Mediocre But Competitive

Photo Credit: Richard Heathcote/GETTY

Read Time: 6 Minutes

Roughly two years ago I wrote a piece for the BOXRAW blog entitled Chaos is a Ladder: Navigating the Heavyweight Division. I have to say it has not aged particularly well but then again predicting outcomes in the sport of boxing is as complicated as Chinese Algebra.

I’ll give myself an out… 

What I had not accounted for was how poor the top five heavyweights would perform in those last two years. I did not account for the obstruction by the networks, streaming platforms & the sanctioning bodies they are in bed with.

I certainly did not account for Andy Ruiz Jr. who appeared in a one-sentence throwaway line more than halfway into my editorial. 

Regardless, the division possesses no more clarity than it did when I wrote the piece & the biggest fights in the division continue to fail to materialize barring Wilder vs. Fury I & II (as of this writing the two men are signed for the rematch to take place on February 22nd 2020) & the first fight was marred by controversy since many folks (myself included) feeling that Fury boxed Wilder’s ears off winning the fight quite comfortably despite the two knockdowns.

With any luck both Fury & Wilder will ‘make that walk’ in February, a clear winner will emerge & we can all put that piece of business behind us. 

When I wrote that article Tyson Fury had yet to return to the ring, hemmed up by his addictions & United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) who held long drug bans over his head. 

As it is well-documented Fury kicked his habits & kicked his ass into gear bypassing long time trainer -  uncle Peter Fury - for the much younger, unproven Ben Davison. The pairing worked as Fury dropped nearly 100 pounds, settled with UKAD, got reinstated by the British Boxing Board of Control & mounted a comeback. Fury had two knockout wins against Sefer Seferi & Francesco Pianeta about two months apart. Then came the shock announcement that he got a match with WBC champion Deontay Wilder. No one thought the rusty Traveler would match well against ‘the hardest puncher in boxing’ coming off a three-plus-year layoff & two lacklustre wins but I suppose from Fury’s perspective he likely thought he had no time to waste for exactly that reason. When Wilder & Fury met last year it was a largely dull affair with moments of action here & there but the fight went like many probably thought it would - Fury got behind a jab, used simple boxing tactics & mechanics to win round after round against Wilder who is dynamic & powerful in spots but lacks craft. The excitement came in the 9th & 12th rounds respectively when Deontay Wilder finally landed powerful shots forcing Fury to climb off the canvas making the fight far more interesting than it may have been otherwise. 

The fight under-promised but over-delivered, the poor PPV numbers bore that out, but the viral moments produced in the fight instantly gave the rematch narrative legs & is one of the most anticipated fights of 2020. Nevertheless, remember that Wilder-Fury I was not the fight we all wanted in the heavyweight division, it was the fight we got. 

It was, in fact, Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder that was seen beyond doubt as the most important fight in boxing, with AJ possessing all the belts but Wilder’s WBC title a true & legit lineage could be established with the two titans facing off. However, it never came to pass, posturing & insults & accusations flew back & forth between the two men & their camps instead of fists with both Wilder & AJ’s sides claiming contracts were sent, money was offered, deals rejected & so on. The fight continued to marinate.

In the meantime, all three men had tried to stay busy facing less than stellar opposition with the exception of AJ. 

Wilder dispatched Luis Ortiz seen as the boogeyman of the division but is overrated & with serious doubts about his health & legitimate age. Wilder went life & death with the old man before stopping him in the 10th round. Next he KO’d the overmatched Dominic Breazeale in one round & once again took down Ortiz who had won every round prior to the stoppage in the 7th about two weeks ago. 

Fury stopped Tom Schwartz in two rounds, the German heavyweight was not even ranked in the top 50 & was nearly stopped on a cut by Otto Wallin, a fighter ranked even lower than Schwartz. Fury on paper may have the skillset to beat Wilder in the rematch but hard to see how when Wilder has faced the better opposition, if that can be said about Breazeale & Ortiz, the bar is low indeed.

