The Heavyweight division might be seen as the division that sums up boxing's health, at least in some quarters, but in reality it's the division which has been the most frustrating over the last 20 years or so. We've had a lack of real stand out fights at the top level, with only a handful really being great, and although the division does bring excitement and attention to the sport, it also has a knack of not giving us the big bouts we, as fans, want to see. Despite the issues it does have some interesting fighters in it right now, and there are some good bouts on the docket.
WBC - Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41)
Heavy handed American Deontay Wilder is one of the sports longest reigning champions and the "Bronze Bomber" is also one of the sports most potent punchers. Although technically not the most polished man in the sport few will doubt the fire power in Wilder's right hand, and does have genuine fight changing power. It's also worth noting that he has got under-rated skills, without being a technical genius, lighting speed, freakish size and a lot of charisma, though he can rub people up the wrong way. Later this month he will be facing Tyson Fury in a rematch of their 2018 draw in what is one of the most anticipated bouts of 2020.
WBA "Super", WBO and IBF - Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21)
It could seem odd listing a unified champion below a single title holder but 2019 left us with more questions than answers for Englishman Anthony Joshua. The popular "AJ" went into 2019 looking like the best in the division, a power punching, offensive boxer-puncher. There was a robot look to him, but he was incredibly effective and seemed to be the second best boxer at the top, behind Tyson Fury, and the second best puncher, behind Wilder. A nightmare US debut saw him being stopped by big under-dog Andy Ruiz Jr in June and having his aura shattered. Although he bounced back to beat Ruiz in December, in Saudi Arabia, there was very much a feeling that his aura had gone...despite a much more polished performance in that December bout. His next bout is expected to be against Kubrat Pulev, in or around May, and it's going to be interesting to see what version of "AJ" turns up against the Bulgarian Cobra.
WBA "regular" - Manuel Charr (31-4, 17)
And we're back to crazy WBA territory here with the WBA still recognising German based Syrian Manuel Charr as their regular champion....more than 2 years after he last fought. In fact he won the title in November 2017 and has yet to defend it. Absolutely bizarre and time the WBA had a look at the 35 year old, and their recognition of him.
When I first agreed to write for www.asianboxing.info I did it in the knowledge I'd eventually ruffle a few feathers. What I didn't expect was for the American boxing media to give me an easy pitch to hit out the park, unfortunately however that's what they've done by acting like cheerleaders on an almost never ending basis.
In 2012 we were hearing all about a ginger haired Mexican kid called Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. The youngster was anointed the future of boxing despite having beaten very few "relevant" opponents. In fact by the end of 2012 Canelo's best wins were over a 40 year old Shane Mosley and a massively under-sized Josesito Lopez and although he held the WBC Light Middleweight title he was very much unproven.
Another man we were hearing all about in 2012 was Adrien "The Problem" Broner. Broner, like Canelo, was dubbed the future of boxing, a star with too much talent and charisma to fail. Unfortunately for Broner he too lacked relevant wins despite winning both the WBO Super Featherweight and WBC Lightweight titles. If we considered his most important wins were over Gavin Rees and a controversial decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon he was hardly a proven quality.
Both Broner and Alvarez were viewed as superstars in the making. The next men to become pay per view stars. Both however were beaten in 2013 and say their stock dropping. For Alvarez his loss, which came to Floyd Mayweather, wasn't that damaging, he was the under-dog and lost to arguably the best pure boxer on the planet. For Broner however things were different, he out punched and out boxed by Marcos Maidana, a limited but fearless Argentinian puncher. The losses may have been hugely different but both bubbles were burst, neither man seems to have the same vigor about them or excitement surrounding their upcoming bouts that they did for recent contests.
In 2013 we saw fighters like Deontay Wilder, Mikey Garcia, Bryant Jennings and Keith Thurman all given the same hype and support that Canelo and Broner had been having the previous year. All are being spoken about as dominant stars of the future with many viewing Garcia and Thurman as future pound-for-pound champions whilst others have referred to both Wilder and Jennings as future Heavyweight champions.
From where I'm sat however I can't help but think that we are merely looking at the next Broner, Canelo and various other American hypes such as Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Seth Mitchell.
