Fury, Usyk, AJ, Wilder and the unsatisfactory shenanigans of the heavyweight division

So often the heavyweight division is seen as boxing’s flagship weight class, but it’s about time there was a little less conversation about it and a little more action.

Yes, we might finally, in late June, be on the brink of one or two announcements, but sadly they are unlikely lead to the most meaningful fights in the division.

Anthony Joshua is with DAZN and Matchroom, Deontay Wilder is with PBC and Showtime, Oleksandr Usyk recently signed with Saudi-based Skills Challenge while lineal ruler Tyson Fury is with Top Rank and ESPN.

Instantly, you can see where the problems lie. But aside from Fury-Usyk which was being publicly discussed earlier in the year, we haven’t even been threatened with any of the fights we truly want, and it says something when we are not even able to make the fights we don’t want.

There’s intense speculation that Joshua might sign for a rerun of his early pro career stoppage of Dillian Whyte, in an August fight that has limited appeal, partly because AJ has lost all manner of momentum and partly because Whyte was annihilated in six one-sided rounds by Fury and then eked by Jermaine Franklin on a majority decision in his only fight since. Whyte has a paycheck to gain, and Joshua would be afforded the chance to have another training camp with coach Derrick James, but it is not the easiest sell, particularly if you take away their grudge that goes back to an early amateur win Whyte had over AJ. Commercially, it’s so-so, and in terms of the overall heavyweight landscape, it’s not exactly pointless, but a steady and unspectacular win for AJ will lead us right back to where we are now.

Wilder is being linked with fellow PBC boxer Andy Ruiz. It’s a new fight, one we haven’t seen before, and it’s interesting to see if Wilder’s one-punch chances of win will be greater than Ruiz’s underrated chances of outboxing Wilder, using his faster hand speed and superior technique, but if Wilder lands that one big shot, we are right back to where we are now, too.

Usyk, with Skills, has several belts but has not been linked to fighting anybody since the Fury talks died earlier in the year – and then momentarily resurfaced. Fury-Usyk is probably the best fight that can be made in the division, the most meaningful, and one of the best boxing has to offer.

Alas, none of these fighters are getting any younger as they jostle for superiority around the negotiating table rather than the boxing ring.

Fury is being linked more to MMA fighters like Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones, which might mean an awful lot to a vast number of casual fans, and mixed martial arts supporters, but doesn’t mean a jot to the boxing aficionados.

Fury is being linked more to MMA fighters like Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones, which might mean an awful lot to a vast number of casual fans, and mixed martial arts supporters, but doesn’t mean a jot to the boxing aficionados. 

Usyk has fought Joshua twice, but no other major names. Joshua has not fought Fury or Wilder, the men he’s been most linked with over the last several years, and Fury’s resume without Wilder is awfully sparse.

As things stand, Usyk would make the Hall of Fame for his work at cruiserweight as well as wins over Joshua, Fury is probably a lock but based more on popularity than having an Ali-like record, AJ is probably not going in and Wilder probably depends on who else is on the ballot at the same time, given the prominence American fighters seem to garner from electors.

They would all make their cases stronger if they fought one another but so far, in 2023, only Joshua has boxed – a routine and unspectacular decision over Franklin in April. Fury has teased so many announcements that people aren’t even listening to his promises anymore, Usyk was widely condemned for signing with the Saudis and Wilder is doing what Wilder does, which is what he wants, when he wants.

The talking will have to stop soon enough. Joshua is 33, Wilder is 37, Fury is 34 and Usyk is 36. These might not even be prime years anymore, and it seems not many fighters are interested in being the ones who want to fight the best, but these guys not only have the ability to shape their own legacies but they can do it while helping the sport be as good as it can be, showing that boxing’s flagship division can be just that, and lead the sport by example.

Because as things stand, they are showing us how not to do it.