Land of the Giants: The Heavyweight Landscape in 2016

As we wind down another year on the boxing calendar, 2015 has turned out to be a significant year for the Heavyweight division in particular. In January, Alabama KO artist Deontay Wilder won the WBC belt from Bermane Stiverne with a classy display of distance and skill (against many fans’ expectations) to capture the green belt by a wide decision. Suddenly, the U.S.A had a heavyweight fighter they could get behind; one who had already displayed his concussive punching power and now proved he could box the full twelve rounds as well.

Suddenly the division was starting to get interesting again. Long reigning lineal champ Wladimir Klitschko had dominated the division for around a decade and looked to all intents and purposes pretty-much unbeatable, so effective was his apparently fail-safe, caution-first approach to grinding down his opponents. Not many people–myself included–gave the UK’s Tyson Fury much of a chance when challenging for the undisputed championship in November. His supposedly glass chin and lacklustre boxing skills would see him come up short against the imposing Ukranian’s stiff jab and superior skills. However, now famously, Fury refused to read the script that fateful night and went on to capture the titles against all odds in what can only be described as an awful ‘fight’.

Klitschko pawed the air all night long, too intimidated to actually throw any punches and when he did, he was surprisingly made to miss a lot by the slippery Fury. Although there wasn’t much boxing actually going on (very little punches were thrown or landed throughout the contest), the larger man proved a tricky customer for his movement and elusiveness alone. Pretty impressive for a 256lb man who stands at 6’9’’ tall I’m sure you’ll agree.

This victory completely reshaped the heavyweight landscape and the manner in which Fury historically rewrote the script suddenly levelled the playing field for the many contenders waiting in the wings. Now, someone looking far more beatable than Klitschko holds all the cards in the weight-class, leaving said contenders with a huge slab of confidence and self-belief.

“The Real King Kong” Luis Ortiz was impressive with his 7th round stoppage of the resilient Bryant Jennings in December, displaying good skills for a man of his size but also a solid chin and skull-crushing power. Jennings had only been down once before in his career, yet Ortiz had him down before stopping him. Add this to the fact that Ortiz has secured the vast majority of his victories by KO or TKO and its clear the man can bang. He’s also no slouch in the defensive department either, covering up swiftly and effectively against Jennings’ quick hands. The thought of him now climbing the upper-tier ladder in the coming year is a mouth-watering prospect indeed, and he poses a genuine threat to any of the big men out there.

Undefeated Olympic gold medal-winner Anthony Joshua gave us a lot to think about in his entertaining scrap with bitter rival Dillian Whyte, also in December. Despite winning by a brutal, highlight-reel KO in round 7, Joshua showed some vulnerability in the early going, succumbing to a peach of a counter-punch from Whyte in the 3rd which saw him stunned, wobbled and there for the taking. Although unable to capitalise on it, Whyte still showed that the exciting prospect could be hurt. Which will be sure to boost the confidence of anyone hoping to share a ring with the Watford bomber in the near future. Still a work in progress then, but at the very least Joshua proved he can overcome adversity and also managed to get a few more rounds of vital experience under his belt going forward. And that power is no myth, of that you can be sure.

David Haye’s upcoming comeback against the unheralded Australian Mark De Mori will give us some valuable insight into his current mindset and remaining ring-ability in the next few weeks. An on-form Haye is as dangerous an opponent as any Heavyweight out there and, assuming he still has the skills and the desire, will be an exciting threat to anyone above 200lb. How he performs on January 16th will be a great barometer for the Hayemaker’s relevant level to his peers in 2016. If he blows out his modest-level adversary in explosive fashion and shows the speed and power he’s known for, it puts him straight back as a valid contender among a dangerous bunch. I would love to see Haye fight Joshua in the coming year in what would be an edge-of-the-seat contest; a sell-out domestic battle to prove who’s the most worthy contender from our shores. I would also love to see Haye finally fight Fury, believing (even prior to their two previously cancelled fights) that Haye has the worst style possible for Fury: speed, accuracy and power.

Then we have the already battle-proven, tough-as-nails Russian warrior Alexander Povetkin. Not much to be said about this veteran that hasn’t been said already; he is as dangerous now as he ever was and is a formidable opponent for anyone brave enough to share the squared-circle with him. A talked about fight between him and Wilder could be on the cards at some point and would be a big deal in the current climate. Many fight-fans believe Povetkin is the best of the current contenders and understandably so. How he carves out his name in the much more dynamic heavyweight environment from this point on will be an entertaining ride, no doubt. Personally, I would love to see him face either Wilder or Haye in what would both prove to be fan-friendly shootouts, firmly in the vein of the great heavyweight bouts of yesteryear. Or, just imagine what Povetkin vs Ortiz would be like. What a war that would be!
Throw into the mix the likes of Kubrat Pulev, Vyacheslav Glaskov and a still-formidable Wladimir Klitschko….and you have the most open-ended, genuinely exciting heavyweight division for decades. Tyson Fury now has the lineage and the titles. But, most importantly, he has the self-belief to take on anyone. Although obligated to defend his titles in a Klitschko rematch (which is by no means business as usual), I’ve no doubt that—should he retain his belts—he will take on anyone, anywhere, anytime. 2016 could be the year that we finally see glory returned to the land of the giants. As fans, we should be in for a thrilling ride of interesting heavyweight showdowns. Let the good times roll.