Brad Lewis: Heavyweight division still searching for its true king

Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, Dillian Whyte and Tyson Fury
Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, Dillian Whyte and Tyson Fury Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: Normality has resumed in boxing's glamour heavyweight division, after Anthony Joshua's textbook dismantling of an out-of-shape Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia.

The unfancied Mexican-American turned the script on its head earlier this year, when he shocked the world - and Joshua - with a seventh-round knockout in New York City.

But Ruiz partied too hard, got lost in the headlights of sporting prominence, and threw away millions of dollars and fame by entering the ring in the worst condition of his career.

So Sunday's result had all mouths salivating in anticipation of a 2020 unification bout between Joshua and either Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury, who fight for WBC gold in February.

Ahhh, let's just hit the brakes on that for a second and survey the lay of the heavyweight landscape. 

Joshua's next fight will be a mandatory against either Kubrat Pulev (IBF) or Oleksandr Usyk (WBO). Promoter Eddie Hearn has already gone on record, stating Joshua's intention to hold all three titles, rather than vacate one to take a voluntary or unification fight. 

Both the IBF and WBO are itching to have their respective contenders fight for their belts, so whomever Joshua and Hearn select is crucial in the final picture of what the division may look like in 12 months. 

Team Joshua probably have to fight the second mandatory fight later in 2020 or risk being stripped, so a dream fight with Fury or Wilder will be parked for the time being. 

As for Fury and Wilder, Dillian Whyte waits in the wings as the WBC's mandatory challenger and he deserves the opportunity to fight for a world title, given an 11-fight win streak and his name being cleared of doping allegations.

Only two relevant fights have been scheduled before the end of February - Wilder v Fury and Daniel Dubois v Kyotaro Fujimoto - so waters remain muddy, until the dominos fall, and matchmakers decide the fate of the contenders, pretenders and champions. 

Who the true king of the heavyweight division remains unclear.

Heavyweight division landscape 

The Champions

WBC - Deontay Wilder: 42-0-1

Fights Fury in February. 

His global stock has risen through the roof, since the first fight with Luis Ortiz in March 2018. 

The scariest man in the division, who has the ability to end a fight against an elite opponent with one punch

Deontay Wilder
Deontay Wilder Photo credit: Getty
Anthony Joshua
Anthony Joshua Photo credit: Reuters

IBF, WBO and WBA - Anthony Joshua: 23-1

Smart and technical in dispatching Ruiz, but his chin is a worry. 

He should be too good for Pulev, but the titles are in danger against Usyk, Fury or Wilder. 

Can't see him retaining through 2020. 

The Contenders 

Tyson Fury: 29-0-1

Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury Photo credit: Getty

The self-proclaimed lineal heavyweight champ has a chance to earn WBC glory in February. 

His first fight with Wilder was brutal, with the Brit dominating throughout, but Wilder's power ultimately saving his titles with two one-punch knockdowns. 

Fury has the tools to frustrate the American again, but he must avoid that vicious right hand at all costs. Toughest riddle to solve in the division. 

Dillian Whyte: 27-1

Was unconvincing in his return to the ring against Mariusz Wach, but that performance carried a lot of baggage. He should fight the winner of Wilder and Fury, and poses a threat to both, but unlikely to win. 

Oleksandr Usyk: 17-0

The Ukranian is the future of the division and could well be undisputed champion, if the cards fall in his favour. Highly likely to face Dereck Chisora in his next fight, which would serve as his catapult to a mandatory WBO title fight. 

Don't be surprised if Hearn throws Kiwi Joseph Parker into Usyk's path in 2020.  

Kubrat Pulev: 28-1

The current IBF mandatory contender, Pulev's only career loss was at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko in 2014. 

He's likely to be Joshua's next opponent and certainly provides an interesting challenge, given his power and amateur credentials, but at 38, his window is closing. 

Unlikely to be relevant in 12 months.

The Desperate 

Joseph Parker: 26-2

Joseph Parker
Joseph Parker Photo credit: Photosport

Facing a career crossroads in 2020, Parker is now in a must-win situation, whomever he fights. 

A spider-bite derailed a clash with Dereck Chisora in September, which probably didn't please promoter Hearn in the slightest. Parker needs to fight a big name next, but his options are limited to the likes of Dubois, Oscar Rivas, Alexander Povetkin or potentially Ruiz. 

His only saving grace would be if the WBO strip Joshua, which would open up a potential title fight with Usyk, given his No.4 division ranking. 

Luis Ortiz: 31-2-2

The guy no-one wants to fight finds himself in a tricky spot, after losing twice to Wilder in a 20-month stretch, but 'King Kong' is a nightmare match-up for most of the division, given his power and technical prowess. 

With a No.5 WBA ranking, the Cuban could be just a win away from a mandatory shot and a fight with Ruiz makes the most sense. 

Andy Ruiz Jnr: 33-2

Andy Ruiz Jnr
Andy Ruiz Jnr Photo credit: Reuters

Had Ruiz toppled Joshua for a second time, the path to an undisputed crown would have been far clearer. 

Ruiz and Wilder had expressed a desire to fight each other in 2020, but that is now off the books. The former has now gone from the penthouse to the outhouse - his position among the elite is already in question and could fade into memory, if he loses next time out. 

Ortiz or Parker could be next for the Mexican-American.

Ones to watch 

Daniel Dubois: 13-0

Fighting Kyotaro Fujimoto on December 21, under the Frank Warren banner. 

Dubois should dispose of the Japanese slugger with ease, which would leave him on the verge of contendership in the WBO.

The Brit has expressed an interest in fighting Parker, but I'm not sure that fight makes much sense for the Kiwi as far as risk v reward is concerned.

Junior Fa: 19-0

Junior Fa in action
Junior Fa in action Photo credit: Photosport

Quality of opponent has always been the question mark around the Kiwi, but two tough fights in the back end of 2019 have Fa craving more. 

He's ranked No.7 in the WBO, meaning a big fight is just around the corner. A fight against gatekeepers Carlos Takam or Dominic Breazeale would prove his credentials. 

Filip Hrgovic: 10-0

The Croatian secured a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, so his technical credentials are clear, but he brings serious heavyweight punching power to the ring, as he displayed against journeyman Eric Molina in Saudia Arabia. 

Hrgovic is still at least a year away from a really big fight, but outside Usyk, he could be the most complete heavyweight in the world. 

Forget about them 

Alexander Povetkin: 35-2

Too old and too slow, his best days are well and truly behind him 

Dereck Chisora: 32-9

Dereck Chisora
Dereck Chisora Photo credit: Reuters

Career suicide if he takes the Usyk fight, Chisora doesn't have the cardio or skills to compete with the elite.

Dominic Breazeale: 20-2

Dominic Breazeale after being knocked out by Deontay Wilder
Dominic Breazeale after being knocked out by Deontay Wilder Photo credit: Getty

Was viciously knocked out by Wilder in May and after also coming up short against Joshua in 2016, it's hard to see any road that leads back to a heavyweight title. 

Carlos Takam: 37-5

The ultimate heavyweight journeyman, Takam has struggled to win the big one, after losing to Povetkin, Parker, Joshua and Chisora in the biggest fights of his career.

Brad Lewis is a Newshub online sports producer and co-host if the Fight Club podcast

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