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The Top Ten Heavyweights of the Decade 2010-2019

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With the decade 2010-2019 now closed and a new one begun, a quick look at the chief champions and contenders of the sport’s flagship division seems pertinent. A curious rather than a scintillating decade, it was dominated early by two brothers and late by three fighters as different and divisive and, in some cases, reluctant to meet each other, as can be imagined. Here though, we will look at who these men did fight rather than who they didn’t, appraising accomplishments first and foremost as criteria for this Top Ten.

Rankings, a crucial tool for disassembling any period of history, are by The Ring magazine between 2000 and 2002 and by TBRB for all other years.

10 – Luis Ortiz

Peak Ranking:  3 Record for the Decade: 31-2 Ranked For: 40% of the Decade

Here is a complete list of the ranked fighters that Luis Ortiz defeated during the past decade:

Bryant Jennings.

This is horrifying, but it is sadly not that unusual. David Haye managed to defeat zero ranked contenders during the five years for which he was an active heavyweight in the decade, Kubrat Pulev managed just one in the shape of Tony Thompson. There is no more distressing statistic in all of boxing than this, I think: Luis Ortiz obtained a peak rank of #3 and yet he has never proven himself the equal of even a fighter ranked in the top five.

Such is modern boxing.

Three things stand in support of his #10 ranking here: first, both his devastating knockout losses to Deontay Wilder were stirring efforts. Their 2019 encounter, especially, was a performance that felt like dominance with only Wilder’s power and, perhaps, Ortiz’s ageing legs preventing what would have been a serious upset. Secondly, Ortiz looks the part, at least technically. Behind the 3-day balloon sag of his emotionless visage is a talented fighter. Choosing my words carefully I’ll go so far as to say that his economy of movement is the best for any heavyweight from this century, and that covers footwork, defense and punching. The tiny head movements he chose to ditch many of Wilder’s punches would bring a tear to the glass eye of any veteran boxing trainer.

Finally, there isn’t really much competition for #10. Pulev and Tomasz Adamek were his closest competition for this slot and my preference for Ortiz’s understated technical acumen got him over the line.

09 – Andy Ruiz

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the decade: 31-2 Ranked for: 18% of the decade

Andy Ruiz nips in ahead of Ortiz based upon his achieving the indelible against Anthony Joshua. Briefly, it made Ruiz the planet’s number one heavyweight and although his inclusion here was not certain, nor inarguable, it means that every heavyweight who held the number one spot between 2010 and 2019 makes the list.

The rest of his decade was something of a blank, although he came very close to changing that in his December 2016 crack at Joseph Parker. Writing at the time I said that Ruiz had blown a “golden chance” to become the first Mexican American heavyweight belt-holder in a fight that was close enough to have been judged a draw. As it was, Parker squeaked past his rotund opponent with a majority decision win, 115-113 twice and 114-114. Ruiz, who threatened to out-speed a speedster in that fight, bagged all three of the opening rounds for me and forced Parker to sit down hard on his boxing in order to snag the decision.

Had the desperately close twelfth gone for Ruiz and against Parker, Ruiz is facing Joshua in a unification fight instead of as a substitute throwing punches on a wing and prayer. How might history have been different? It’s impossible to say although I will readily admit that when I wrote of Ruiz that he “has big fights in his future if he wants them” I didn’t have something quite as astonishing as that victory over Joshua in mind. It’s enough to squeak him into the ten.

08 – Joseph Parker

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the decade: 26-2 Ranked for: 39% of the decade

Joseph Parker benefits from a retrospective look at a victory that, at the time, was widely ignored.   When the New Zealander defeated Ruiz it was seen, if it was seen at all, as an embarrassingly narrow victory over an out of shape gatekeeper type who didn’t deserve the shot in the first place. Fast forward to Ruiz’s destruction of Joshua and suddenly Parker has a rather special victory under his belt.  Notwithstanding his own failed effort at Joshua, it is rather difficult to rank Ruiz ahead of Parker given that Parker toughed it out to beat the American-Mexican over twelve.

