As Anthony Joshua’s promoter and management team scramble to find a replacement opponent for Dillian Whyte you have to wonder what is happening to the heavyweight division, and perhaps feel some sympathy for Joshua who wanted to test himself against an old adversary with plenty of jeopardy on the line.
Now, it will most likely be an opponent who Joshua is meant to knock out with ease, and if he fails to do so, he will be pilloried again. Vicious circle. Perhaps the promotional team have learnt from the Conor Benn-Chris Eubank saga, and pulled the fight the moment they learnt of the “adverse finding” from the “random doping test”. Or was it ever thus, and we just have to fall back on expecting the unexpected from boxing.
There is little doubt that this a great generation of talented, fascinating and diverse heavyweights but let’s hope that it is not a case of the era eventually flattering to deceive. Just as it felt as if the top heavyweights were being lined up and we were moving towards a conclusion, that bullet hits the foot again.
That said, and I say this as an insider in the sport, we have just witnessed two modern masters at work in the last week, and it felt like a rejoicing moment given their skills and demeanour. I talk of Naoya Inoue, the brilliant Japanese fighter who has become an unbeaten champion in four weight divisions, and Terence Crawford, who put in such a stellar performance, a masterclass of near perfection, against Errol Spence in Las Vegas last weekend, that old-time commentators reckoned the new welterweight and pound-for-pound king might have beaten Sugar Ray Leonard.
So brilliant was Crawford, so meticulous, cool and calculated was he as he pickled Spence before stopping him in the ninth round, I ventured to suggest last week that he may have beaten Floyd Mayweather Jr, the best boxer I have witnessed live since 1990. Suffice to say, there are brilliant fights – and fighters – involved reflecting the sport at present, but it is to the heavyweight division the masses come.
It was like that through the ages of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, through Muhammad Ali, to Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis et al. We have had our behemoths in this era with the rise of Joshua from Olympic hero to world champion, and the rise, fall and rise again of Tyson Fury, and now the appearance of the enigmatic Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk. Lined up now are Usyk versus Daniel Dubois, Zhilei Zhang and Joe Joyce, Fury’s dalliance with former UFC king Francis Ngannou – and I am told behind the scenes – the denouement with Fury versus Usyk, Joshua versus Deontay Wilder, all being plotted and planned in the Middle East.
The Joshua versus Whyte fight being cancelled feels like the collapse, in recent years of Joshua-Wilder, Fury-Joshua, Fury-Usyk, and it feels like the tease has gone on and on. It really will be a travesty, and a tragedy – and a waste of talent – if those three fights never come to fruition. And time is ticking…