While Deontay Wilder holds the WBC version of the heavyweight championship, there’s no room for reasonable debate about who holds the true heavyweight crown in professional boxing. Wladimir Klitschko has the lineal, WBA, WBO and IBF versions of the belts. He’s been a dominant force at the top of the division for almost this entire century. When his older brother, Vitaly, held the WBC strap, it was possible to entertain idle speculation over which of the two Ukrainian brothers was truly the best. But since the elder Klitschko retired in December 2013, there’s been only one legitimate champion among the big men.
Bermane Stiverne turned in a nice performance to TKO Chris Arreola and win the vacant WBC trinket. Deontay Wilder’s unanimous-decision win over Stiverne was a big accomplishment. But at this point, all activity involving the WBC heavyweight title is merely posturing for a claim on second place.
Because he holds one branch of the world title, there is some sentiment that Wilder should be the de facto No. 1 contender to Klitschko. But aside from his win over Stiverne, Wilder’s resume is a grand structure forged from tissue paper. He is clearly a very dangerous puncher and an excellent natural athlete, and those two qualities will take you far in the heavyweight division. But his list of opponents is largely “C” level and below. That hasn’t changed since he won the title. Eric Molina, who Wilder knocked out in his most recent defense, is a spirited fighter with grit, but he’s not remotely a true contender.
Alexander Povetkin remains the second best heavyweight in the world. He lost a very one-sided decision to Wladimir Klitschko in October 2013, but since then has knocked out contenders Manuel Charr, Carlos Takam and Mike Perez. Nobody has had a stopped a better list of opponents in the last two years, aside from Klitschko himself.
Behind Povetkin, I would rank Tyson Fury, the undefeated, 6’9” giant from Manchester, England. While I’ve never been sold on him as a future heavyweight champion, his record demands respect at this point. He’s knocked out contenders like Christian Hammer, Chris Arreola and Steve Cunningham. He’ll fight Klitschko in October, in a much deserved title shot.
After Fury, it’s a fair debate between Wilder, Bryant Jennings and Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev for fourth, fifth and sixth place. Wilder’s string of knockout destruction and his skilled handling of Stiverne do demonstrate that he is a legitimate, top contender in the heavyweight division. In my mind, Wilder is the No. 4 heavyweight in the world.
Pulev’s run in 2012-2013, when he beat Alexander Ustinov, Alexander Dmitrenko and Tony Thompson in three straight fights, still earns him a spot at No. 5, although he has not fought since getting knocked out in five rounds by Klitschko last November.
It could be argued that Jennings’ loss to Klitschko earlier this year was the toughest fight the Ukrainian legend has faced in recent years. Jennings was able to mute the champion’s normally explosive offense and last the distance. Still, it was not a remotely competitive fight. Jennings’ needed a bit of luck to beat Mike Perez by split decision in July 2014. The decision was made possible by a dodgy point deduction against Perez.
Jennings’ stoppages of the likes of Andrey Fedosov and Artur Szpilka definitely separate him from the heavyweight pack. He is a very intelligent and athletic fighter who picked up the sport very late in life, so it’s reasonable to speculate bigger things could be in store for him. But for now, I can view him as no higher than No. 6 in the division, behind Klitschko, Povetkin, Fury, Wilder and Pulev.