So, while it’s hard to argue that Parker unequivocally had the better decade overall, he has spent many more months than Ruiz as a ranked fighter and squared off more often against the best. Ruiz, Hughie Fury and Alexander Dimetrenko make for the cornerstone of a rather underwhelming resume though and after posting dual losses in 2018 he beat a hasty retreat for safer waters.

Parker isn’t quite out of the game yet though. A 2019 fight with Dereck Chisora was called off after Parker was bitten by a spider and that fascinating contest that can hopefully be rescheduled.

Whether the nicest man in heavyweight boxing can be a force in the division over the course of the next ten years may hinge on the outcome.

07 – Dillian Whyte

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the decade: 27-1 Ranked for: 19% of the decade

Numbers 7, 8 and 9 come off easy. Parker beats Ruiz and then Dillian Whyte beats Parker. We know which of these three is better and barring wild differences in matched men, who is more accomplished.  Whyte achieved a measure of fame in 2015 with a heart-fueled but failed crack at Joshua when both were making their divisional bones but by early 2017, Whyte had become a heavyweight of legitimate interest and by the end of that year he had legitimized himself as a threat to world level.

Whyte wrought a candidate for fight of the year that December against Dereck Chisora, but the closeness of this vicious contest raised questions of its own. Those questions were answered twice, first by Chisora cracking the rankings and pushing Whyte close again in a glorious rematch, then by further Dillian Whyte contests against the likes of Joseph Parker and Oscar Rivas. What they demonstrated is that the final incarnation of Dillian Whyte is always in good fights.

Even a turgid contest with a weary Mariusz Wach right at the end of 2019 had its moments, for all they were born of an undertrained, overweight Whyte struggling and failing to put away an inferior opponent but proving himself once more the division’s deluxe brawler for the decade. Not that Whyte is not proficient, but he isn’t using a box and move strategy to stay out of trouble like Parker nor using technical boxing to break down the opposition like Ortiz; rather he is out-thugging his opposition with a combination of persistence, heart and a withering punch.

06 – Vitali Klitschko

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the decade: 6-0 Ranked for: 35% of the decade

I am something of a Vitali Klitschko fan. I never understood the criticism, during his prime, of his “robotic” style. To me he was a granite-chinned gunslinger, eschewing traditional defensive technique in favor of low-handed high-volume aggression. He came to fight and did so without fear.

He is also principled and intelligent which is why it was so disappointing to see the WBC lead him around by his nose. Vitali went 6-0 between January first, 2010 and December of 2013 when he retired but only one of these “title-fights” was staged against one of the ten best in his division. -Some of his opponents couldn’t even be said to be ranked in the top thirty.

Zuri Lawrence victim Albert Sosnowski was likely the low point of this decade, while Cuban prospect Odlanier Solis or Polish veteran Adamek were the high points.

But whether he was thrashing a hapless Manuel Charr or battering Shannon Briggs in one of the ugliest beatings of the century, Vitali looked imperious. There is a very a reasoned argument that despite his limited competition and despite his advancing years he is the very best fighter on this list.

It is a shame he never really proved it.

#6, then, may be a little too high, but the difficulty in visualizing his defeat at the hands of many of the men ranked above or below him enhances his standing.

05 – Alexander Povetkin

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the decade: 27-2-1 Ranked for: 100% of the decade

Were we ranking fighters here upon their entire careers rather than just on what they did in the last decade, Povetkin would have a strong case for #3. Even in the 2000s he was ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world not named Klitschko at one stage, but it would be 2015 before he found himself in the ring with the long-reigning champion Wladimir.

The beating he absorbed was terrible; he showed heart and rare determination in continuing to take the fight to the champion despite the onslaught that saw him repeatedly dropped to the canvas in the course of losing a wide decision. For many, it would have represented a career-altering thrashing.

