In the promised realm of heavyweight boxing, the last five years have been dominated by three major names – Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
All three have their rival merits, and each has his ardent supporters who firmly believe that he is the greatest of the current era.
In the fashion of great heavyweights before them, all have stepped up and done the business at flashpoint moments in their respective careers.
Yet, this coming winter, boxing fans will have the starkest reason yet to wax lyrical about one of them.
Fury vs Wilder: Fight On?
As of the start of the 2018/19 boxing season, Joshua held three titles (WBA, IBF & WBO), while only the WBC had Deontay Wilder as their disputed champion.
Though without a belt at that time, Tyson Fury’s rise up the rankings after an enigmatic career to date, puts him firmly in the same league as Wilder and Joshua. Combined, all three men have a monstrous fight record of 88 wins and no draws or losses.
Belts aside, there appears little to separate them – but in the winter of 2018, one (or both) of Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury will lose their undefeated status.
It is set to be a fight on par with the famous December 2007 PPV bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Ricky Hatton, and the result will create huge ripples in the heavyweight division.
A defeat for Wilder, which is currently priced at just 13/20 in boxing betting, would represent more than just a lost fight.
Wilder: "I want a body on my record. I want one, I really do."— 888sport (@888sport) April 2, 2018
What an absolute idiot. pic.twitter.com/0UNRryzXvn
It would also represent the loss of his chance to emulate Floyd Mayweather Jr’s new 50-0 all-time record, and almost certainly make a marketable ‘prime-on-prime’ bout with Joshua almost impossible.
Tyson Fury also works best when he has nothing to lose. His early stardom went straight to his head, but as an apparently-changed man, his hunger for success is now greater than it has ever been before.
At this point, the man from Wythenshawe has said little other than that “it will be an epic battle”. Should the projected agendas of each fighter go the way of bookmakers’ expectations, a Joshua v Wilder unification match in April 2019 is anticipated.
Should that all-defining meeting of undefeated titans become a reality after Fury v Wilder, then an age-old boxing adage will once more apply – the fight won and lost long before the combatants touch gloves and come out fighting.
The First Ten Fights
Chronologically, the genesis of a win comes from the very birth of a fighter-to-be.
The (invariably challenging) circumstances in which they grow up, how they are trained to make the most of their fighting instinct, the resources they have, and who they initially fight as professionals are all differential factors in their ultimate fate.
Both Wilder and Fury turned professional in 2008, giving them a five-year edge over Joshua in terms of experience. All three men enjoyed the professional’s typical run to 10-0 against relatively-easy opposition.
However, Joshua may hold something of an advantage, having taken just nine fights to win a belt sanctioned by a recognised international boxing organisation, in the form of the WBC International heavyweight title.
Making It Stateside
Beyond the first piece of tangible silverware, the typical path of the world heavyweight champion becomes less clear-cut.
Depending on the quality of opposition, travelling to fight foreign opponents on their own turf can be rewarding or chastening, but it invariably turns challengers into contenders, as the boxer in question sees his international presence grow.
This is particularly true of non-U.S fighters getting wins in the States, and remarkably – by April 2019 – all of Joshua’s professional fights will have taken place on British soil, including when he faces Povetkin at Wembley as 1/10 favourite.
Though it would do his abilities a disservice to suggest that fighting away from British shores would hamper his killer instinct, his lack of a real presence in the States can only be a hindrance towards anyone who wants to declare him as the greatest British talent ever in good conscience.
By contrast, it only took fellow Brit Tyson Fury thirteen fights to cross the Atlantic, beating Zack Page by unanimous decision in Quebec City eight years ago.
His maiden match in the U.S against an American (Steve Cunningham) was also a watershed moment for Fury. The seventh-round knockout win put him within two fights of his first international level belt – namely, the WBO international heavyweight title.
Another two fights later, Fury unified four belts at Vladimir Klitschko’s expense.
Defining Battles And Difficulty Of Defence
In the professional career of any heavyweight legend, there has always been a defining battle. For Muhammad Ali, his 1964 knockout of the universally-feared Sonny Liston was just that; as was Mike Tyson’s record-breaking knockout of Trevor Berbick two decades later.
While Fury v Wilder will certainly define a lot in its own right, all three of Fury, Wilder and Joshua have already had watershed fights – but identifying the toughest of these is up for debate.
Fury’s obvious fight of this ilk would, naturally, be the aforementioned unification victory over Klitschko in November 2015.
Tyson Fury on Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder ?— 888sport (@888sport) August 11, 2018
“I will beat them both twice. Just to show them how sh*t they really are. I’m the greatest boxer that’s ever lived in the heavyweight division.”
Nothing like blowing your own trumpet... pic.twitter.com/U2hixKpg3F
Nearly eighteen months later, Joshua would beat that same opponent to win the WBA (Super) and IBO belts, succeeding where Fury failed by stopping the Ukrainian in the eleventh round.
While a more impressive feat on paper, eighteen months is a long time for a boxer that – like Klitschko – is on the professional wane.
Though this does nothing to help settle the debate as to which Brit had the harder task, in claiming multiple belts in a single fight for the first time, Joshua’s subsequent fights have been far more demanding.
Fury immediately faced thirty-nine-year-old Sefer Seferi and took only four rounds to make his opponent’s corner concede defeat.
He then faced Francesco Pianeta, of Italy, who had lost two of his last three fights. Joshua, meanwhile, followed up his own win over Klitschko with victories over much worthier opponents – namely, Carlos Takam and Joseph Parker.
While it is easy to say that Joshua’s last two fights have been more challenging than Fury’s, the proverbial jury is still very much out, as to whether Joshua has also worked harder than Wilder over the past year.
Such is Wilder’s ability he has made most of his opponents look ordinary, after winning the WBC heavyweight title from Bermane Stiverne in January 2015.
Ironically, he reserved his best for what was seen as the greatest threat to his defence, which was the Stiverne rematch that got no further than the first round.
In his most recent bout, Wilder forced to wait until the tenth round to stop the previously unbeaten Luis Ortiz, which gives some credibility to the idea that Wilder is now finding himself in a losing race to reach that fabled 50-0.
Ultimately, Joshua’s trajectory has been the sharpest overall. Wilder’s 40-0 record tells a tale of its own, but winning international honours within the first ten professional fights of a pro career is a rarity these days.
Joshua’s quickfire rise, from Olympian to international champion, should be enough to at least put him on course to be the best of the current ‘big three’, if he isn’t strictly so already.
That noted, the battle to succeed is as much within oneself as it is in the ring, and for that reason, people who want to declare Fury as the greatest force of heavyweight boxing have some very real, and tangible, verbal ammunition.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*