What boxing’s biggest division looks like ahead of a momentous month of fights

Boxing

Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua won’t clash this year as hoped, but both heavyweights each have a big-time challenge ahead of them in the coming weeks.

Joshua’s defense on Saturday against Oleksandr Usyk (5 p.m. ET, DAZN) and Fury’s trilogy fight with Deontay Wilder (Oct. 9, ESPN+ PPV) are part of a heavyweight resurgence that has sparked life into a sport that is only as strong as its glamour division. For years the weight class was lifeless, as Wladimir Klitschko’s safety-first style bored the masses and he faced opponents who possessed little hope of beating him. Fury and Joshua are the class of the division — and two of the biggest stars in boxing, period. But the excitement about the heavyweights truly stems from the division’s incredible depth.

Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, is one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world and has a chance against Joshua to prove he’s also an elite heavyweight. Wilder, the most fearsome puncher in all of boxing, gets one more crack at Fury. There’s also Andy Ruiz Jr., who shocked Joshua two years ago. He remains on the doorstep of another title shot. And let’s not forget Dillian Whyte, a star in the U.K. who continues to wait for his first title opportunity.

Currently, this is the healthiest the heavyweight division has been, about 15-deep, since the 1990s. As such, here’s a look at the heavyweight landscape with an eye on the big fights, the contenders waiting in the wings, the prospects ready to make their move and even a couple of sleepers.

Champions:

Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs, 33 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 1 (No. 6 pound-for-pound)

Fury is the best heavyweight in the world, a massive man at 6-foot-9, 270 pounds who can box off the back foot, as he proved in the Wilder rematch when he scored the knockout with relentless pressure.

The new wrinkle to his game that Fury unveiled will make him that much more difficult to strategize against. If Fury can dispose of Wilder one more time, he’ll have cemented his status as the best heavyweight, at least for now. That recognition won’t truly be recognized until he meets Joshua once and for all, in what shapes up as one of the biggest heavyweight superfights of all time.

For now, Fury isn’t just on top of the rankings; he’s also the second-biggest boxing star in the U.S., after Canelo Alvarez (Joshua is No. 2 globally). As a larger-than-life character, Fury’s antics and exposure fighting on ESPN have lifted his profile considerably. Now he just needs activity. Somehow, he’s never made a heavyweight title defense despite now being on his second reign. His first reign started with a victory over Wladimir Klitschko before an extended hiatus.


Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs, 31 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 2

The unified heavyweight champion is the biggest box-office draw in the world who consistently fights before sold-out stadium audiences. His fight with Usyk will be no different, with more than 60,000 fans in attendance at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Now in his second reign, Joshua will be competing in his 11th title fight.

AJ is battle-tested and proven, with victories over Klitschko, Whyte, Alexander Povetkin and, most recently, Kubrat Pulev. The TKO loss to Ruiz created a lot of doubt, particularly surrounding Joshua’s chin, and those questions are still out there. However, he proved in the rematch he could execute a disciplined game plan by being light on his feet as he boxed and moved with his jab, keeping him out of harm’s way.

Wilder is the sport’s biggest puncher, but don’t sleep on Joshua’s brutal power. He’s knocked out all but two foes (Ruiz and Joseph Parker), and with his immense size and strength, he’s a handle to deal with on the inside. A convincing victory over Usyk, whom many experts tab to spring the upset, would only solidify his standing as one of the two best heavyweights in the world.


Former champions

Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs, 35 years old)

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Heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder was born and bred in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the Crimson Tide reigns supreme. Move over, Mike Tyson, Wilder is here to show there is a new king in town.

ESPN ranking: No. 3

Wilder loves to say that his opponents need to be perfect for all 12 rounds, yet he only needs to be perfect for one second. And it’s true. His power is so awesome that he can crumble his foes with only one shot.

Only Fury didn’t need to be perfect for all 12 rounds, because the beating he laid on Wilder in last year’s rematch caused trainer Mark Breland to throw in the towel in the seventh round. Breland is now off Team Wilder; Jay Deas was formerly the top trainer. Now, former Wilder foe Malik Scott is leading camp, and promises Wilder will be better than ever on Oct. 9.