But not for Povetkin. “Vityaz” was made of stronger stuff. In fact, he would outlast Wladimir – just like he outlasted Carlos Takam, a ranked and a formidable man one year after his butchery at the hands of Wladimir. In his very next fight he obliterated #10 contender Mike Perez in a devastating right-handed showcase that is one of the most under-watched knockouts on YouTube: click here to help set that right; if you do, keep in mind that Perez had never been stopped before and has never been stopped since.

Povetkin added ranked men Johann Duhaupas and Christian Hammer as he campaigned for a shot at the newest heavyweight star, Anthony Joshua; he got his wish but that attempt ended almost as painfully as his tilt at Wladimir. But Povetkin has come yet again. He was fortunate, perhaps, to escape with a draw against Michael Hunter (another excellent fight) in 2019 but it’s a result that keeps him in the game and sees him embark on his third decade as a heavyweight contender.

Consider that Ruslan Chagaev, a former victim of Povetkin’s and his chief rival for the title “best of the rest” from the Klitschko era retired five years ago and Povetkin’s status as the decade’s ultimate survivor is thrown into sharp relief.

04 – Deontay Wilder

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the decade: 34-0-1 Ranked for: 53% of the decade

Being honest, Deontay Wilder ranking above Povetkin specifically for what they did in the last decade does not sit particularly well with me. I consider the early part of Deontay Wilder’s WBC run nothing less than shameful and his being recently introduced at a press conference as having “equaled the run of Muhammad Ali” as a travesty.

It’s not that Wilder hasn’t done some good work, for he has, but if your number two scalp is that of Bermane Stiverne then it could be argued that you do not belong in the top five for any given decade.  Nevertheless, to my admitted disgruntlement, Wilder’s paper record (the best on this list) and that incredible knockout of Ortiz in their recent rematch has slipped Wilder in at the #4 spot by the barest of margins. There is little doubt as to the attribute that has brought him this far.

“Wilder could knock out a bull if he hit it in the head,” claims 2015 victim Eric Molina. “If he touches anybody with that right hand, on any part of the head, they’re going to dance or go down and go to sleep. It is what it is.”

It is. You never know upon who the moth of natural talent will alite and it seems that Wilder is the most blessed heavyweight of this era. It also seemed, for a while, that he might squander that gift, but in facing Tyson Fury, Ortiz, and now Fury again in a forthcoming rematch, Wilder has become the toughest matched heavyweight in the world. He was lucky to escape with a draw in that first Fury fight but make no mistake, he is one victory away from becoming the preeminent heavyweight for the new decade.

Fourth is the absolute highest he can rank for the old one.

03 – Tyson Fury

Peak Ranking: Champion Record for the decade: 20-0-1 Ranked for: 52% of the decade

To tell another truth, Tyson Fury can’t be said to have done a great deal more than Wilder in securing the #3 spot for 2010-2019, but two things have him locked above his American rival: first, Fury was deserving of the decision in the first meeting between the two; second, he is the only man on this list to have defeated a lineal champion in that decade. While Fury’s own status is confused by his retirement and comeback, there is no disputing the status of Wladimir Klitschko when Fury took his titles from him in his German stronghold. Wladimir was surely past prime when Fury visited him, but it is forgotten now that the notion of Fury’s out-boxing him was hardly even considered possible. Fury’s brilliance in taking a clear twelve round decision on hostile territory can hardly be overstated.

It has been forgotten, too, in the wake of Anthony Joshua’s much more spectacular defeat of Wladimir that Fury beat him first, far less viciously but without the home advantage Joshua enjoyed. In summary, then: Fury is in possession of the single greatest victory from that decade of heavyweight boxing.

Since, he has defeated depression and addiction, or at least fought them to a standstill. No points for that here, but given that he, like Wilder, is undefeated, and that he, like Wilder, has wins in support of his very best that are rather underwhelming, #3 seems the fairest spot.

Probably the world’s number one at decade’s end, those mental health issues have sadly kept him from contention for the top two spots in an appraisal of all ten years.

