Heavyweight Boxing Enters its Pantomime Season, and no one’s laughing
On the cusp of the pantomime season boxing is again a laughing stock, like a tottering, rouge-cheeked dame with a glass of sherry in one hand and a string of broken promises in the other.
Disillusion drowns out the laughter. Nowhere is it more obvious than in the fact the division that in not-so-distant memory gave us Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes now cannot settle on anyone more convincing than the young Anthony Joshua, the injured Deontay Wilder, the old Wladimir Klitschko or the absent Tyson Fury.
Boxrec.com, the go-to digital bible, tells us that among 77 world champions recognised across all the weights by the suits who pretend they are in charge of the most frustrating sport outside following West Ham, the number claiming to rule the heavyweights is … well, indeterminate.
So – deep breath – while Sleeping Beauty gets ready to charm the Sunderland Empire this December, Bernd Bönte’s team are counting the seats in some venue in Germany where Wlad the Inveigler might entertain the ever-smiling Aussie Lucas Browne on behalf of the WBA – which, ho hum, would cost the Ukrainian his WBO ranking; Joseph Parker prepares for Andy Ruiz (the very same) to satisfy the WBO – which will cost the New Zealander his mandatory shot at the IBF champ Joshua, who is in the gym getting ready for … well, anyone; and David Haye tunes up to challenge the winner of Parker-Ruiz with a workout against a selected chump. Wilder, who rarely fights beyond a bus ride from his home town in Tuscaloosa, Alabama? The WBC isn’t saying yet.
Then there is Luis Ortiz, the dangerous Cuban veteran who makes his debut for Matchroom in Monte Carlo on 12 November against the Philadelphian trial horse Malik Scott. Providing he wins (he will), a month later in Manchester, the unbeaten Ortiz will have his fourth fight for the WBA’s interim title. Ruiz had his first interim bout in September, 2014. He surely is a patient man.
As well as the main trinkets there are the InterContinental Car Park title, the My Noisy Neighbours Down The Road Emeritus belt or the Super-Stupid All-Comers Interim Silver Spoon. The thing is, you can make it up; nobody would notice the difference. It’s a mess from top to bottom and there will be no resolution until Monday afternoon at the earliest, according to Matchroom.
In what was once the sport’s unchallenged powerhouse, even super-enthusiast Dan Rafael has lost patience. “I love boxing as much as anyone and devoted most of my professional career to it,” the big man from ESPN wrote the other day, “but it is hard to be a boxing fan right now.”
Try paying at the gate, Dan. It only takes a short break away from the fight game as a paid observer to understand the fan’s anger. Stay too close and you get sucked in to taking the business seriously.
On any given day last week the WBA could have sanctioned a fight between Joshua, who is not on its rankings list but is the legitimate and unbeaten IBF champion, and Klitschko, whom it guards like a pet poodle wearing a diamond neck bracelet even though he has not fought since he lost to Fury nearly a year ago, and he turns 41 in March.
It did manage one minor miracle: uniting Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn in disgust. Warren allies himself mainly to WBO titles but he was on the money when he said Klitschko is taking everyone for a ride, and the WBA is happy to let him do it. Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, says he is nonplussed by the WBA’s dithering. He was sure he had a deal. Now, he does not know – and Sky, who provide the platform and much of the money, are growing as impatient as the fans.
Klitschko clearly does not want anything to do with Joshua, who would knock him out, probably within six rounds, whatever the sales talk that this is an even-money contest. Klitschko, the best heavyweight in the world for nearly a decade, wants to go out with a soft touch, preferably the deathly slow if powerful Browne, who was put through boxing’s grinder after beating Ruslan Chagaev in Chechnya last year to win the WBA’s title.
A Sydney newspaper later put a clock on the fight and found the time-keeper added 15 seconds to the sixth round (in which Browne was decked) and took 44 seconds off the end of the seventh, as the challenger stormed back. That was hardly the end of it. Browne, a genial man, swears blind the clenbuterol they found in his system afterwards got there without his knowledge, and the minor dosage suggests he could be right. Besides, why would a heavyweight take a weight-reducing drug? His brief in an unresolved legal challenge says it has cost the fighter millions.
None of this is going to change unless the WBA, WBO, WBC, IBF and (heaven help us) IBO vote themselves out of existence and surrender their authority to a universally recognised authority under the auspices of, say, the IOC.
And guess what? Lurking in the shadows with just such a plan is the Aiba boss, Dr Wu Ching-kuo. He was the remote, amateur kingmaker who presided over the rolling comedy sketch otherwise known as the Rio Olympics boxing tournament.
There were not as many outright dodgy decisions as were being represented at the time, but there was a lot of incompetence, not to mention shameless reluctance, by Wu and his association to acknowledge it until the weight of international opprobrium overwhelmed them.
Wu’s blueprint is to turn Aiba into that all-powerful world body. He has already had an encouraging response from … the WBA. So, good luck with that one, doc.
Taking boxing seriously is harder than it has been since the heyday of the mob. Once there was blatant corruption. Now there is full-blown, Donald Trump-level, laughing-in-your-face cheek.
It is enough to make one yearn for the anarchy generated by Don King (born 20 August 1931) and his octogenarian chum Bob Arum (born 8 December 1931). Uncle Bob is enjoying his late-career surge ahead of The Donald, who still has his badged-up denim jacket, George Bush Sr’s cell phone number and contender Bermane Stiverne, but the thrill is gone. Now, it is just dull and dumb.
Maybe Fury quit boxing at the right time. The WBA has just announced he will be first in line to fight for his old title as soon as he is well enough, but probably thinking more about the significant sanction fee awaiting it for his comeback than the more profound challenge facing the semi-retired fighter: beating a drugs habit and depression.