He’ll have to be against Fury after all the excuses Wilder has offered for the loss, ranging from the bizarre (his elaborate costume was too heavy and drained his legs) to the truly unbelievable (Fury’s gloves contained an egg weight). That wasn’t all. Wilder also claimed that his water was spiked.

The real reason Wilder lost: He had no answer for Fury’s nonstop pressure. In the first fight, Fury boxed off his back foot and seemingly won every round besides the ninth and 12th, the frames in which Wilder scored knockdowns. If Wilder is going to exact revenge, he’ll surely need to finish Fury this time, and there’s no doubt he’s capable of doing so.


Andy Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22 KOs, 32 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 5

Ruiz was laughed off as a late replacement for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller two years ago, but then he went ahead and stopped Joshua, surviving a knockdown to do so. Entering the rematch to defend those belts, he was grossly out of shape, ballooning in weight to 283.5 pounds (Ruiz was 268 for their first fight).

Following the disappointment in Saudi Arabia, Ruiz linked with Eddy Reynoso (Canelo Alvarez’s trainer) and was in much better condition for his May victory over Chris Arreola. Ruiz had a tougher-time-than expected in that fight, though — he was dropped in Round 2 and the first half of the bout was a slugfest.

That action style endears Ruiz to fans, but he’ll now need to prove the win over Joshua wasn’t simply a fluke. He needs a proper opponent to show he’s truly one of the best heavyweights in the world.

The Mexican-American had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last month, and is expected to return in December, sources told ESPN. Two opponents being discussed: Charles Martin and Luis Ortiz, per sources. A victory over Martin won’t do much to solidify Ruiz’s standing in the sport, but a convincing victory over Ortiz certainly would.


Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs, 34 years old)

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Oleksandr Usyk lands a powerful left hand that sends Tony Bellew to the canvas in the eighth round for a knockout victory.

ESPN ranking: No. 4 (No. 8 pound-for-pound)

Usyk’s boxing ability can’t be doubted, as he’s an Olympic gold medalist with excellent footwork, a pinpoint accurate jab and impressive ring IQ. At cruiserweight, he was unstoppable.

But at heavyweight, there are plenty of questions surrounding his size, strength, heavyweight chin and his ability to generate enough power to gain his foe’s respect. Against Derek Chisora, Usyk appeared to have issues with Chisora’s superior size and power. Perhaps he just needed more time to settle into his new division.

Fortunately, we’ll discover answers to all those questions when he faces Joshua, a strong, hard-punching heavyweight with plenty of size and boxing ability. If Usyk can score the upset — or even hang with Joshua and last the distance — we’ll know that the Ukrainian is now a legit heavyweight.


Joseph Parker (21-2, 21 KOs, 29 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 7

Since his disputed decision win over Ruiz in December 2016 to win a heavyweight title, Parker hasn’t done much to suggest he’s one of the 10 best fighters in the division. He wasn’t remotely competitive with Joshua, though he did last the distance. He then dropped a decision to Whyte in his next fight, salvaging the performance with a 12th-round knockdown.

Parker’s next appearances were strategic. He feasted on four opponents far below the top level, then scored another disputed decision, this time against Chisora in May. Parker and Chisora meet again in December, and the winner should be lined up for a more meaningful fight in 2022.


Contenders

Dillian Whyte (28-2, 19 KOs, 33 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 6

Whyte’s resume is one of the best in the division, with victories over Parker, Povetkin and Chisora. He’s a big puncher, but proved in the first fight against Povetkin that his reckless style often makes him vulnerable, too.

He avenged that loss in March via fourth-round TKO, and now prepares for a stern test against the underrated Otto Wallin on Oct. 30 in London. If Whyte can triumph, he’ll surely be in line for a title shot next year, right?

Despite being the WBC’s No. 1 contender for years, Whyte never received a title shot, watching less deserving boxers receive their crack over the years. Fury, the current WBC champion, said he’d like to squeeze in a fight with Whyte between bouts with Wilder and Joshua, but we’ll see if that actually comes to fruition.


Joe Joyce (13-0, 12 KOs, 36 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 8

The 2016 Olympic silver medalist, despite turning 36 this week, was regarded as a prospect until last year. He shed the label with an upset victory over Daniel Dubious, breaking the hot prospect’s left orbital en route to the stoppage.

