Let’s begin by taking a moment to ruminate on the age old question, “Why are boxing fans so interested in the heavyweight division?” The most obvious answer is that’s where the action is. The heavyweight division traditionally serves up adequate helpings of danger, drama and divisive characters in equal measure.
There has been no shortage of heavyweight drama in the last seven days, which began with the current WBA/WBO heavyweight Tyson Fury making a public apology for controversial remarks he made during a 57 minute clip which had been uploaded on YouTube.
A few days later Fury put himself up for sale on the online auction website eBay, allegedly fell out with his uncle and trainer Peter Fury over an incident in sparring, before dismissing the apparent bust up as a ‘wind-up.’
The champion’s erratic behaviour can hardly be described as contributing to ideal preparations ahead of his hotly anticipated rematch with Wladimir Klitschko on the 9th July in Manchester.
Elsewhere in the division, WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder was forced to postpone his title defence against Alexander Povetkin in Russia this weekend when the challenger failed a pre-fight drugs test.
Povetkin’s A-sample tested positive for meldonium, the same substance that resulted in Maria Sharapova’s ban from Tennis. Meldonium had been added to the World Anti-Doping Authority banned list in 2015, and similar to Sharapova, Povetkin is protesting his innocence saying he used the substance when it was still legal.
Wilder who had been training in Sheffield in preparation for this mandatory defence was furious and it was later reported in Boxingscene.com that Wilder is prepared to go to court to ensure Povetkin’s promoter Andrei Ryabinsky pays him the $4.6 million he is owed for the fight.
The relative stability that the heavyweight division enjoyed over the last fifteen years under the reign of the Klitschko brothers is a distant memory, but perhaps that is a sad indictment of that era. The Klitschko’s dominance to a degree stifled any genuine drama in the division.
During their prime the Ukrainian brothers were too big and skilful for the distinctly average challengers they faced. However with Tyson Fury’s upset in Germany last November there is a sense that a new era is dawning in the heavyweight division, one that could restore real excitement in the hearts of boxing fans.
The excitment begins with two significant heavyweight fights this weekend. The first involves Joseph Parker (18-0, 16 KOs) who takes on Carlos Takam (33-2-1, 25 KOs) at the Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau City. This is an IBF eliminator which will earn the winner a shot at Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title.
Parker 24, has fought for the majority of his career in his native New Zealand. Undoubtedly, he wields genuine knockout power but he tends to overwhelm his opponents with his short hooks and angles. Parker’s technical ability and chin has yet to be tested against a top drawer opponent. The most recognisable names on his resume are; journeyman Brian Minto who he stopped in seven in 2014 and a faded Frans Botha who he clubbed into submission in two rounds in 2013.
Parker faces a sterner test in Takam who is regarded as something of a human windmill in the boxing ring. Takam 35, holds weight and reach advantages over his younger opponent. He is perhaps the better ring technician and carries an impressive record with stoppage wins over Michael Grant, Michael Sprott, Frans Botha and a points victory over former two time world title challenger Tony Thompson.
Takam’s tenth round knockout loss to the aforementioned Povetkin was regarded as one of the best fights of 2014, if not recent years. He is a genuine threat, with his movement, defence and pressure but up until most recently he has been on the comeback trail and fighting eight rounders. This will be his first step up in class against a top ten ranked heavyweight since the Povetkin loss.
Parker will perhaps enter the fight as the favourite. He will have the edge in power and the gulf in class may not be as great considering the highest profile wins for Takam were against opponents long past their prime. Still, Takam is the type of fighter who will go out on his shield and this will be a genuine test of Parkers credentials.
The other prominent heavyweight in action this weekend is former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye (27-2, 21 KOs) who continues his comeback against Arnold Gjergjai (29-0, 21 KOs) in a fight scheduled for ten rounds at the O2 Arena.
Gjergjai enters the ring with an impressive undefeated record but this has largely been built on fighting European journeymen. The most recognisible name on his record is Denis Bakhatov, who was dispensed with by Anthony Joshua in two rounds in November 2014. Bakhatov took Gjergjai the distance and even had him on the canvas at one point.
No disrespect to Gjergjai but this should be a win for Haye, who according to the rumours is set for a showdown with former WBO heavyweight champion Shannon “The Cannon,” Briggs in the near future.
Briggs (59-6-1, 52 KOs) perhaps most famous now for gate crashing press conferences and his, “Let’s go Champ,” catchphrase, will feature on the undercard at the O2 Arena and faces Argentine journeyman Emilio Ezequiel Zarate (20-16-3, 11KOs) in another ten rounder.
Coincidently, Zarate was stopped in seven rounds by Gjergjai in March 2014 so expect the veteran Briggs to make short work of him as well.
This weekend could generate some significant developments in the heavyweight division in the months ahead. The interest that has been rekindled in boxings big men should be viewed as positive for the sport. It’s also fair to say that love them or loathe them the heavyweights never fail to provide drama on the big stage.
Coverage of Haye v Gjergjai will be broadcast live on Dave (Sky Channel 111) from 8pm, Saturday 21st May. Coverage of Parker v Raman will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 3 from 11am, Saturday 21st May (repeated on Sky Sports 1 at 11.30pm).