The most recent heavyweight belt bout was defended in fantastic fashion by Deontay Wilder from the top challenger Artur Szpilka in a stunning 9th round knockout. Wilder’s latest defense of the belt is now his most impressive, demonstrating great maturity in the ring and in his words of respect afterwards, where he commended his Polish opponent and wished his safe return home. It’s easy then to get excited about an American return to the heavyweight boxing prominence of the glorious years past, gilded with the resumes of all-time American greats like Foreman, Holyfield, Tyson, Ali, Frazier…
But is it that time already to feel like we’re in the 90’s? Where we could get amazed with IQ, footwork and hand speed of Ali, or the sheer torque generated from the hips all the way to the teeth from Tyson? Where we could witness emotional and even political fight nights that would move nations in anticipation? I would say no, and even with Wilder’s latest defense we are only seeing a slight glimmer towards a positive direction that has arguably been slipping away from the limelight since the 90’s.
It’s easy to watch the highlights and the physicality of Wilder or even Anthony Joshua of England and say, “Yea, in 2016 heavyweights look like heavyweights.” This general media sentiment is like saying “Good, the heavyweight division is back because they’re not overweight and they use punches to win.” Where is the IQ, where is the dimensionality of heavyweights using actual boxing skills to enhance their physical gifts? According to boxing fans in 2016, that only exists in the lighter weight classes. How feeble our memories, and maybe that’s why the golden age of heavyweights will always look grander from our present point of view.
It’s important to realize that the it’s the media’s job to sell this division and I won’t ignore that Wilder is certainly taking it in a positive direction. His rededication to the sport is honorable, and his new maturity outside the ring is impressive. But at 31, he’s only beginning to scratch the boxing discipline of a 19 year old Mike Tyson. Anthony Joshua is only 26 but the overall lack of talent at the top is not showing any signs of change compared to years past. If we weren’t myopic about the boatloads of attention we’re giving to Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, we could arguably be wondering about how genetics have changed since the early 90’s to have such little talent at the top weights. In the era of Ali and Frazier, we also had Ken Norton and Larry Holmes biting at their heels. This era had gyms of giants, where their practice blows packed the full power of a Roman Gonzalez vs. Brian Viloria.
My treatise ends with me asking to wake me up when we have a real heavyweight with wings on his feet and stones in his hands. He doesn’t even have to be a poet but that would help. Maybe heavyweights do have an impossible legacy to fulfill given the rich history of boxing. Hopefully that’s not the case, because we at BMB might end up as historians, not passionate enthusiasts.