Where has the U.S. heavyweight gone? The answer is a complex one. The criteria have changed, for starters. Size matters. Many of the top heavyweights of the 1970s and '80s (Ali, Joe Frazier, Tyson) stood 6'3" or under. Since the mid-'90s the division has been dominated by jab-happy giants; Lennox Lewis (6'5") gave way to Vitali Klitschko (6'7"), who passed the torch to his brother, Wladimir (6'6"), who has ruled the division since 2005. That trend isn't changing, either. The new wave of heavyweight prospects is led by America's Deontay Wilder (6'7"), Britain's Tyson Fury (6'9") and Anthony Joshua (6'6") and New Zealand's Joseph Parker (6'4"). "You need to look like an NFL tight end to have a chance," says Lou DiBella. "If not, don't bother." -- Chris Mannix, Sports Illustrated
Conversations with my mother tend to be either educational or hilarious or both. Mom will ask me what I have going on in my life, I'll tell her the things I do on a regular basis, and she will routinely be amazed at the things her son is doing. I say this not to brag, but if your mom is like mine, she's generally over the moon about the life her kid has.
So when I told her that I was going to Las Vegas for the Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward megafight, she was perplexed on a number of levels.
Mom: Kovalev vs. Ward huh? Never heard of them. How big are they?
Ed: Ma, they're two of the five best fighters in the world. They're fighting at 175 pounds.
Mom: I remember when you weighed 175 pounds, that was like 20 years ago! (chuckles)
Mom: Ain't that how big Floyd Mayweather and what's his name...Pa-que-oh, are?
Ed: It's Pacquiao, and no. They fought at 145 pounds!
Mom: What? Child...I haven't weighed that much in over 40 years! Real men shouldn't be fighting at that weight, they need to put some real men back in the ring and then maybe I'll turn it on. Good grief.
Ah yes, real men fighting in the ring. The glory days we nostalgically think back on from the days beyond the 1990s. When heavyweights ruled the roost.
I've always made the case that the shift in spotlight to lower weight classes has more to do the the personalities, countries and overall skills that quite frankly lacked in the heavyweight division. That change gave us Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez. Buying a pay-per-view to watch scintillating superstars at different weight classes felt refreshing. Watching the Klitschkos decimate a division since the turn of the century was impressive, but the duo never captivated the American audience, and they never drew a real rival to challenge their dominance.
However, I believe 2017 will be the year that the heavyweight returns to relevance. It's time. Here's a few storylines to follow going into the next year; let's cross our fists and hope they come true.
The Klitschko Era Finally Comes To An End
With 109 wins and 94 by knockout, the Klitschko brothers claimed a hold of the heavyweight division in the early 2000s and never looked back since. Let it be recognized that younger brother Wladimir held on to a heavyweight title for over 9 years, second only to Joe Louis's 11-year reign. That reign finally came to an end when Tyson Fury shocked the world in 2015. The Klitschko-Fury rematch was nixed after Fury pulled out, and Dr. Steelhammer let the world know that he's still got a few fights left in him.
Enter Anthony Joshua, the 27-year-old Olympic gold medalist with a country behind him (his following in England is bigger than other familiar fighters in the UK like Fury and Amir Khan) and an ability to put butts in seats (Joshua sold out London’s O2 Arena in two minutes, winning the IBF Heavyweight Title by 2nd round KO vs. Charles Martin). Will Wladimir stifle the youngster like Lennox Lewis did his older brother? Or will Joshua claim the throne as the next great heavyweight? Oddsmakers give Joshua an 11/8 chance to knock out Klitschko, which makes this all the more must-see.
SET THE DATE: Klitschko vs. Joshua is tentatively slated for March or April 2017 (ESPN)
Deontay Wilder's Continued Country Excellence
There is something uniquely lovable when someone is just country as hell. It could be the accent, the perspective or the way he dresses, but his presence just makes things better. This is Deontay Wilder in a nutshell, as the knockout specialist from Alabama needs a challenge. Almost half of his 37 wins have come by first-round knockout, and he will go into 2017 without a tough task since claiming the WBC title in January 2015. We need to get Wilder in a big fight, ASAP. We need an outlandish ensemble, we need the accent on full display, and we need the possibility of a super knockout with every punch. This is Wilder's possibility to show his true country excellence.
He also needs to get healthy, as he broke his right hand during his title defense versus Chris Arreola in July and is not expected to box again until March or April. Maybe we'll get the aforementioned Fury vs. Wilder in the battle of small-ball power forwards for a world title?
SET THE DATE: Wilder vs. Fury is a possibility in spring 2017. (Boxing News)
A Sense of Desperation
What if I told you there was a 37-year-old undefeated fighter who just turned professional in 2010 and has knocked out 22 of his first 24 opponents in the process? You'd probably respond with something like, "He's literally fighting for his life." You'd be correct.
Luis "King Kong" Ortiz, the Cuban-born fighter who has fought six times in the last 18 months, is trying to do everything in his power to find "the fastest way to stardom" (including signing with a promotional company we've never heard of) and become a champion. New Zealand's Joseph Parker could be the guy to face Ortiz next, as the Kiwi is also undefeated, and a matchup against Ortiz would make for a great undercard fight on an upcoming pay-per-view or an entertaining headliner on a slow Saturday night on HBO or Showtime.
SET THE DATE: Ortiz vs. Parker hopefully in the summer of 2017? (Forbes)
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”