In most professional sports, championships are determined by some type of tournament. Usually, a league’s best teams/competitors engage in a series of matchups until the top two faceoff for all the glory.
That’s the way things are done in basketball, baseball, football, track and field, golf, tennis, hockey, soccer, etc. Even college football eventually caved to the pressure and created a mini (but still imperfect) tournament to try to create a clear and undisputed national champion.
Then there is boxing.
Unlike other major sports, boxing lacks a central commission. The sport is regulated and controlled by various commissions, sanctioning bodies, TV networks and promoters. The result is that championship bouts are not always between the best fighters in the world. Instead, relationships between the fighters’ aforementioned entities often determine which fights can be easily made.
Add in fighters’ egos, purse splits demands and location preferences and it is easy to see why mega fights in the sport of boxing often take years to materialize, if they ever happen at all.
That is a big reason why we ended up with a title fight between (then-) WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and unheralded Andy Ruiz Jr. While the boxing world was clamoring for a unification bout between Joshua and WBC champ Deontay Wilder, the towering knockout artists took turns making excuses as to why they couldn’t or wouldn’t fight right away.
Joshua claimed, on video, that he would fight Wilder for $50 million. When Wilder’s promotional team sent Joshua an offer for that amount, it was declined. Wilder later refused to agree to a fight unless there was an explicit 50/50 purse split. As a legitimate champion, Wilder’s demand was not outrageous. However, in boxing, the more popular fighter generally gets a bigger piece of the pie. There is no doubt that Joshua is more popular in both the UK and on the world stage.
There seemed to be hope a fight could be made after Joshua claimed he wanted to eliminate the middlemen, sit down face-to-face and negotiate directly with Wilder. “The Bronze Bomber” got the message and reportedly attempted to set up a meeting via Facetime with Joshua. When that didn’t work out, Wilder immediately announced a rematch that nobody asked for against Luis Ortiz followed by a highly-coveted one against Tyson Fury.
The most-lucrative heavyweight fight since Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson seemed less likely than a battle royal between Donald Trump and the leading Democratic candidates for the White House. As if that wasn’t far-fetched enough, Ruiz, a free-swinging, belly-bouncing, 11-to-1 underdog told the boxing world to hold his beer. Ruiz dropped Joshua four times en route to becoming the first fighter of Mexican-descent to become heavyweight champion of the world.
Ruiz only got a title shot because Joshua’s original opponent, Jarrell Miller, was scratched from the fight after failing three drug tests. Ruiz was chosen as the replacement because Joshua’s team assumed he would be an easy knockout victim for “AJ” in his first fight on American soil.
For the record, Ruiz is not a bum. Despite his resemblance to a tatted-up Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the new champ has fast hands, good power (obviously) and solid boxing skills. For many experts though, his ceiling was as a fringe contender. He was thought to be a guy who could compete for title opportunities, but not actually win them. Think of a contemporary Chris Arreola.
Now he has become a modern-day Corrie Sanders. Sanders was another fitness-challenged heavyweight with fast hands. He shocked the world by knocking out WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko in a stunning upset in 2003. Sanders exposed Klitschko’s “suspect” chin in the same way Ruiz did to Joshua on Saturday night.
Klitschko eventually found his way to Manny Steward. The Hall of Fame trainer helped shore up Klitschko’s defense led him to greater success and 18 consecutive title defenses. It remains to be seen whether Joshua can bounce back from his humiliating defeat and rebuild his confidence to become a dominant champion.
He’ll get a shot to earn back his belts later this year after exercising his rights to an immediate rematch. That bout will likely take place in the UK in either November or December.
If Joshua wins, it could set up a rubber match, because after all, boxing fans love a good trilogy. More likely though, a Joshua victory would lead for him to take his belts and go find the path of least resistance to help rebuild his reputation.
Maybe Wilder stays undefeated in the meantime. Maybe his chin will checked or he will get outboxed by Ortiz or Fury in his upcoming rematches.
One thing is clear, the more fighters use delaying and dodging tactics, the more often compelling matchups like Joshua vs Wilder will go up in flames.
Let’s be clear. A single loss, even to an overwhelming underdog, does not end a career. A loss to a highly-regarded, unbeaten champion such as Wilder would have done much less damage to Joshua’s reputation. Furthermore, Joshua’s loss didn’t just hurt his reputation. His loss also hurt his earning power.
Wilder’s bank account was most-certainly affected also. While the WBC champion was not even in the ring Saturday, his role in delaying the fight either cost or postponed what would have surely been a career high payday.
Hopefully other fighters will take note. If you insist on taking the “easy” route, a hard lesson may be waiting just around the corner.
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