The heavyweight division is one of the glamour divisions of the sport of boxing. It was once said that if someone was knocked out, the questions you’d ask them in the United States to see if they had their cognitive senses, would be ‘Who is the president of the United States, and who is the heavyweight champion of the world?’
Though we are not living in the glory days of Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, or Larry Holmes, the heavyweight division is still a major driver for the sport of boxing’s future. When the heavyweight division is interesting and active - the sport as a whole is in a better place.
Currently, we have some of the most interesting figures we have seen in some time, at least since the Wladimir Klitschko of over a decade. Now the question becomes how active are the fighters going to be in 2023.
The heavyweight division can be broken down into four tiers at the world-class level, and even with such an extensive list, most have not fought as we approach the fifth month of the year. So in other words, halfway through the year (almost) we still have a big cloud over the division most casual fans have the most interest in.
Let’s look at the current tiers.
Fighters In This Tier: Tyson Fury, and Oleksandr Usyk
Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk have run the gauntlet to sit in the position of being the best of the era. Both are heavyweight champions, Usyk holds three of the four major world titles, the WBA, WBO, and IBF, whereas Fury is the WBC world champion and lineal champion since he ended
Usyk very well could be the best cruiserweight in the history of the sport, becoming an undisputed world champion on the road defeating each challenger as a part of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. Usyk would then defeat Anthony Joshua in consecutive fights - which has now given him the accolades as one of the best in the division, though he will never be the star that Joshua is, Usyk will forever be a footnote in the career Joshua, who now has a career in turmoil after that loss.
Fury has been all over the place. Fury outboxed Wladimir Klitschko in November of 2015 to end the eleven-year title reign of Klitschko. After the bout, Fury left the sport, gained weight, battled depression, then lost the massive amount of weight he had gained, only to return to the sport in 2018, to conclude the year with a draw with Deontay Wilder on pay-per-view, that a lot of fans felt that he won. Fury would knockout Wilder two times after that in a heavyweight trilogy spanning 2020-2021.
Though Fury’s two fights in 2022 kept him active against Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora, neither felt the caliber of opposition that we hoped for as Fury obviously one of the best fighters in the division, if not the best and now we have one last unanswered question. How does he do against Usyk?
Fury was rumored to be fighting Zhilei Zhang prior to the announcement of Joe Joyce activating his rematch clause with Zhang, so now we will just wait and see what happens next.
Usyk has actively pursued a fight with Tyson Fury, offering to take less money, and just putting a lot of pressure on Fury for the fight to be made. The rumor is these two will fight each in December in Saudi Arabia on a “super-card”
Fighters In This Tier: Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder
Most didn’t see the division panning out this way, but the culturally beloved figures of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, who respectively have their nations have had a setback.
Joshua lost to clear fights via a decision to Oleksandr Usyk, and after having a draw with Tyson Fury, Wilder was knocked out in back-to-back fights when looking to defeat Fury.
This was seen in 2018 as what now Fury versus Usyk stands out at now, as who is the best in the division. Though both fighters still beat more opponents than they lose to, they are in the same spot. They have lost to the best of the era, twice, and now need a major win to propel themselves back up to the top of the division.
If they were to fight someone who is ranked lower, or perceived lower they’d be giving away a lot in terms of exposure and viability without gaining much in return. So, hopefully, this means that both fighters will fight each in December which is what it seems like will happen.
Fighters In This Tier: Zhilei Zhang, Joe Joyce, Frank Sanchez, Andy Ruiz Jr., Martin Bakole, and Jared Anderson.
These are the fighters who are really in a weird position, many could beat a fighter ranked above them, but for whatever reason hasn’t landed that fight. In Andy Ruiz Jr.’s case, he defeated Anthony Joshua. The fighters in this tier either are high-risk, low-reward fights, or a fighter who isn’t viable market attractions to complement a big-name star at the top of the division.
