My thoughts on the 2019 Heavyweight Division

bigthree

So it’s 2019, and with that comes new year of expectations for the heavyweight division.  I’m  expecting that there will be an undisputed heavyweight champion in 2019…at least that’s what I hope. I’ve been retired for almost 15 years, and yet I still remain the last undisputed heavyweight champion. I think it’s long past time we see another undisputed champion in the heavyweight fold.  Let’s talk Heavyweight boxing!

The way I see it, at the top of today’s current crop of top heavyweights is Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, and Tyson Fury. Let’s call them the big three. They are at the very top of the division, and then there’s everyone else, who can be interchangeable, yet still dangerous, opponents.

You have Whyte, Parker, Brazeale, Jennings and Ortiz. All of these guys are solid fighters that have the potential to break through with a great fight. However, one major difference is that they aren’t physically built like the big three. Heavyweight bodies have grown bigger, taller and stronger over the years. In order to compete with, or beat any of the big three, these fighters must fight them very smart.

Physically, post modern heavyweights have broken the mold from the days that 6-foot champions ruled the roost. In today’s world, even my 6-5 frame is on the shorter side of the top guys. It’s getting harder and harder for the competition to physically match up with the big three, much like it was during the Klitschko era. The Klitschko’s dominated through a combination of size, strength and skills,which is a tough combination to beat.

There are others who are also rising in the ranks, like Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois, and Efe Ajagba, but have not really cracked that top tier plateau that’s going to drive pay per view ticket sales at this moment. Keep an eye out for them though.

So let’s take a deeper look at the landscape . As I’ve said before, Anthony Joshua is the man to beat in the division. He has strategically, and through hard work, collected all of the major belts out there, with the exception of the crown jewel, WBC belt, which is held by American, Deontay Wilder.

You also have to realize that Joshua was in this position because these are all the belts that were stripped from Tyson Fury after his episodes with mental health. Don’t forget, Tyson Fury is still “the man who beat the man”, which still makes him the lineal champ, and that does count for something, especially in the eye of the public.

Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, saw the opportunity to go get those belts after they were stripped from Tyson Fury, and they executed a good plan to do so. I thought this was a very good move on their part. It was an aggressive move, and it showed the world how hungry Joshua was for getting out ahead of the pack and making history.

But like I said at the time, once he becomes a champion, there is no more learning on the job with lower opponents. He’s going to have to start fighting the upper level competition. By becoming a champion, you put a target on your back. When you’re the king, and at top of the mountain, everybody wants to call you out from your throne, and you have to be ready each and every time. It’s the nature of the life.

I think Joshua has done a great job so far with every opponent he’s been placed in front of. He’s gained a lot of valuable experience, and beaten a lot of very good heavyweights, including Wladimir Klitschko, who looked much better against Joshua then he did against Fury.

At Joshua’s trajectory, I expected him to face Wilder in 2018. To my disappointment, those negotiations fell through. I’ve placed a lot of the onus on the “A-Side”, Hearn & Joshua for that fight not happening. During that time, when I heard Joshua saying he was in no rush to face Wilder, and might do so in 2019, 2020 or beyond, of course I was shocked at those comments. I understand that boxing is a business, but as a fan, I want to see the best fight the best, when they’re AT their best.  

Now I’m not privy to all of the details, and all of the back and forth between the Joshua and Wilder camps, but based on what I’ve heard, my opinion was that Joshua and Hearn needed to step up their game if this fight was going to happen. 

I’ve always said Joshua was the A-Side in a fight with Wilder, and as such, he should be able to name the date & place of their first fight. That being said, Joshua v Wilder is the biggest fight that can be made in the division today, and easily becomes one of the biggest in all of boxing. 

I thought it was ludicrous that Hearn started off by offering Wilder a paycheck for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, instead of a percentage, especially when you consider that they did a 65/35 split with Joseph Parker for a unification bout. 

It’s disrespectful to the fraternity of boxing, and the gains we have made getting fighters a larger percentage of what they put their lives on the line, and work so hard for. Too many past fighters, and champions, never came close to earning their proper piece of the pie. The game has since changed and fighters now have the ability to earn their proper share. Lets not turn back the clock to a time where the negotiators are reaping most of the benefits on the backs of the fighters.

I’m not just making a case for Wilder or Joshua’s purse, I’m making a case for ALL fighters who step in the ring. It doesn’t matter who negotiated their contract, at the end of day, the fighters are the only ones who step in the ring, and if things go wrong, are the only ones in the hospital fighting for their lives. 

Fighters work long and hard to put themselves into contention for championship opportunities, once you become a champion, of course you should reap the benefits. There is only so much leverage a contender has in earning a shot at the title.  When champions meet, there has to be respect, on both sides, for what has been accomplished by each champion.

Event fights are the super fights. They are the ones that seep into the consciousness of the general public. Floyd Mayweather is an astute businessman who knows the value of creating event fights. His bouts with Dela Hoya, Pacquiao and McGregor transcended hardcore boxing fans and brought casual fans out in record numbers. 

In all of those fights, Floyd’s opponents made more money than they EVER had in a single fight during their careers. Event fights need two huge names, in their own right, to come together and make it something special. If you notice, Mayweather’s PPV numbers fell off dramatically for his last fight with Andre Berto because Berto‘s name was just not big enough.

