Francis Ngannou threw a grenade into the heavyweight fire this past weekend. The MMA star dropped and nearly beat the widely regarded numero uno in the division, Tyson Fury, in an unforgettable evening in Saudi Arabia.
Fury’s slender victory has posed hundreds of more questions than delivered any kind of answer in the sport’s search for a heavyweight ruler.
As this generation of talent begins its launch down the home straight, what are the five biggest fights that can be made in the heavyweight division?
5. Tyson Fury/Oleksandr Usyk vs Zhilei Zhang
“Big Bang” Zhilei Zhang is a problem for this heavyweight division. Sure, we’ve said the same about countless other hopefuls over the years, but the Chinese powerhouse looks like he has the skill set to put a dent in one of the big guys.
Whether it’s Fury or Usyk’s first defence as undisputed champion or a voluntary for the loser, I don’t mind, I just want to see Zhang under the lights of a super-fight. The issue is timing. Fury and Usyk have a two-way rematch clause, and Zhang is already in his 40s.
4. Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou II
If these two run back Saturday night’s fight, then you’d expect Fury to make a lot of improvements. But hey, you could say the same about Ngannou.
The MMA star has found a new home in boxing if he wants it, impressing the world with his strict, detailed game plan and the IQ of a boxer who has contested several championship rounds prior. Ngannou dropping Fury in round 3 will live long in the memory, and he deserves another stab.
3. Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder
If you’re looking for pure edge-of-the-seat excitement, you don’t have to look much further than Joshua-Wilder. Untied by belts and wounded by defeats, this potential firecracker should be 10x easier to make than when both men held versions of the heavyweight title.
Long touted as a potential hors d’oeuvres to a Fury-Usyk fight in Saudi Arabia, this could be the fight that steals the show. Since losing to Ruiz Jr., Joshua has made a concerted effort to improve his back-foot boxing and has been less focussed on seeking and destroying. Let’s hope that goes out of the window if these two meet with both their chins tested early.
2. Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua
There are certain rivalries in boxing that don’t require belts or ranking. Regardless of previous performances of either, Fury vs Joshua is still a massive event, especially in the United Kingdom. Fury has now been dropped seven times by four different opponents in his career and by some with less punch power than Joshua.
Losses to Usyk and Ruiz Jr. have damaged the stock of “AJ”, but there is always room for redemption in the most unpredictable of divisions. It’s not the fight it could have been a couple of years ago, but Fury-Joshua is still a traffic-stopper in certain parts of the UK and sells out any stadium in seconds.
1. Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk
Despite Eddie Hearn’s claims that this fight is “dead”, an undisputed world heavyweight title fight will always take precedence over anything else in the division. When this fight takes place appears to be the current obstacle, but assuming it does, it’s still going to crown the king of the heavyweight division.
Usyk will have liked the version of Tyson Fury he saw on Saturday night but won’t be naive enough to expect that version to show up against himself. Despite contracts being signed, you never truly know what you’re going to get with Tyson Fury — so he could well retire before the end of 2023, only to come back when the thought of this fight was all but a distant memory.
Despite it being the fight in the division to make, I am not convinced it will be the easiest on the eye. Styles make fights, and there is a big chance this one doesn’t catch fire.