In the same period, while AJ vs Wilder continued to marinate, he defended his titles against Joe Parker & claimed the big Kiwi’s WBO belt. AJ then faced another feared heavyweight, the hard-punching Russian Alex Povetkin. Off the juice (hopefully) AJ had a scary moment or two but handed Povetkin a devastating 7th round TKO loss. 

AJ seemed at the height of his powers. 

The time was right for AJ to take the next step, come to America & like the Beatles & Duran Duran before him sell Rock & Roll back to us. The six-foot-six 240 plus pound adonis with the big toothy grin & good guy charm was poised to stake his claim as the next heavyweight boxing superstar - as vicious as Mike Tyson, as polite & classy as Wladamir Klitschko - AJ was just the right guy to Make Boxing Great Again. All that was needed was the right opponent - a bad guy - the polar opposite of AJ. 

Jarrell Big Baby Miller was chosen as the perfect opponent, cocky, brash, & a big old lump of a dude with footwork like a statue would be perfect cannon fodder. The initial press conference was great with all the pantomime & trash talk you could want in a heavyweight scrap - Miller played his part perfectly. The stage was set until only weeks before Miller was done for failing three drug tests for PEDs. Not a huge surprise in hindsight since the former kickboxer had done exactly that when fighting for European based Kickboxing promotion Glory.

The American debut would go forward regardless, but who could be found at such late notice to help AJ make his splash?

Enter Andy Ruiz jr. 

The floundering heavyweight who had only one shot at a world title previously when he faced the aforementioned Joe Parker for the vacant WBO title Down Under some three years prior campaigned on social media reaching out to Eddie Hearn through Instagram to get the shot. With less than two weeks to go the fight was signed, sealed & delivered for AJ to face Andy Ruiz Jr at Madison Square Garden on June 1st 2019 - a date which will live in infamy…

The fact that Wilder & Fury have carved a prosaic path back to a reasonably anticipated rematch.

The fact that Ruiz jr vs. Joshua II is as competitive & hard to pick as it is is all functions of the relatively mediocre era the heavyweight division is in right now. 

If Andy Ruiz Jr - no disrespect - can come in at late notice & hand AJ his ass… if Wilder can lose round after round to the one top 10 heavyweights he’s faced - twice… if Fury struggles against opposition outside the top 50 heavyweights then we are truly living in a mediocre but highly competitive era of heavyweight boxing! 

To say the least, there are so few true Rocky stories, the fantasy that a fighter grinding away for years & years can come out of nowhere to shock an establishment fighter is what many of us live for in the sport! 

Many of us saw the post-fight press conference, Ruiz thanked his mom & talked about how they will never have to struggle again financially - I don’t know about you but I respect the fuck out of that! 

Ruiz is living a dream. I almost always root for the underdog & Ruiz is an easy guy to cheer for. 

Repeat or Revenge - And Other Cliches of Boxing

The funny thing about this highly anticipated fight is it’s the easiest fight to break down/predict in recent memory.

For AJ to win he needs to be “big & boring,” what does that mean?

Two things that AJ did well in rounds one & two: he used his size & length well & worked behind the jab. In round Three when he landed the counter left hook that knocked Ruiz down he went into beast mode trying to finish - and to be sure AJ is a great finisher - one of the best in the sport, however, he’s used to guys going over, not being able to survive.

Ruiz with his short pudgy frame stayed compact & cool under fire inside of AJ’s most effective range (middle distance) but most importantly Ruiz FIRED BACK! This fact can’t be understated! Go back & watch the fight, AJ never landed a clean shot barring the left hook that scored the knockdown, a hard right straight when Ruiz got back to his feet WITHOUT Ruiz fearlessly firing back instantly.

AJ is a deeply flawed heavyweight, we’ve always known that. He’s too muscle-bound, he’s been known to gas because he’s very stiff & tense. But he was developing nicely as his wins over Takam, Parker & Povetkin illustrated. But all those flaws were exposed by Ruiz.