02 – Anthony Joshua

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the decade: 23-1 Ranked for: 48% of the decade

While Fury struggled desperately with his demons, Anthony Joshua rolled in and with consummate professionalism stole his thunder and many of his potential opponents. As a demonstration of excellence – of fistic ability, promotional acumen, media handling – nobody has approached equaling it in the past ten years.

Joshua’s management team paid handsomely for their first alphabet strap, bribing Charles Martin to visit the UK allowing Joshua to force him to take the proverbial knee, which he quickly did under heavy fire. Martin had come by his belt after the IBF equally quickly stripped Tyson Fury after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko; Martin was named a challenger for the vacant belt but really that fight was meant to be a coronation for the anointed Vyacheslav Glazkov who damaged his knee so badly during the fight that he hasn’t fought since. It was as tortured and ridiculous a path to an alphabet title as has occurred, which is saying something.

Since, and despite much unfair criticism, Joshua has conducted himself with genuine ambition. Dominic Breazeale was deemed underwhelming, but he was, at least, legitimately ranked at #9; Wladimir Klitschko was as dangerous an opponent as the under-seasoned Joshua could have faced and their combat was as thrilling as any from this period. The selection of Carlos Takam was criticized, but Takam was ranked number six and was a late replacement for Kubrat Pulev, who was ranked even higher.  Joseph Parker stood the #3 heavyweight in the world when Joshua clearly out-boxed him, and Alexander Povetkin, for all that he was derided as past-prime, was still ranked at #5.

Then disaster struck. The defeat of Joshua by Ruiz will perhaps become no more than a footnote to a hall of fame career, but it does rule Joshua out as a contender to the #1 spot here. Make no mistake, had he buried Ruiz the first time around rather than requiring a rematch to reclaim his trinkets, Joshua’s record would have proven hard to resist. It is a fact that no heavyweight defeated more ranked contenders in the considered years.

01 – Wladimir Klitschko

Peak Ranking: Champion Record for the decade: 11-2 Ranked for: 64% of the decade

While no fighter defeated more ranked contenders than Joshua, only one fighter twice defeated the heavyweight ranked the best in the world excepting himself and that was the mighty Wladimir Klitschko.

He butchered Povetkin in a brutal shut-out in 2013. The following year he crushed the undefeated Kubrat Pulev in five savage rounds. He seemed, in that moment, unassailable.

Wladimir entered the decade the undisputed number one heavyweight in the world, even the return to action of his brother Vitali failing to muddy the waters to any real degree. In the absence of the older Vitali, Wladimir had developed an iron grip on his lofty status, contenders slipping from him like water over a river rock. Wladimir had a reputation for vulnerability, but by the opening of the decade he hadn’t been beaten in six years. By the time Fury unseated him in 2015, Wladimir was more than ten years removed from defeat. Few fighters have entire careers as accomplished.

Wladimir did build his inimitable if sometimes frustrating style primarily around weaknesses, however.  He wanted to protect his chin, so he kept his opponents very far away, on the end of his all-time great jab, or very close, on the receiving end of a frustrating habit to clutch and hold. He wanted to protect a gas-tank that had failed him the decade before and so he became perhaps the most complete general the heavyweight division has ever seen. Risk management, control of the ring’s real estate and control of the fight’s tempo were everything to him.

This frustrated many fight fans but to dispute his dominance of the first half of the decade based upon aesthetics would be fruitless. The unlikely figure of Andy Ruiz ensured that Wladimir Klitschko would be shorn of competition for the #1 spot for heavyweight of the decade 2010-2019 – it is fitting that they nearly bookended the top ten.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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How Soon Before We Know the Fate of Ryan Garcia and Will the Result Stand?

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How Soon Before We Know the Fate of Ryan Garcia and Will the Result Stand?