Frank Sanchez is the best example of this, off the eye test looks like a top-5 heavyweight, yet early rumors have him facing Chris Arreola in a fight that forces many to wonder why that is happening other than Sanchez is struggling to find a suitable opponent. This comes after he fought early in the afternoon this year stopping Daniel Martz in one round, in a stay-busy fight.
Zhieli Zhang was hoping to land a summertime fight with Tyson Fury, but Joe Joyce activated his rematch clause with him - as Zhang, the 40-year-old puncher is looking to finish his career off with a “Big Bang” just like his nickname. Zhang hits hard and is more fundamentally sound than he gets credit for.
Joyce was viewed as the next guy up in the division given his entertaining style, and destructive performance against Joseph Parker, but as stated above now is more than likely going to spend all of 2023 fighting Zhieli Zhang.
Martin Bakole defeated Tony Yoka and is a massive heavyweight who causes issues with many fighters. He recently signed with Boxxer, but when he gets a chance against a big name is anyone’s guess. Bakole’s only loss was to Michael Hunter, and that was probably when Hunter was in his absolute prime as well. Bakole will probably have to wait on a mandatory title fight to get his big fight.
Andy Ruiz Jr., has the biggest win of any in this division, yet has done nothing with it. After becoming the feel-good story of the year when he knocked out Anthony Joshua, Ruiz Jr. returned to the ring to face Joshua in the rematch looking very heavy and out-of-shape. His last performance against Luis Ortiz was a forgettable fight. Before the Ortiz fight, Ruiz Jr fought Chris Arreola in another performance that will not be rumored much. Ruiz Jr. will forever be famous, because of his one glorious night, but the comparisons to “Buster” Douglas are becoming more real after every passing year.
Jared Anderson is now the main event fighter, who is fighting on July 1st, in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, against Zhan Kossobutskiy. Anderson, who is an undefeated thirteen-fight pro fighter, with all of his wins coming by way of knockout, is someone that Top Rank Inc. is looking to push it appears, and hence why he is listed above others. The talent looks real, and even more so, it appears Top Rank Inc., and ESPN are willing to back him which gives him a huge edge over many.
Fighters In This Tier: Joseph Parker, Luis Ortiz, Filip Hrgovic, Daniel Dubois, and Dillian Whyte.
This is the tier in which you still see world-class talent, but you also have noticeable adversities each fighter has to overcome.
Former heavyweight world champion, Joseph Parker, was brutally stopped by Joe Joyce, and though he was competitive with Anthony Joshua in his prime, his loss to Dillian Whyte stands out like a sore thumb. Parker might be someone that in a year or so faces a fighter like Jared Anderson to see where he stacks up against the top of the division.
Luis Ortiz probably doesn’t even fight anymore as I haven’t heard anything about him as of late, but Ortiz’s career is rather sad. Ortiz was largely avoided for most of his career as he looked the part of a world champion, without being one. When he got the big fights they didn’t go his way, as Deontay Wilder stopped him twice, and Andy Ruiz defeated him last year.
Filip Hrgovic holds a win over Zhieil Zhang but looked atrocious in the fight. The split-decision win for Hrgovic saw him go from boogeyman of the division to wondering how his durability will last over time as Hrgovic looked strange at times when facing Zhang’s power. Despite the win, Hrgovic has been relegated down a tier based on the perception of the fight.
Not unlike Hrgovic, Daniel Dubois was once thought of as the future of the heavyweight division, but a brutal stoppage loss to Joe Joyce followed by his most recent outing seeing Kevin Lerena dropping him, makes it feel like Dubois has to really change something fast to advance to the top of the sport. Dubois is rumored to be in a world title fight with Oleksandr Usyk if Usyk were to fight in the summer, and not just wait for the rumored December heavyweight super-fight card in Saudi Arabia.
Dillian Whyte has always been a fan-favorite for his exciting style and big power, but Whyte’s style of being in a lot of hard fights seemingly has caught up to him, as he looked to be declining in his previous fight against Jermaine Franklin, a fight he won, but didn’t make any new fans in the process with.