Are you a casual boxing fan who mostly tunes in for the heavyweight championship bouts? Well then, you’re in luck. It’s time to catch you up on all the latest happenings in the sport’s glamor division ahead of Oleksandr Usyk’s defense of the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles vs. Daniel Dubois on Saturday in Wroclaw, Poland (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+). And trust us, there’s plenty to talk about.
Wait a second, why is Usyk fighting Dubois?
Trust me, this was not the plan. Usyk was in talks to meet Tyson Fury in April for the undisputed heavyweight championship. Then when negotiations collapsed, the WBA ordered Usyk to make a mandatory defense against its “regular” champion, England’s Dubois.
Why couldn’t the Usyk-Fury fight be made?
The deal fell apart at the 11th hour over a disagreement over the rematch clause. Usyk accepted 30% to Fury’s 70% for a fight then scheduled for London’s Wembley Stadium on April 29.
Fury didn’t care for a rematch clause, but Usyk, who conceded the purse split for that potential first bout, was looking to guarantee a second massive payday. Fury was willing to concede down to 50% for the return bout if Usyk defeated him, but that was unacceptable to the Ukrainian.
It’s hard to blame Usyk for not wanting parity if he became the undisputed champion, especially after taking the short end of the stick for the first meeting.
Usyk’s promoter, Alexander Krassyuk, claimed their side was treated poorly throughout the process as Fury taunted Usyk on social media and told him to go ahead with a Dubois fight for far less money.
So surely Fury will have a big heavyweight defense of his own planned, right?
No. Tyson Fury, the WBC and lineal heavyweight champion of the world, is facing Francis Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion who is now signed by the PFL.
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The truth is that Ngannou doesn’t have a chance. Floyd Mayweather’s TKO victory over Conor McGregor in 2017 showed that boxing and MMA are vastly different sports.
That aside, Fury and Ngannou will rake in piles of money for their fight Oct. 28 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Arguably, Fury and Ngannou are the biggest heavyweight stars in each fighting discipline — well, Ngannou was until Jon Jones stepped up to heavyweight — and the crossover event will be a commercial success.
But Fury has received plenty of criticism from boxing fans for facing an MMA fighter in a nontitle fight rather than an available matchup with the second-best heavyweight in the world in Usyk for all the marbles.
OK, back to the matter at hand, Usyk vs. Dubois. Does Dubois have a chance?
The 36-year-old Usyk is an Olympic gold medalist, a former undisputed cruiserweight champ, ESPN’s No. 2 heavyweight and No. 3 pound-for-pound boxer. He’s an 11-1 favorite to turn back Dubois’ challenge.
Dubois is a talented boxer, formerly the top heavyweight prospect in the world, but his stock dropped considerably after Joe Joyce shattered his orbital in 2020.
The loss was the first of Dubois’ pro career, but he also looked shaky in his most recent outing, a third-round TKO win over Kevin Lerena in December. Dubois was floored three times in the opening round but rallied to earn the win.
Usyk, like Lerena, is a southpaw and former cruiserweight. That’s where the similarities end.
In just his second heavyweight fight, Usyk defeated Anthony Joshua to win three titles. Usyk outpointed Joshua in the rematch last year to move on to what he hoped was a meeting with Fury.
Got it. So in all likelihood, if Usyk beats Dubois, do we then get the fight we want?
Hopefully! But this is boxing, after all, where fans often have to wait excruciatingly long periods to see the matchups they want. After five years of conversations and rumors, we finally landed Terence Crawford-Errol Spence Jr. in July.
It would be a shame if the powers that be can’t deliver Fury-Usyk when the bout is at its hottest. How often are two heavyweights simultaneously on the pound-for-pound list? And with all four titles between them? And also future Hall of Famers who appear to be at the height of their powers?
Full stop, Fury-Usyk is the biggest fight in global boxing.
What about Joshua? Didn’t he just have a huge knockout two weeks ago?
Joshua scored a spectacular KO of Robert Helenius, but didn’t look great before he flattened his opponent in Round 7. In fact, Joshua hasn’t resembled the same guy who beat Wladimir Klitschko in ESPN’s 2017 fight of the year since that upset loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019.
Joshua now appears reticent to let his hands go, in stark contrast to the fighter who was once in seek-and-destroy mode.
Wait, wasn’t Joshua supposed to face Dillian Whyte?
The British rivals were set to meet in a rematch nearly eight years later earlier this month before Whyte’s drug test revealed an adverse analytical finding for two banned substances.
So on one week’s notice, Helenius accepted the assignment and actually busted up Joshua’s face a bit before he was laid out on the canvas Aug. 12.
Oh, Helenius, that’s the same guy Wilder KO’d, too. Speaking of Wilder, when was the last time he fought?
Since his courageous effort in the trilogy fight with Fury in November 2021, Wilder has fought once, a first-round KO of Helenius last October. Helenius shouldn’t be fighting the top heavyweights anymore.
So now we’re going to see Deontay Wilder fight Joshua?
If all goes according to plan, yes. Wilder and Joshua have been engaged in talks for a potential heavyweight clash in January in Saudi Arabia. There’s immense interest from all involved parties, but there is still no deal.
Wasn’t Wilder also in talks to fight Ruiz?
That fight remains a possibility, and it’s an intriguing style clash. Ruiz asked for a 50-50 split while Wilder laughed at the demand. With both sides seemingly far apart and Saudi’s desire for a matchup between Wilder and Joshua, that bout seems far more likely.
What about Joyce, the guy who ended Dubois’ undefeated record? What is he up to?
Joyce, 37, became the first person to stop Joseph Parker with an 11th-round KO last year, and he seemed destined for a title shot with Fury after the Usyk fight fell apart.
That was before Joyce was upset by China’s Zhilei Zhang in April. Zhang, 40, was a major underdog but dominated from the opening bell and closed Joyce’s right eye, which led to the stoppage.
Joyce exercised the rematch clause and they’ll meet in a rematch Sept. 23 in London.
All these heavyweights seem to be on the older side. Who’s next up?
Jared Anderson is the most promising American heavyweight. The 23-year-old is coming off the biggest win of his career, a decision win over former titleholder Charles Martin last month.
Anderson is making the quick turnaround with a main event Saturday against Andriy Rudenko (ESPN+, 10:30 p.m.) The fight will headline a heavyweight tripleheader that features another heavyweight champion hopeful Olympic gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov.
The Uzbek will make his Top Rank debut in an eight-round bout against Onoriode Ehwarieme.
Any other key players?
Filip Hrgovic, the IBF’s No. 1 contender, is in line for a crack at Usyk after he remained undefeated with a TKO win over Demsey McKean earlier this month.
So if Usyk can proceed with a fight against Fury, it’s likely the IBF will strip him for not facing Hrgovic. That’s one issue with delaying an undisputed title fight — looming mandatory obligation from boxing’s four sanctioning bodies.
Hrgovic’s biggest win came last year when the Croatian scored a disputed decision over Zhang.
Another heavyweight on the cusp of a title shot is Martin Bakole, who scored an upset win over Olympic gold medalist Tony Yoka last year. And there’s also Frank Sanchez, the accomplished amateur from Cuba who defeated Efe Ajagba last year (Ajagba also fights on ESPN+ this weekend.)
What would shock you at heavyweight?
A win from either Dubois or Ngannou. If the sport treats its fans the way it should, we see Fury-Usyk and Wilder-Joshua before it’s too late and the matchups lose their relevance.