Hearn’s attempts to simply give Wilder a paycheck seemed a bit ludicrous for a history making fight, between two undefeated champions, for the UNDISPUTED heavyweight championship of the world.  I hate this nonsense argument that a fighter’s previous pay should dictate what they should, or could, earn in a potential event fight. 

People have argued that this would be Wilder’s biggest payday ever so he should just take the flat fee since it was many times more than his previous purses. Wilder is the WBC World Heavyweight Champion of the World. He holds the crown jewel in heavyweight boxing. He’s not a contender. That in itself deserves respect and a split. Also keep in mind that this would be Joshua’s highest pay day ever too. 

I think, in the event that both, Joshua and Wilder, are able to remain undefeated and face each other for the undisputed title, that the proper splits should be around 60/40 – 55/45 in Joshua’s favour for the first bout and 60/40 for the winner of first bout in a rematch.

The boogeyman in all of this has been Tyson Fury, who is now back on the scene and looking like his old self. His bout with Wilder was a great fight, and even though I thought Fury won the fight, the draw with Wilder has created a huge public interest in a rematch. WilderFury2 has the potential to make both, Wilder and Fury, more than either has ever made in a single fight. 

Whatever the case, this leaves Joshua odd man out until we have a winner between Wilder and Fury. It also leaves Joshua and Hearn in a lesser bargaining position with the winner of WilderFury2, which could have been avoided by putting an acceptable deal on the table with Wilder to begin with in 2018. 

By not doing so, Hearn and Joshua fumbled their opportunity to maintain full control of the division, and all of its big money, by letting Tyson Fury swoop in and fight Wilder in his own backyard. 

Now Team Hearn is doing “everything possible” to make the fight happen at a time when a rematch is of more interest to Wilder and Fury, and could prove to be very lucrative. You can’t tell a man he has no value, then when he goes off to create his own, spout on about how he won’t take your fight now. 

With the public interest for a Wilder Fury rematch, and the money that it can make, maybe in the $60m-$90m range, puts Joshua in the waiting game for the winner of the rematch. The winner will be able to go into a fight with Joshua on a much higher split, than what Joshua and Hearn had ever intended to do.

Joshua is the man to beat in the division. He’s a marketers dream and has great looks and personality. All this is great when packaging him as a product, but as a fighter who’s been there, I find it a bit difficult to understand why Joshua wasn’t as pressed to lift that WBC belt from Wilder as he was to get the IBF belt from Charles Martin.

Everybody has the right to be a champion in their own way so I wish him all the best. I just want to see him go after the undisputed title with the same urgency that he did to consolidate all the other belts. Of course boxing is a business, but there was usually no conflict in fighting the best and lining your pockets at the same time. In fact, I’ve found that fighting the best built my legacy, and also did well for my bank account. Fine wine baby!

Right now Joshua is a big fish swimming in a little pond. They are using the model that the Klitschko’s had in Germany and applying it to England. I’m not mad at that, but even the Klitschko’s fought in other countries. As a world champion, he has to come out of his comfort zone. I don’t blame him for being leery about coming to America, especially if you go by the bad judges decisions that happen there in so many fights, but at some point, if he wants to achieve a worldwide box office status, he will have to fight in front of audiences outside of the UK. The funny thing is that Joshua may truly be the best of the bunch, but we won’t know until he starts talking sense for the event fights.

I understand that promoters must have a plan mapped out for their fighters, and Eddie has done well by Joshua up to now, but at some point, you gotta stop milking the cow and let it go do what bulls do. It’s also on the fighter to take the bull by the “Hearn,” and say “make this fight!” That’s how legacies are built.

With Wilder Fury 2 happening, Eddie is now scrambling for a viable opponent for Joshua. If Joshua handles his business in April, the winner of Wilder Fury 2 should take on Joshua for the undisputed title. If that doesn’t happen, then we know that it’s just about milking the British fans for as much money as possible, instead of bringing the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world back home to them for the second time in their lifetime. Just that simple.

As for Wilder and Fury, I’m looking forward to the rematch and to see a great fight between two warriors. As a fan, I’m looking forward to seeing how the division gets sorted out, and when we have the emergence of one undisputed champion. I’m hoping the end of 2019, we will have our answers on just who that will be. 

I’ve recently heard Eddie Hearn talking about how he doesn’t like what I’ve said in regards to the Wilder negotiations in 2018. In my fighting years, I laced my gloves up in the ring for protection of myself and my opponents. Outside of the ring, there are no gloves. We don’t put pillows on to soften the blow. Eddie needs to put his big boy pants on and understand that criticism and scrutiny are a part of the game. No boxer or promoter is above it. Right or wrong, I’ve had my fair share also. It comes with the territory.

In my career, I created my own path, chose my own destiny, fought for everything I’ve earned, and achieved all I’ve set out for in the sport.  In my era, I sought out the best to prove I was the best.  So I don’t take it lightly when my hard earned reputation is put in question.  

I have no problem speaking my mind, which seems to hurt people’s feelings, but my views are not, and cannot, be swayed by a tv commentating contract, favour for a fellow Brit, jealousy of a new crop of talent, or the opinions of paid keyboard warriors.

I manage my character and everything surrounding Lennox Lewis. (Yep, third person.)  There’s no puppet master here. I just call it like I see it, like I always have. For those of you who push this false narrative, I invite you to join me here at my League of Champions Youth Boxing Camp, where, among other things, we teach integrity.

-LL


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