By T.R. Lewison
2017 already feels like a watershed year in the world of boxing, and with discussions underway to conjure further big fights in the New Year, 2018 may yet surpass even the high points of the past twelve months. The best are beginning to realise the commercial benefit of fighting each other; from flyweight to the new generation of giants contesting belts in boxing’s blue riband weight class, the heavyweights.
The rise of Anthony Joshua has been the story of the sport’s heaviest division in recent months, as the Briton has stormed to prominence and sporting superstardom with his efforts in the ring and likeability factor outside of it. AJ’s defeat of legendary fighter and future Hall of Fame world champion Wladimir Klitschko, and the drama contained in the 11th round victory, gave him the platform he needed to propel himself beyond the confines of boxing and become a transcending ambassador for the sport.
That incredible win in front of 90,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium has catapulted Joshua to superstardom, as the ‘face’ of the heavyweight division, and the most lucrative attraction within boxing. Only a rematch between the red-headed Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin could come close to eclipsing the commercial bonanza the 28-year old Englishman has become. A busy 2017 of fights coming to a close with Joshua’s stoppage success over stand-in opponent Carlos Takam and Wilder’s destruction of Stiverne (see above), the Tony Bellew v David Haye contest notwithstanding, and attentions have turned to lining up the big bouts in 2018.
Joshua’s promoter and head of Matchroom Boxing, Eddie Hearn, has already been entering into negotiations with the various hopeful parties. It will be a game of contractual ‘cat and mouse’ as the players strategise the most lucrative sequence for their own fighter.
The big one every fight fan wants to see is Joshua against fellow Brit Tyson Fury of course, but with the latter only just beginning the quest to unwrap the prizefighter swaddled beneath two years of bad living, other opponents appear on the nearer horizon for ‘AJ’. WBO titleholder Joseph Parker is, of course, a possible option, but a clash with fellow undefeated champion Deontay Wilder, the proud owner of the WBC crown, is the one showdown even the politics of governing bodies and nerves of promoters can not resist in 2018.
Hearn recently gave boxing fans some indication of what’s to come, having admitted that talks with Wilder’s representatives went smoothly and the pair will “100 percent” fight at some point next year. This will be music to fight fans’ ears.
But can Wilder beat the reigning IBF and WBA champion? Paddy Power make the unbeaten American the 11/4 outsider (in their boxing odds) to emerge victorious in such a unification encounter in 2018. The pair have already begun trading verbal insults, with both parties realising the inevitability of their contest and the necessity of it if they are to prove their standing as the king of the division, and potentially, their era. A little media heat never hurt a fighter’s purse.
Few could doubt Wilder’s ability to hurt AJ when they finally trade leather inside the squared-circle, but his technique has been questioned and sometimes mocked despite his long unbeaten record. Ironically, the wild and unorthodox style he has employed to dismantle and overwhelm his previous foes may offer opportunities for Joshua to pick off the American champion.
However, as the old boxing truism reminds us; at heavyweight, one punch is all it takes. Although Wilder’s stock rose in the violence of his most recent victory he will likely remain the underdog for a Joshua match-up. But he will bring plenty of potential for success and AJ, particularly when electrified by adrenaline, is prone to giving any one a chance. Wilder will punish him more, even than Klitschko, if he does.
Let’s hope 2018 delivers the opportunity for everyone to find out.