February 3, 2023

After Oleksandr Usyk defeated Anthony Joshua to retain the WBO, WBA and IBF world heavyweight championships, the most obvious fight in boxing became Usyk vs. WBC titleholder Tyson Fury in a battle to crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion of the four-belt era. Except, Tyson Fury may or may not be retired.

Fury announced his retirement in the ring following his April knockout of Dillian Whyte. Then, on Aug. 9, Fury posted on social media that he’d decided to return to boxing for a trilogy bout with Derek Chisora. Four days later, Fury again announced he was retired after a deal was not reached with Chisora.

While Fury followed up his second retirement announcement in four months by officially vacating his Ring Magazine championship so that the formerly prestigious “title” could be up for grabs in the rematch between Usyk and Joshua, he did not do the same with his actual world title, showing again that his retirement was unlikely to stick.

Predictably, after Usyk’s win, Fury went on social media, called both fighters “shite” and said to get the checkbooks out as he was “here to stay.”

Of course, nothing Fury is ever simple. Early Wednesday morning, Fury posted a video stating that he’d placed a seven-day deadline for “suitors” to submit offers for a fight with Usyk to his lawyer along with proof of funds. And, if it can’t all be worked out in one week’s time, “thank you very much, it’s been a blast, I’m retired.”

Usyk has hinted that he may hang up the gloves should he not be able to secure the Fury fight. That seems odd, but at 35 years old, having been undisputed cruiserweight champion and having collected every possible heavyweight belt aside from Fury’s WBC strap, what else is there for Usyk to do? Not to mention the fact that Ukraine is still dealing with the Russian invasion and that is clearly, and understandably, weighing heavy on Usyk.

While it seems likely that Usyk, Fury and their teams will eventually work out the particulars for a massive payday for both men, the possibility that the near future could see both men retired — whether before or after they fight — leaves the division with something of a dark future.

Deontay Wilder, who went 0-2-1 with Fury, and Joshua would be left standing as the best heavyweights on the planet, both of whom were ultimately proven to be a step below their elite rivals. Wilder is looking to get back in the win column on Oct. 15 when he fights Robert Helenius.

A fight between Joshua and Wilder has been long-discussed and is still an exciting prospect but ultimately leaves a sense of “OK, then what?”

Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Luis Ortiz takes place on Sept. 4 and the winner will remain in the middle of the top 10 but face a similar issue as Wilder and Joshua in any attempt to claim to be “the guy.” Ruiz has a good amount of name value from defeating Joshua in their first meeting but damaged his reputation considerably by showing up badly out of shape for the rematch where Joshua left little doubt he was the better fighter. Ortiz, meanwhile, has twice been knocked out by Wilder.

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Another former Joshua victim, Joseph Parker, will be in action Sept. 24 when he takes on Joe Joyce in a fight that has already suffered a handful of delays and drama. Joyce is undefeated at 14-0 and a former Olympic silver medalist, but he will also be turning 37 the week leading up to the fight. The winner of that fight likely becomes the WBO’s mandatory challenger.

Another mandatory was determined on the undercard of Usyk vs. Joshua 2, when Filip Hrgovic remained undefeated with a largely undeserved split decision win over Zhilei Zhang. For years, promoters have salivated at the idea of landing Zhang a world title fight in China, where the fight would do massive business. The loss to Hrgovic and the potential that Fury and Usyk keep the titles tied up while they fight once, if not twice, mean Zhang won’t have that opportunity before he turns 40 next May.

Hrgovic didn’t do much to prove himself against Zhang as he looked uninterested throughout the fight and did not respond well when Zhang applied pressure, which is not a recipe for elite heavyweight success.

All of this is to say, what has been a revival in the heavyweight division appears to be winding down its final days along with the careers of Fury and Usyk. Joshua and Wilder will be able to hold down the division for a bit, but the list of appealing challengers beyond them is short and primarily built on men whose time has come and gone.

That’s not to say there’s no hope for the future at heavyweight. Jared Anderson is the most exciting American heavyweight to come along since Wilder. He is already 11-0 at 22 years old and has knocked out everyone he has faced as a professional. He fights for the first time in 2022 on Saturday when he faces Miljan Rovcanin.

Another bright spot at heavyweight is Daniel Dubois. A former English, British and Commonwealth champion, the 24-year-old Dubois’ career took a hit in November 2020 when he suffered a stoppage loss against Joyce. Dubois has since recovered well and has rattled off three knockout victories, including winning a WBA secondary title with a fourth-round stoppage of veteran Trevor Bryan.

As the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing. While it may seem bleak with where things stand now, heavyweight always has a way of generating another star to carry the limelight.

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