Boxing traditionally has only eight weight classes. This is the third installment of my Original Eight Ratings. First was the middleweights, next was the welterweights, and now the heavyweights. Determining the Heavyweight Champion and Top Ten, while trying to apply reasonable championship and rating standards to the heavyweights right now is like trying to build a brick house out of quicksand. But here goes.
The lineal title was won by Tyson Fury against Wladimir Klitschko in probably the worst lineal heavyweight title bout of all-time. However, while not thrilling, Wladimir Klitschko had had a great, long reign as lineal champ; a reign so lengthy it at least put him in the conversation as one of the ten greatest heavyweights to ever fight. Fury did not really “take the title” as the old-school observers of the sport required but in turn, Klitschko’s effort was so wretched and/or he was just so old, that Fury “earned” the decision in the eyes of all observers, including the judges. Fury then ran into all sorts of out of the ring problems, including depression and allegations of drug use, to the point that his contractually-obligated rematch with Klitschko never came off and both men have not been in a boxing ring for well over a year.
The next logical contender, Alexander Povetkin, tested positive for PED’s twice, and had fights fall out against Deontay Wilder, who later sued him and won, and Bermane Stiverene, who had also tested positive for PED’s. Wilder’s detractors should also be sure to note that odds makers made him a slight favorite over Povetkin in Russia before their fight was cancelled. By all accounts, Wilder suffered a hand and bicep injury in an impressive-looking win against the shot Cris Arreola in July 2016, before successfully returning to stop Gerald Washington in five this month. Top contender Luis Ortiz is another heavyweight who has tested positive for PED’s in the past, but who is apparently now clean. Lucas Browne also emerged, then disappeared, due to PED use. This ripple effect has moved some fighters who would be in the bottom half of the Top Ten up, and weakened the bottom half of the Top Ten enough to make not one, but two cruiserweights who have heavyweight-type bodies entrants—the first time in a long time a cruiserweight is worthy of a top ten heavyweight ranking. The chaos has also provided an opening for a fighter who may have as much upside as anyone in the division at this point in Jarrell Miller.
This list of names got us excited that a great new era in the heavyweight division may be dawning, at least bringing us back to the 1990’s, an era that started off unappreciated and is now arguably viewed as the best heavyweight era outside of the 1970’s. While currently in disarray, this crop could have that potential, especially with Wilder and Joshua at the top.
While many, including myself, may at first blush to think that the cruiserweight division is the one division boxing might actually need, contrary to mythology, for 30 years the very best at light heavyweight—Michael Spinks, Michael Moorer, Roy Jones, James Toney, Evander Holyfield (first pro fight at light heavyweight), Tomas Adamek, and cruiserweight David Haye—have all been able to move up and beat legit Top Ten level heavyweight opposition. Spinks, Holyfield and Moorer became lineal heavyweight champions of the world. Thus, the cruiserweight division may be filled with a lot of guys who are not good enough to be heavyweights, they are not too small to be heavyweights.
Criteria: A fighter’s overall record, perceived talent level, quality of opposition, quality wins and level of performance in wins and losses, where the fighter is ranked in the Transnational Boxing Ranking Board’s Heavyweight and Cruiserweight Rankings and The Ring’s Heavyweight and Cruiserweight Rankings. Also, strongly considered would be who would beat who and who and by how much one fighter would be favored over the other by odds makers were the fight to be signed tomorrow. The traditional standard of one year of inactivity will drop a fighter from the rankings will be taken into consideration but the fighter is eligible to re-enter as soon as he fights again. Champions will primarily be the recognized lineal champions, with consideration also given to champions recognized by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Ring. This is how the traditional heavyweight division looks today:
Champion: Tyson Fury (U.K. 25-0 18KO)
1. Deontay Wilder (U.S. 37-0 36KO)
2. Alexander Povetkin (Russia 31-1 23K0)
3. Luis Ortiz (Cuba. 27-0 23KO)
4. Anthony Joshua (U.K. 18-0 18KO)
5. Joseph Parker (N.Z. 22-0 18KO)
6. Kubrat Pulev (Bulgaria. 24-1-0 13KO)
7. Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine 11-0 10KO)
8. Murat Gassiev (Russia . 24-0 17KO)
9. Andy Ruiz (U.S. 29-1 19KO)
10. Jarrell Miller (U.S. 18-0-1 16KO)
Ratings Notes: Tyson Fury remains the champion. I reluctantly still recognize the lineal champ, who is still recognized as champion by the Ring but not by Transnational. For now, we will go with Ring founder and legend Nat Fleischer’s, who pioneered boxing rankings’ traditional credo that the champion only loses his title in the ring or by retirement. In Fury’s case, we have the question of inactivity. For ranked fighters I am using the traditional standard of roughly one year of inactivity before dropping a fighter from the rankings. Fury has been inactive for more than a year. However, the risk of politics and biases getting into who is recognized as champion causes me to err on the side of giving the champion more time before stripping the title is considered. However the Ring itself has recently instituted some changes to its championship policy. I don’t particularly disagree with them and I believe they will strip Fury if he doesn’t schedule a fight in the next few months. I’ll revisit Fury’s situation if he becomes inactive for 18 months to 24 months.
