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Resetting the heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions — Who are the stars and which fights we’d like to see

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The coronavirus pandemic has brought the boxing world to a halt. Nearly all events worldwide are off through at least early May and more cancellations and postponements are expected to be announced in the upcoming days.

So for a year-round sport that never has a real offseason, this is a first. During this lull in the action, let’s check in on each boxing division and see where things stand. First up, the heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions:

Heavyweight

What’s the biggest question you have about this division?

Will we, in a timely fashion, get an undisputed world championship fight between three-belt titlist Anthony Joshua and whomever emerges as the winner of the third fight between world champion Tyson Fury and former titlist Deontay Wilder?

Joshua is due to face mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev on June 20 in London, but that fight is likely going to be postponed. AJ would have to win that fight and then probably handle a second mandatory bout against Oleksandr Usyk after that, assuming Usyk wins an interim fight against Dereck Chisora that is scheduled for May 23. That fight is also headed for a possible postponement.

On the other side of the bracket is Fury-Wilder III, which was supposed to take place July 18 but has been postponed for later in the year. However, the Fury-Wilder III winner and Joshua could meet for the undisputed and lineal crown sometime in the first half of 2021. The fighters, promoters and broadcasters say they are willing to make such a fight, but I will believe it when I see it.


Who is the star? Who is his biggest competitor?

The division has been a three-headed monster for the past couple of years with Fury, Joshua and Wilder. They all bring a lot to the table, although Wilder and Joshua have seen their stock take a hit due to knockout losses against Fury and Andy Ruiz Jr., respectively.

But the biggest star still remains Joshua, who is the one who can pack massive crowds into open-air stadiums even against second-tier opposition. He and Fury are both from England, but there is no dispute that Joshua is the bigger draw. So put AJ as the biggest star in the division with Fury — with fans on both sides of the pond — No. 2 and Wilder at No. 3.

Joshua’s biggest competitor will be the Fury-Wilder III winner. For the past few years there was a lot of focus on there being a Joshua-Wilder fight, but now a Joshua-Fury fight looms just as huge, especially in their home county of England.

Who is a potential dark horse?

Do not underestimate Usyk. The Ukrainian southpaw has the talent, pedigree, mental fortitude, speed and defense to have a big say in how this division will play out in the near future. Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, was the undisputed cruiserweight champion by virtue of unifying all four belts in the World Boxing Super Series in 2018 before he vacated the title to move up to heavyweight. A biceps injury limited him to only one fight in 2019 — a solid seventh-round knockout of veteran Chazz Witherspoon in Usyk’s heavyweight debut in October. Chisora should be more of a stern test, but one Usyk should be able to handle. And then he is supposed to get a shot at Joshua, assuming Joshua first beats Pulev. Usyk will rightly be the underdog, but if he bumped off Joshua, I would not consider it that big of an upset.

What fight do you need to see next in the division?

Obviously, the absolute must-see heavyweight fight is Joshua against the Fury-Wilder III winner, so let’s go for something beyond the no-brainer.

In my view, the two best prospects on the verge of doing serious things are England’s Daniel Dubois (14-0, 13 KOs) and Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic (10-0, 8 KOs). Dubois is already scheduled to fight unbeaten Joe Joyce in a dangerous fight. Hrgovic had an April 17 fight postponed, but once he gets back in the ring and wins another fight or two on the way up, I would love to see him take on a legit contender to show us how real he is. A really interesting crossroads fight would be Hrgovic against former titlist Joseph Parker.


Cruiserweights

What’s the biggest question you have about this division?

The departure of Usyk last year to become a heavyweight left the cruiserweight division lacking any must-see fights. But then the WBSS decided to go with another cruiserweight tournament in its second season and vanquished first-season participants Yunier Dorticos and Mairis Briedis were invited back. They each advanced to the final with each picking up a title along the way (though Briedis was stripped).

The biggest question is when will the final take place? It has already been long delayed. It was supposed to take place in December, which was already months later than planned. Then it was going to be March 21, but it was postponed until May 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that date is seemingly also in jeopardy and we’ll wait to see if they can ever finish this tournament.

Who is the star? Who is his biggest competitor?

Frankly, the division is devoid of a star. In the entire history of the division there have been few stars with the exception of Evander Holyfield and perhaps David Haye and Usyk. In today’s division, former two-time titlist Briedis is pretty much it and that is only in his home country of Latvia, where he is a superstar and major ticket seller. He has advanced to the WBSS final and is due to challenge Dorticos in a battle between the two best guys at 200 pounds — whenever boxing resumes.

Who is a potential dark horse?

England’s Lawrence Okolie (14-0, 11 KOs) is the division’s best up-and-comer and could make a lot of noise in the next few years. He’s big (6-foot-5), only 27 and ever improving even if he’s not the most exciting fighter in the division. He is coming off his biggest win, a seventh-round knockout of then-undefeated Yves Ngabu in October to win the European title, and he is in position to challenge for a vacant world title. Okolie probably will face former two-time titlist Krzysztof Glowacki in his next fight, whenever that might be.

What is a fight you need to see next in the division?

The Dorticos-Briedis winner will have established himself as the No. 1 guy in the division, but world titlist Ilunga Makabu, who makes good fights, is No. 3. Ideally, the Dorticos-Briedis winner will meet Makabu to unify their belts even though that is probably a long shot to happen.




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