be hard-pressed to name a few heavyweights, or any at all. But on April 29th, all of that can change.
For the past decade-plus, the heavyweight division has been dominated by Ukrainian fighter Wladimir Klitschko (and his older brother Vitali). The younger Klitschko brother went undefeated between April 2004 and November 2015 before finally losing to Tyson Fury.
Despite losing by unanimous decision, many believe Klitschko’s loss to Fury was a result of complacency and Fury’s awkward fighting style (Fury is 6’9” with a long reach, but fought defensively).
A rematch was scheduled between Fury and Klitschko, but Fury was beset by injuries and failed a drug test. He was forced to vacate the belts he claimed from Klitschko.
Enter Anthony Joshua.
Unlike the parade of underwhelming fighters Klitschko slayed, upstart British heavyweight Anthony Joshua has the talent and star power to revitalize a nondescript weight class.
This is easily the biggest heavyweight bout since Lennox Lewis fought Mike Tyson 15 years ago.
If Joshua wins, he will become the face of an improving heavyweight division, arguably the best it’s been in 20 years; Deontay Wilder, “King Kong” Ortiz, and Joseph Parker are all compelling challengers. If Klitschko wins, he will solidify his legacy as a worthy steward of the heavyweight crown.
In terms of size, the difference between Klitschko and Joshua is negligible. They both stand 6’6” tall. Klitschko weighs 246 lbs. and Joshua 238 lbs. Klitschko’s reach is 82”, and Joshua’s 81”.
The difference comes in age and experience.
The battle-tested Klitschko is 41-years-old with a record of 64-4 (53 KO). The 27-year-old Joshua stands undefeated at 18-0, all by KO.
Expert boxing analyst Max Kellerman commented on Klitschko’s outlook:
“There aren’t examples of 40-year-old fighters who’ve come off bad performances and then long layoffs, and then returned suddenly and discovered the fountain of youth.”
Old age and a 17-month layoff don’t bode well for the rare underdog, but Kellerman also added:
“Joshua is a talented guy, and he’s big and young. But he’s a basic-skills fighter. He doesn’t do anything that fancy. Klitschko is a much more sophisticated fighter in terms of his skill.”
Joshua has an unblemished record and a gold medal from the 2012 London Olympic Games, but Klitschko will clearly be his stiffest test.
All the storylines are set for an electric night at London’s Wembley Stadium where 90,000 fans will bear witness to a potential sea change in the heavyweight division.
For those unfortunate souls, unable to secure a ticket to the event, the fight will air on both HBO and Showtime, only the third time the networks have engaged in a joint-venture. The other two times it happened? Mayweather Jr. vs. Pacquiao and Lewis vs. Tyson.
Joshua vs. Klitschko is in good company. Here’s hoping for a classic match. The heavyweight division deserves it.