This weekend, the Balkanization of the heavyweight division will become officially complete, when Joseph Parker faces Andy Ruiz in Aukland, for the vacant WBO belt. After this fight, every one of the four major sanctioning organizations will recognize a different man as the heavyweight champion.
All great empires are followed by a period of upstarts looking to solidify their own competing claims. It was true following the collapse of Rome and of the Ottomans. And so it is in the wake of the Klitschko era.
The WBC recognizes Deontay Wilder, who won the belt from Bermane Stiverne, who captured it after it had been vacated by Vitali Klitschko’s retirement.
Younger brother Wladimir lost the remaining three belts in the ring in November 2015, to Tyson Fury. But Fury has been inactive for more than a year now and suffered an unfortunate mental health breakdown. Only the WBA still recognizes him as the world champion.
For their part, the WBO at least had the good taste to wait until it was obvious that Tyson Fury would not be defending this year, before stripping him. The IBF withdrew their own recognition almost immediately, so that Vyacheslav Glazkov could contend for their version of the title against Charles Martin. This is the dumbest thing to have happened in boxing in recent years. Glazkov was a legitimate contender, but his claim was hardly pressing enough to bump a return match between Fury and Klitschko. Martin did not belong anywhere near a world title fight. But Glazkov injured his leg, could not continue, and that left Martin as the least qualified heavyweight belt holder in history.
Martin was quickly knocked out by Anthony Joshua. I do not think that makes Joshua a true world champion. I do not recognize the IBF version of the belt at this point and would encourage all fans and writers to do the same. However, I do recognize Joshua as the most exciting young fighter in the division. He’ll face Eric Molina this weekend in London. It’s not a legitimate title fight, but it will be an interesting bout, because it will establish a common opponent between Joshua and Wilder.
I have mixed feelings about Parker vs. Ruiz as a title fight. Parker is unquestionably a top-10 contender at this point, having defeated Carlos Takam last May. Like Parker, Ruiz is undefeated, with a good knockout percentage. He’s a contender, too, but outside of the top 10. He’s faced nothing but journeymen and stepping stones.
Still, if he can beat Parker, the rotund Ruiz will have earned his belt. But for that belt to have any serious value–for any of the heavyweight belts to have serious value–we will need to see some unifications bouts over the next two years.