Today. May 23, the results of Ryan Garcia’s B-sample were made known, The findings were congruent with the A-sample as they are in almost 100 percent of the cases. (Why wouldn’t they be? Both samples are derived from the same urine specimen. The B-sample, notes ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, is a safeguard to ensure that that there was no lab contamination or other error involved in the test that produced the original finding.)

As if there were any doubts, the B-sample confirmed that Garcia had the banned substance Ostarine in his system when he fought Devin Haney at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 30. Ostarine, popular among body builders, helps build muscle mass, improve stamina, and quicken recovery time.

What’s next for Ryan Garcia? He will undoubtedly be fined and suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission. But, as they say, the wheels of justice grind slowly.

Unlike the Nevada Commission, which meets every month, typically on the last Tuesday, the New York Commission does not meet at regular intervals. At their next meeting, whenever that is, one can expect representatives of the Garcia and Haney camps to stand before the body and argue in favor of their preferred dispensation.

It behooves Acting Executive Director Matthew Delaglio to recommend a course of action. He could, in theory, recommend exonerating Garcia, not even a slap on the wrist, or he could recommend coming down hard on the 25-year-old boxer in ways that would cost him a substantial sum of money and bar him from fighting in New York ever again. The other commissioners – there are currently only four – get to vote on it.

And what about changing the decision, retroactively declaring Devin Haney the winner?

There’s actually a precedent for it.

On April 30, 2016, Badou Jack defended his WBC world super middleweight title against Romanian-Canadian campaigner Lucian Bute, a former 168-pound title-holder, at the Armory in Washington, DC. After 12 rounds, one of the judges favored Bute, but the others had it even and the match was scored a draw.

On May 27, it was revealed that Bute’s post-fight urine specimen tested positive for Ostarine. He insisted the finding was wrong and exercised his right to have the B-sample evaluated.

Eleven weeks later, on Aug. 12, the DC Commission informed the WBC that Bute’s B-Sample confirmed the presence of Ostarine.

Lucian Bute still insisted that he was innocent. He blamed the finding on a contaminated supplement provided to him by his strength and conditioning coach and he threatened to sue the San Diego lab that manufactured the supplement. Neither Ostarine nor any other banned substance was listed in the ingredients of the supplement that Bute ingested with the understanding it would help him sleep and recover from a strenuous workout.

The DC Commission eventually accepted the argument that Bute did not knowingly use a banned substance, but still fined him $50,000 (in the form of a donation to the WBC Clean Boxing Program) and changed the result of the fight from a draw to a win by disqualification for Badou Jack. The revised outcome appears that way in boxrec, the official record-keeper of the United States Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports.

Here’s the interesting thing: The DC Commission did not resolve this case until the day after Thanksgiving and the public announcement didn’t come until the following week when one of the commissioners returned from a vacation. This case dragged on forever.

Ryan Garcia and his legal team continue to maintain his innocence. “Kingry” was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last weekend for the Fury-Usyk megafight and while there he was interviewed by DAZN reporter Emily Austin. In the video clip, which was widely disseminated, Garcia said, “I feel a little hurt and damaged by the accusations that are put on me because I know for fact that I’m not a cheater, never been a cheater. I’m dead hurt. I’ve put in so much work in my whole life, since I was seven years old, and it’s just one of my greatest victories is now being, you know, has a little bit of an asterisk because of a lie….I cry at night sometimes knowing that they’re trying to taint my victory.”

Devin Haney doesn’t turn 26 until November. Heading into his fight with Ryan Garcia, he was 31-0. At the same age, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was 27-0.

Because of his tender age, Haney was accorded a reasonable shot at breaking Mayweather’s 50-0 mark. A reversal of the decision would keep him on that path, albeit with an asterisk and the odds of him achieving that milestone dimmed substantially the first time that Garcia planted him on the deck. “Kingry” knocked him down three times in total en route to winning a majority decision and now that victory — his signature triumph — may be erased from his ledger.

Who will prevail? Stay tuned but don’t hold your breath. The adjudication may not come anytime soon.

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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