Joyce is hulking at 6-foot-6, 260-plus pounds, but is equally as slow. Still, he’s not just all brute strength — his jab was the key weapon against Dubois. He always absorbs a lot of punishment, and that was the case in his TKO win over Carlos Takam in July, but his chin seems to be made out of granite.

Joyce now needs another step-up in completion, and has been calling for a fight with Ortiz. A fight with Whyte would be compelling next year if they both win their next bouts.


Michael Hunter (20-1-1, 14 KOs, 33 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 9

Hunter’s lone professional loss came in a cruiserweight title fight against Usyk in 2017, his final fight in the division. In nine heavyweight fights, he’s faced only one world-class opponent and it resulted in a draw with Povetkin (in 2019) that he arguably won.

Hunter is a skilled boxer with excellent footwork and a great jab, but there are questions — just like with Usyk — surrounding his smaller frame. In an August TKO victory over journeyman Mike Wilson, Hunter showed off his power with a devastating knockdown.

Hunter is the only fighter signed with Triller Fight Club, and he’s set to return Nov. 2 against Mark De Mori, sources said. Like Wilson, De Mori won’t put up much of a fight and won’t tell us too much about Hunter, who has a chance to prove he’s the best American heavyweight in due time.


Luis Ortiz (32-2, 27 KOs, 42 years old)

ESPN ranking: No. 10

At 42 Ortiz is clearly in the twilight of his career and he desperately needs a big fight to prove he’s still one of the best. His only losses came against Wilder, and in both bouts, he was winning every round until he was knocked out.

The big man was ringside at Ruiz’s victory over Arreola in May and hopes to land a fight with the former champion. That’s a fight that should be easy enough to make. Ruiz and Ortiz are both aligned with PBC and are both managed by Luis DeCubas Jr.


Otto Wallin (22-1, 14 KOs, 30 years old)

ESPN ranking: Unranked

A massive underdog when he faced Fury in September 2019, Wallin proved he could hang on the top level, creating a nasty pair of cuts over Fury’s right eye and bringing the fight to the champ through all 12 rounds.

Now Wallin has a shot to prove the performance against Fury was no fluke with an Oct. 30 assignment against Whyte in London. Wallin is a rangy southpaw at 6-foot-5 and loves to scrap. Wallin is more than a live underdog against Whyte.


Prospects to watch:

Jared Anderson (9-0, 9 KOs, 21 years old)

ESPN ranking: Unranked

Anderson hasn’t had a step-up bout yet, but he’s looked impressive so far, showing off big power and good movement. His win over Kingsley Ibeh in February was a highlight-reel KO, and now he prepares for his greatest exposure yet with a fight against undefeated Russian Vladimir Tereshkin in the Fury-Wilder PPV opener.

Anderson is promoted by Top Rank and managed by James Prince. He figures to land a measuring-stick fight next year.


Filip Hrgovic (13-0, 11 KOs, 29 years old)

ESPN ranking: Unranked

The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist has impressed with knockouts of journeymen like Eric Molina and Ryder Booker, and like Anderson, still needs a step-up fight to prove he’s legit.

Hrgovic is co-promoted by Eddie Hearn and Kalle Sauerland, and figures to continue to gain big exposure on key undercards as he sharpens his tools.


Tony Yoka (11-0, 9 KOs, 29 years old)

ESPN ranking: Unranked

The 2016 Olympic gold medalist might be the most impressive of the prospect crop, and also the boxer farthest along in his development.

He was suspended for one year in 2018 after missing at least three doping tests, stymieing his development, but has been active since with six fights. He also faced some stiff competition for a prospect with a first-round TKO victory over Johann Duhaupas, and a 10-round decision over Christian Hammer.

Like Anderson, he’s promoted by Top Rank and managed by Prince.


Bakhodir Jalolov (8-0, 8 KOs, 27 years old)

ESPN ranking: Unranked

Despite having only eight pro fights, Jalolov competed in his second Olympics this summer and this time came out on top, defeating American Richard Torrez to claim the super heavyweight gold medal.

Now, Jalolov returns to the paid ranks with his sights on a heavyweight title run. He’s massive at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds southpaw, has shown tremendous power, and, of course, has the amateur pedigree.

He’s living and training in Brooklyn. He’s promoted by Lou DiBella, with Vadim Kornilov guiding his career.

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