In the wake of a great empire, a period of balkanization is inevitable. When the Romans fell, minor principalities and warring tribes battled throughout the former territory for centuries.
For most of this century, the Klitschko brothers were co-Emperors over boxing’s heavyweight division. Just as Rome once boasted its status as the Eternal City, it seemed that the two Ukrainian giants would reign side-by-side forever. At the end of 2011, older brother Vitali held the WBC title. Kid brother Wladimir had collected the rest of the hardware–the WBA, IBF and WBO straps.
But in December 2013, Vitali officially retired. Now past 40, he was anxious to involve himself more directly in the political quagmire emerging in the Ukraine. In May 2014, Bermane Stiverne knocked out Chris Arreola, to claim the vacant WBC belt. In January 2015, Stiverne dropped the belt by decision to rising star Deontay Wilder. The post-Klitschko world had begun to take shape.
But Wladimir had yet to show signs of slowing down. In November 2014, he knocked out Kubrat Pulev in five rounds.
Last November, Klitschko faced Tyson Fury and seemed to have grown old over night. He fought a cautious and boring fight and lost by decision. As a long-reigning champion, he naturally had a rematch clause, and he opted to exercise it.
That was when the real chaos unloosed itself upon the boxing world. The IBF refused to recognize the legitimacy of a rematch, instead insisting that their own verision of a mandatory, Vyacheslav Glazkov, had to fight for the title next. They stripped Fury and set Glazkov up to fight Charles Martin for the vacant belt. Glazkov was a legit challenger, but hardly more worthy than Klitschko. Martin had no business being anywhere near a world title fight. But when Glazkov injured himself in the fight, Martin walked away with the IBF belt. He has since lost it to Anthony Joshua. It is not a legitimate title, but Joshua is a legitimate talent.
Klitschko’s long-awaited rematch with Fury fell through when Fury had to pull out due to struggle with mental illness. Klitschko will hopefully fight Joshua in December. The WBA belt might be up for grabs.
Meanwhile, the WBO has decided to pull their version of the crown. On Thursday, they announced that undefeated contenders Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr. would fight for the belt on December 10 in Parker’s native New Zealand.
This is an intriguing fight. Parker became a legitimate top contender this year when he defeated Carlos Takam. Earlier this month, he knocked out Alexander Dimitrenko, another solid resume line.
Ruiz has yet to beat those kind of opponents. He is a rotund contender, with solid boxing skills and deceptive speed. I do not believe he has really earned a world title shot, but he is more deserving than Charles Martin was.
At this point, there is frankly no true heavyweight champ. But the winner of Parker-Ruiz will be yet another would-be king, asserting his own claim.