I'll start with Deontay Wilder, an Olympic bronze medal winner who has been a professional since 2008 and run up a perfect record of 30-0 (30). Like Broner and Alvarez, the number of worth while wins on his record are minimal, in fact for a man universally ranked in the top 15 Wilder's opponents have been awful. The WBC, WBO and WBA all have Wilder in the top 5 of their rankings yet his biggest win is over the shadow of Sultan Ibragimov, hardly a win that deserves a top 15 ranking, never mind a top 5 ranking. Wilder's power is clearly impressive, though from the level of opponents he's not proven himself any more than Ali Raymi (who is 20-0, 20) and if anything he's left a lot of fans very worries about his chin which is certain a big worry.
Whilst Wilder is completely unproven for a 30 fight "veteran" it's fair to say that Bryant Jennings, also a Heavyweight, is actually pretty proven. Jennings, who sports a perfect 18-0 (10) record has only been a professional since 2010 and to be fair to him he has been more impressive than most other Heavyweights. Unfortunately for Jennings he doesn't do a lot that stands out like a "future" world Heavyweight champion. He doesn't have concussive power, he doesn't have a real killer instinct and he doesn't have a big amateur background. He can box much better than Wilder but there is something very much "mediocre" about him and when compared to the likes of Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev there is little that makes me think Jennings is a future champion, just the next over-hyped American Heavyweight.
For Keith Thurman things do, for the immediate future, look pretty good. The unbeaten Welterweight, who sports a solid 22-0-0-1 (20) record, is a man who is being viewed in the same as Broner was. He's more talented and much more personable than Broner though like Broner he appears to be better with his mouth than he does in the ring. Thurman's best wins, which are decent, have come against the likes of Jesus Soto Karass, Diego Gabriel Chaves and Jan Zaveck who are fringe top 10 fighters in the division. If you were to listen to the American media however you'd think you were hearing about a man who had taken out a series of world champions in their prime, something that hasn't happened and is unlikely to happen.
Personally the one I believe is the most over-hyped is WBO Super Featherweight champion Miguel Angel Garcia. Like the others mentioned Garcia is unbeaten with a record of 34-0 (28) and like Broner was at the end of 2012, he is a 2 weight world champion who seems to be thinking bigger and bigger. Garcia, prior to winning the WBO Super Featherweight title, was the WBO Featherweight champion, a title he won by dominating Orlando Salido. Garcia, like Broner, was forced to give up his first world title by being unable to make weight. It was, as we often see with American fighters, just accepted that Garcia was maturing into a man after being a boy though at the time he failed he weight he was already 25 and a man.
Following his failure to make weight Garcia made the move to Super Featherweight, a division that for me sees Takashi Miura and Takashi Uchiyama sitting clearly as the #1 and #2 fighters. Garcia didn't aim to take a title from one of those two but instead WBO champion Roman "Rocky" Martinez, a man whose nickname summed up his reign. Martinez had controversially beaten Miguel Beltran Jr for the title, some how held on to it with a very fortunate draw against Juan Carlos Burgos and was lucky again against Diego Magdaleno. Garcia picked the easiest title, as did Broner, and just like Broner Garcia is looking at moving up another weight.
Garcia hasn't just been speaking about moving up to Lightweight, for a mooted bout with Yuriorkis Gamboa, but of moving all the way up to Light Welterweight if not Welterweight to fight Manny Pacquiao. Garcia, whose best wins have come against the likes of Salido and Burgos, is being viewed as potentially a future pound-for-pound #1 but after 34 fights, spread over 7 and a half years he's not shown anything that makes me think he'll ever be a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, merely a well managed one. He's skillful and powerful but there is a lot of issues with him and even more if he insists on climbing through the weights as quickly as he seems to be wanting to do.
The American media may, right now, considering Wilder, Jennings, Thurman and Garcia as their darlings, though trust me they will ditch them as quickly as the dumped Broner when they lose. Whilst they could be well managed for the next few years they were become the fighters that Ring, HBO, Showtime and ESPN want them to become. They will never be the next great star of boxing and they will never become the next Mayweather or the next Pacquiao.
Personally I have Wilder down as the next Seth Mitchell, a chinny but powerful and raw Heavyweight, Jennings is the next Malik Scott, a talented but unspectacular fighter, Thurman is the next Andre Berto, an explosive and fun to watch but criminally over-rated Welterweight and Garcia really is the next Broner though much more humble than "The Problem".
I may be wrong, but the evidence is that the US media are so desperate to find their next superstar that they are trying to create a star rather than letting one emerge. In boxing, stars create themselves and aren't created just by the media.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.