Only the most faithful narcissist could conjure reasons why the current buoyancy of the sport, particularly in Europe, is not unprecedented and, seemingly, irresistible. These mole-eyed killjoys are often compelled to remind the frothy new members of the ‘Fancy’ that stadium fights are not a 21st century invention. Further, they point to different periods of the 18th and 19th century when champions of the prize ring were feted and known around the globe long before their image and actions could be bounced from a satellite or appear in miniature and unfathomable immediacy in your hand.
There was, after all, a John L Sullivan, before there was a Johnson, or a Dempsey or a Louis. An Ali and Tyson before a Joshua, though all too obvious and too topical to reference given the frisson the die-hards feel at confounding the sport’s ‘tanked up’ new casuals with tales of the more obscure and obtuse credentials of Langford and Wills, Briscoe or Lopez.
One unbroken thread connecting the modern day, high definition-boxing world with the golden and black and white eras of the past is an appetite for betting on the outcome of fights. The Irish Boxing Betting guide offers hope and guidance for those looking for markets on fights, and in 2018 there is genuine expectation of a series of super fights, to rival the classic encounters of centuries past to which those same die-hards still cling, materialising for boxing fans old and new.
Here are five of the best battles in prospect for 2018.
5 – Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker
As a bout between two unbeaten world title-holders, there are few precedents for this clash between the sport’s biggest ‘cash-cow’, Joshua, and the World Boxing Organisation ‘champion’, Joseph Parker. More than 70,000 people will pack the stadium in Cardiff to herald a contest couched in the inherent absurdity of multiple champions in a single division but defined by the unification those plethora of governing bodies all too rarely facilitate.
Joshua’s remaining flaws, revealed, if overcome, in contests with Whyte, Klitschko and Takam – that he fights emotionally and over-exerts in doing so – offer hope to Parker, a man with mediocre gifts but an unerring consistency and drive.
4 – Tyson Fury v Deontay Wilder
In the maelstrom of his victory over Wladimir Klitschko, a widely unexpected triumph of mobility, hand speed, self-confidence and no-little skill, it is easy to forget that Tyson wasn’t a stadium-size ticket selling phenomenon in the way Joshua and victim Klitschko became and had been, respectively.
It could be argued his renown has grown in his enforced, and self selecting absence and his off-stage presence, as the inconvenient villain in the Anthony Joshua narrative, offers him ever more leverage in the heavyweight landscape he returns too than even he had as the undisputed champion. However, by opting to fight on BT Sport under the guidance of Frank Warren, it does create an additional obstacle to a clash with the popular IBF/WBA belt holder.
In this alone, a clash with American Deontay Wilder appears more likely to emerge in 2018, though Fury must first box and win and Wilder must overcome the potentially difficult challenge of defeating Luis Ortiz. If Ortiz can avoid further drug related indiscretions in the build up. It has become hip to favour Wilder in any clash with Joshua recently, but a contest with Fury carries even more uncertainty for those minded to wager on the outcome.
3 – Gennady Golovkin v Saul Alvarez
A rematch is inevitable between the two middleweights and would be a healthy next step in boxing’s continued renaissance, representing as it would, a return to the heady days of the 70s and 80s when the Four Kings, Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran fought and rematched and captivated the boxing world. Too often, in the modern era, classic contests are missed, fighters too inactive and too keen to manoeuvre and moderate risk in the pursuit of longevity and remuneration.
Both fighters drew positives from their opener, and despite Golovkin being the consensus victor irrespective of the contentious official verdict, Alvarez, as the younger, fresher fighter, may open as favourite if their May 5th clash is confirmed.
2 – Amir Khan v Kel Brook
There is a British bias to the selection of what is, frankly, a fight, like its two protagonists, which is three years past its best. However, with Brook’s every comment heavily swaddled in swansong, there is a sense the two bitter rivals may, belatedly, face each other this year. If they do not, it may be gone forever.
It remains a competitive bout on the evidence we have of their respective careers, Brook dimmed by his encounters with Golovkin and Spence, Khan’s tools dormant and unburnished following his loss to Alavarez two years ago. Surely the excuses; whether they be weight, promoters, network or contractual detail must be overcome or both fighters risk the weight of regret in their respective retirements.
1 – Usyk/Breidiss v Gassiev/Dorticos
As my number one potential fight of 2018, this contradicts many of the truisms of boxing; heavyweights are always the biggest attraction, there has to be an American/Mexican for the bout to capture the ‘whole’ boxing market and lastly, Cruiserweight is a dead-end division – not to mention the over-arching scepticism with which the whole boxing world met the World Boxing Super Series concept, of which these match-ups are the crescendo.
However, it cannot be overlooked that this sequence of bouts features four unbeaten fighters, all of whom are custodians of one of the four significant belts, AND is contracted to happen. It is this sense of certainty which helps secure my number one spot for the biggest potential bout of 2018.
Oleksandr Usyk is the consensus favourite, and is assumed to complete this competition and in victory pursue the riches available in the heavyweight division – he will be a clear and present danger to whoever holds the belts in the weight class above by year end.
In most eras until the 60s, these 200lb fighters would have BEEN the heavyweight division, and their fights often provide pulsating work rates the modern day heavyweight struggles to match.
And even with the individual talents put to one side and the historic indifference to the Cruiserweight division acknowledged, the structure of this innovative year-long tournament – its success in engaging the champions into a defined knockout tournament – presents the real possibility of changing the face of boxing as we know it.
To that end, the final of this tournament, and its 168-pound sibling, are the biggest, most significant fights on the horizon in 2018.