It may not be Wladimir Klitschko’s fault, but he’s also been inactive for more than a year. In his case, I’m with Transnational, I’ve dropped him from the rankings. The Ring still rates him number 1. I have no problem stating that if he beats Anthony Joshua, which I don’t think he will, he will be reinstated at No. 1. Deontay Wilder dropped a bomb on a big man in Gerald Washington in a fifth-round KO in his return from the hand and bicep injury. He looked great in beating a legit Top Ten guy in Bermane Stiverene, but the problem is he hasn’t fought a real Top Ten guy since. Yet I still believe he’s more underrated than overrated and he and Anthony Joshua seem to me to be the two heavyweights most ready to fill the vacuum. Alexander Povetkin’s PED issues are a big problem for me, and the Ring has understandably dropped him from the ratings. Transnational has him at number one. I’m waiting to see if he’s allowed to fight anywhere but Russia, and who, if anyone of note fights him. If countries ban him, I’m ready to drop him. Luis Ortiz is still dangerous but hasn’t looked great since his annihilation of Bryant Jennings. The clock may have already started to run out. Anthony Joshua has been great so far and destroys opponents in sort of a mechanical, methodical fashion. He technically has a Top Ten win over Charles Martin, but if a Top Ten ranking ever deserved and asterisk, that was it. His win against Dominic Breazeale is looking pretty good right now; Breazeale couldn’t get off any of his power shots against Joshua. If Joshua is impressive and wins against Klitschko, he could take the No. 1 slot. Joseph Parker is still undefeated and has stepped up the opposition in Takam and Ruiz. The problem is he hasn’t looked very good doing it. It already seems certain he’s more mediocre boxer than destroyer. Kubrat Pulev is the type of guy who is good enough to beat the fringe guys but doesn’t have enough to beat the other guys in the Top Ten. Oleksandr Usyk has amateur pedigree and boxing skill and a big enough frame to be at heavyweight. The time is right to make a move. I have to note that I didn’t think he looked all that great his last time out. Murat Gassiev is young and unlike most fighters from the former Eastern Bloc, does not have an extensive amateur background. He also has a heavyweight frame, but at his young age and with the lack of amateur background, one can understand why he might work the kinks out at cruiserweight. Andy Ruiz hasn’t done anything spectacular but if nothing else, he showed against Parker that he’s competitive against Top Ten heavyweights. But like Pulev, you get the feeling he can beat guys on the fringes but not other guys in the Top Ten. Jarrell Miller is the divisions “X” factor. I think he’s the best American heavyweight outside of Wilder. He doesn’t have an amateur background but does have that “extra” stamina you always seem to see in ex-kickboxers. He’s also big and has thudding, bludgeoning type power. He’s one of the guys in the sport, like Golovkin and Andrade that you just get the feeling no one is too anxious to fight.
Fighters not in the Top Ten but worthy of mention and watching include: Wladimir Klitschko, as mentioned above. David Haye has talent, was once a legit Top Five heavyweight and has been entertaining. But he hasn’t fought anyone in his comeback and Tony Bellew isn’t a Top Ten worthy heavyweight. In addition, the Klitschko debacle was so bad, there really hasn’t been true redemption yet. Dillan Whyte has only one loss to Anthony Joshua, and if he and Joshua both continue to win it will help his resume. He doesn’t have any legit Top Ten wins and probably can’t beat anyone in the Top Ten, but may get his chance to do so in the near future. He’s probably an ideal “fringe of the Top Ten” opponent type for the top guys who need to keep busy. Dominic Breazeale has plenty of flaws, but also plenty of heart and power as he showed against Izu Ugonoh in their brawl, which is a Fight of the Year candidate. Bermane Stiverne has skills, power and durability, but took a lot of punishment against Wilder, has had a positive drug test before Povetkin also tested positive and their fight fell apart, and hasn’t fought since November 2015.
Various fighters rankings in the Ring and Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s Heavyweight and Cruiserweight rankings at the time of this compilation: (Note: Ring recognizes the lineal champion Tyson Fury as champion and Transnational has the heavyweight championship as “Vacant”) Fury (Ring Heavy-Champion) Povetkin (TN H-1) Wilder (R H-2, TN H-4) Ortiz (R H-4, TN H-3) Joshua (R H-5 TN H-2) Parker (R H-6 TN H-5) Pulev (R H-3 TN H-6) Usyk (R C-1 TN C-1) Gassiev (R C-2 TN C-2) Ruiz (R H-8 TN H-8) Miller (R H-10)
For Comparison look at the Ring Ratings for the end of the years 1980 and 1950:
Champion: Larry Holmes
1. Mike Weaver
2. Gerry Cooney
3. Leon Spinks
4. Michael Dokes
5. Gerrie Coetzee
6. Marty Monroe
7. Trevor Berbick
8. Greg Page
9. Bernardo Mercado
10. Ken Norton
Champion: Ezzard Charles
1. Joe Louis
2. Lee Savold
3. Joey Maxim
4. Clarence Henry
5. Bob Baker
6. Rex Layne
7. Jersey Joe Walcott
8. Jack Gardner
9. Lee Oma
10. Rocky Marciano
In 1980, Larry Holmes at the top far surpasses anyone at the top today. He was in his prime. In 1980, the cruiserweight division was a new alphabet division that was not taken seriously, filled primarily by past their prime light heavyweights. None of them were good enough to crack the heavyweight Top Ten. The rest of 1980’s Top Ten is mostly filled with guys who never quite lived up to their potential and a past-his-best Ken Norton. The 2017 Top Ten at least has the potential to be better at this stage. The 1950 Top Ten is far deeper than both 1980 and 2017 and had an all-time great in Ezzard Charles at the top along with a past his prime guy who was one of the best of all time in Joe Louis, another great in Jersey Joe Walcott and an up and comer named Rocky Marciano at No. 10.