That phrase ‘exposed’ gets overused quite a bit these days, the frenzy that can be created by social media lemmings all attacking a fighter for one bad performance is often fierce & irrational. Not in this case.

Once AJ was hurt by the cuffing hook to the temple in round three AJ panicked. Of course, he was on wobbly legs, probably concussed, but the stoppage didn’t happen until four rounds later, I’m not saying AJ fully recovered in that time but critically AJ didn’t have a ‘plan B’ could not or would not follow trainer Rob McKraken’s advice. AJ could have, should have tried to tie Ruiz up & grapple ‘ala’ his former nemesis Wladamir Klitschko. AJ needed to get on his bike & rest behind a jab, take three rounds off, five rounds off, a fully recovered AJ could have possibly found a way to close the show late or at least last all 12 avoiding a damaging KO.

AJ could do none of it.

AJ’s biggest flaw could perhaps be a poor boxing IQ, Wilder gets a lot of stick for his piss poor technique & deservedly so, but he knows how to line up that right hand, he may be a one-trick pony but you can see him thinking in there finding a way - any way to land that one trick! When AJ was hurt instead of finding a way to recover that limbic system just told him to throw down in the pocket with Ruiz, negating his own size & reach advantage against a guy with faster hands & he got his ass kicked for his trouble.

Ruiz said in an interview within the last week leading up to the rematch this Saturday that I can’t let AJ grow a set of balls in there, I’m gonna jump on him right away.

Well, that’s it ladies & gentleman - no further commentary is really needed.

For Ruiz to win the rematch he just needs to do more of the same. He knows his man, psychologically he knows (at least believes) I took your best shots & got up, I gave you my best shots & you folded.

AJ is an athlete who is trying to be a fighter, while Ruiz is a fighter who can be a better athlete. If the recent pictures are any indication Ruiz is not about to do his best Buster Douglas impersonation & implode following a major upset & life-changing victory. Ruiz looks to have dropped about 20-30 pounds in camp, he’ll be faster than he was before, able to close the distance more easily & have better legs to pursue Joshua - to get right up in his face & make an ugly, dirty scrap like the last fight where he can let his hands fly.

I’m rooting for the underdog, not just because it’s a feel-good story but because the best fighter should be the best fighter, should be the champion.

I predict Ruiz to win again by stoppage this time between rounds 8-10. If that does happen it will be Al Haymon’s dream come true. Having satisfied the rematch against AJ, Haymon & the PBC will control all the titles & can choose if & when a unification bout between Deontay Wilder & Ruiz takes place. If the model the PBC has constructed with their stranglehold on the Welterweight division is any clue it’s unlikely we’ll get a unification bout of that magnitude. The proof is the PBC have frozen Bud Crawford out of a unification bout with Spence or Pacquiao - in a recent broadcast they didn’t even acknowledge Crawford, the WBO champion at all. 

The PBC could similarly freeze out Oleksandr Usyk (WBO heavyweight mandatory) & Dillian Whyte who has been Wilder’s mandatory challenger for about three years. Haymon & the PBC could conceivably lock up all four titles ad infinitum & if they ever host a unification bout between Wilder (should he beat Fury) & Ruiz it will be at their convenience & likely will only be after both guys have racked up a few more defences that the PBC will put on PPV of course - squeezing fans for even more money.

For AJ, following defeat against Ruiz there’s a real possibility he retires from the sport.

The evidence for my speculation is his share of the purse this weekend is rumoured to be in excess of $80 Million - a career-best & this is a guy with less than 30 fights who already averaged 20-plus million per fight. 

If AJ exits the sport after losing this Saturday that’s a mighty fine golden parachute to cash out on. 

I stand by my argument; the heavyweight division is wide open. Ruiz was plucked from oblivion & now stands to write his name into the history books once again, the very fact that this fight is as competitive as it is & that any of the top five heavyweights could be toppled in their next fight & have struggled mightily thus far against substandard competition proves for me we’re at a historic low point - doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining or enjoyable…

After all, Chaos Is A Ladder.