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Boxing’s revival — a long time coming

Three-cornered rivalry:Fury and Wilder fought out a memorable draw earlier this month and promptly declared that they were better than Joshua, who holds three of boxing’s four major belts.

Three-cornered rivalry:Fury and Wilder fought out a memorable draw earlier this month and promptly declared that they were better than Joshua, who holds three of boxing’s four major belts.   | Photo Credit: AP

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Fight fans had lost interest in the sport’s heavyweight division before Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury sparked it back to life

Right through boxing history, the heavyweight division has commanded awe and admiration. The champion was acknowledged as the king of kings, the crown worn by such legendary names as Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson kept this legacy going. The marauding Tyson made a habit of putting his opponents to sleep with brutal first-round knockouts. His eccentric lifestyle created just as many headlines.

But the champions who followed — with the exception of Lennox Lewis — did not summon the same level of interest. Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko, who dominated the division for nearly a decade, was a technical, often dull fighter. Outside the ring, Klitschko said and did the right things; nothing hooked the casual boxing fan.

The arrival of competitive mixed martial arts, with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) leading the pack, offered an exciting alternative. Boxing was fast losing relevance among fight fans.

Main-event talent

The first signs of revival came in April 2017, when chiselled Englishman Anthony Joshua beat Klitschko in dramatic fashion. In front of a 90,000-strong crowd at Wembley Stadium, the two fighters exchanged knockdowns, before Joshua shut out Klitschko in the 11th round. The younger, fitter Joshua outclassed his opponent and established himself as the new poster-boy of the division.

With Klitschko out of the way, Joshua needed a top-level challenger. But the ideal candidate, his countryman Tyson Fury, had other issues to deal with.

A couple of years before Joshua’s Wembley moment, Fury had pulled off an incredible upset victory (unanimous decision) over Klitschko to clinch the unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, IBO, Ring magazine and lineal titles. But his reign was short-lived. Mental illnesses, which led to alcohol and drug addiction, forced Fury to take a break. The mandatory rematch against Klitschko, scheduled for mid-2016, was abandoned after Fury tested positive for cocaine.

On the other side of the Atlantic, an American was starting to gain some notoriety. Deontay Wilder, nicknamed ‘The Bronze Bomber’, was laying rivals out with thunderous right hooks. For the first time since the days of Tyson, the nation boasted of a world-class heavyweight.

Wilder, desperate for a breakthrough performance, needed to take on a big name like Joshua. Contract negotiations between the two camps, however, failed time and again. While the Joshua camp claimed that Wilder made unrealistic financial demands, the Wilder camp accused Joshua of running scared and ducking the fight.

Redemption story

As Joshua and Wilder exchanged verbal barbs, Fury pulled himself out of a hole and embarked on a comeback journey for the ages. He lost around 65 kilograms, quit his vices, and reinvented himself as a spokesperson for mental health awareness, using his life-story to inspire many.

His second coming was fulfilled earlier this month, when he entered the squared circle to face Wilder. In what was a truly memorable fight, Fury and Wilder went all out in a controversial split decision draw.

The highlight came in the 12th and final round, when Wilder connected with a sweet left hook. An exhausted Fury fell to the canvas and looked out of it. But he rose from the dead to beat the count, prompting comparisons with WWE superstar Undertaker’s theatrical ‘sit up’. Not only did Fury survive the rest of the round, he landed some shots to finish on a high.

The drama at Staples Centre gained massive media attention, with Fury and Wilder hailed as warriors. But questions were being asked of Joshua, who not too long ago was the darling of the masses. Can he be considered the real champion when he hasn’t faced either Fury or Wilder?

Joshua has been quick to act, calling out Wilder in recent interviews. He is motivated by his desire to become the undisputed champion, and to do this, he needs to add Wilder’s WBC belt to his collection (he holds the three other major championships: the IBF, WBA (Super) and WBO titles).

Joshua, however, may have to wait for his chance. Given the tremendous success of the first fight, Fury and Wilder are likely to compete in a rematch at the earliest.

There may be delays, but there is no doubt that the three fighters will cross paths at some stage. Be it a Joshua-Wilder title bout, a Wilder-Fury rematch, or even a British super-fight between Fury and Joshua, there is a lot of money to be made, apart from the pride and legacy that is at stake. These are exciting times in the heavyweight division, and it’s been a long time coming.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 4:00:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/boxings-revival-a-long-time-coming/article25854654.ece

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